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Peacemaker’s Steve Agee on chainsaw kills, viral dance moves

HBO Max series Peacemaker lit up the streaming entertainment world when it premiered in January 2022, bringing John Cena’s titular conflicted hero back after he made his debut in James Gunn’s action-comedy The Suicide Squad last year. Over the course of the show’s first season, the series has Peacemaker battle extraterrestrial threats, the sins of his past, a killer gorilla, and plenty of his own hang-ups as he attempts to work with a colorful team of black ops agents tasked with saving the world.

One of the members of that team is John Economos, who provides tactical support for the group’s field agents and becomes a frequent target (and deliverer) of ridicule early on, only to earn the respect of Peacemaker when he takes matters — and a chainsaw — into his own hands late in the season. Played by Steve Agee, Economos was one of several characters who, like Peacemaker, made his debut in The Suicide Squad before making the leap to Peacemaker. Agee holds the unique distinction of playing two characters in the 2021 film: Economos and King Shark, a massive, man-eating shark-human mutant voiced by Sylvester Stallone but physically portrayed on the set by Agee.

With the Peacemaker season 1 finale looming, Digital Trends talked to Agee about his roles in both Peacemaker and The Suicide Squad, as well as about Cena, his favorite scenes, and that opening dance sequence we can’t help watching over and over again.

(Note: Plot points from the first season of Peacemaker will be discussed in the following interview.)

Steve Agee as John Economos in the Peacemaker series.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Digital Trends: Let’s start at the very beginning here: What was your reaction when you found out your character was going from The Suicide Squad to Peacemaker?

Steve Agee: I was super excited for a number of reasons, not the least of which was getting to work after 10 months or so of a pandemic and being isolated by myself out in the desert. I was staying in a cabin out in Joshua Tree (National Park in California) when it all kicked off, so I was pretty isolated and lonely, but I was also excited to explore this character more over eight episodes and show more depth to John Economos and give him an actual arc.

A lot of people don’t realize you also played King Shark in The Suicide Squad. Has there been any indication you’ll play that role again? Would you want to?

In a heartbeat. It was so much fun getting to do that. If I had just done John Economos for Suicide Squad, I would have been happy, but this was an opportunity as King Shark to get to work with Margot [Robbie] and Idris [Elba] and Joel Kinnaman and John Cena, and that was actually the bulk of my shooting for Suicide. I think I had more shooting days than anyone else in the movie, including Margot, because of me playing King Shark and John Economos. I love that there’s now a universe in DC where he exists, and hopefully, he will appear again, whether it be a second Suicide Squad movie — which I haven’t heard about — or something else.

King Shark shows down in The Suicide Squad
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Everyone’s talking about the show’s opening dance sequence. How did the news land with you when you learned that was happening? And how easy was it to get down?

I didn’t know it was going to be a thing. James called me in October 2020 and said, “We’re going to start shooting in January,” and that was all he told me. And then a month or two later, I got all the scripts, and I was reading the first script. After the cold open, it said, “Cut to opening dance scene.” I was like, “What the fuck is this?”

It’s certainly something you don’t expect to see in a superhero project.

Right? It’s so outside the genre for superhero, comic-book action stuff. I was like, “Okaaaaaaay.” But I fully trust James with anything. I’ll do anything he wants. But that was so bizarre. And when we started shooting in January of last year, the shooting schedule came out and I knew we were going to be shooting this dance number right in the middle of production. I was dreading it. I’m not a very physical person and I don’t have a lot of rhythm.

The opening dance sequence from HBO Max series Peacemaker.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What did it take to get it down?

They would break us up into groups of two or three, and we’d rehearse when we had days off. There were probably about six or seven rehearsals, I would guess, leading up to it. And then we had one rehearsal on the set the day before, and then a full day of shooting the actual dance. By the time we actually started shooting, everyone was really comfortable, though. The hardest part of shooting it was not smiling. Nobody smiles. That was James’ main direction: “Don’t smile. Have a dead face.” That ended up being the hardest thing to do.

Your character had such a huge moment in the episode when he kills the gorilla with a chainsaw. How did that feel for you?

Well, as much as I was dreading the day on the schedule when we were dancing, I had the day I was killing a gorilla with a chainsaw circled on the calendar. I could not wait. They were probably close to around the same time [in the production schedule], too. They were about halfway through shooting and I was so excited. I get to have this big hero moment, and also be covered in blood. I think any fan of horror and action always dreams of being the person who’s covered in blood because of a big kill or action sequence. And it is really awesome. It looks cool.

But here’s the thing: The day you do it, you’re taking a lot of photos of yourself with your phone. And then at some point, you realize it’s just halfway through the episode, so for the rest of the shoot, you have to go in early in the morning to get recovered in blood every day, just to have it all there for continuity. And that’s kind of a bummer, because fake blood is really uncomfortable after a while, and sticky. Fake blood is actually pretty gross.

John Cena and Steve Agee hide in the forest in a scene from Peacemaker.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Music is always such a big part of James Gunn’s projects. Is it as present on your side of things while making the show as it is on the audience side when we see the episode?

Yeah, when you get a script, the script says, “Blank-blank song by so-and-so starts playing …” just so you know it. And James will also send you a link to the song. Since the show came out, he’s been posting an updated playlist of the songs for all the episodes online, and it’s very similar while we’re shooting it. We’re getting that playlist so we can listen to it as we’re reading the script. It really helps. And when we’re shooting on set, as long as there’s no dialogue, he’s playing those songs on set, too.

It feels like John Cena moved onto more people’s radar with this show. He shows so much range over the course of the season. What’s he like on set?

He’s super fun. He’s one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet in your life. You can judge that pretty well from seeing him in interviews, too. He’s just a fun dude. He’s very positive. There’s zero negativity to this guy at all. You get into the makeup chair at six o’clock in the morning, and he’s already there with a big smile, welcoming you. There are very few people you would want to work with more than John Cena.

The cast of Peacemaker gathers around a computer.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What’s been your favorite part of the first season of Peacemaker so far? Is it the gorilla kill?

Well, killing a gorilla with a chainsaw is up there. Beating Judo Master down with a tire iron was pretty cool, too, but I watch it now and I have these insane memories of that scene. That was the coldest night of the whole shoot. We were shooting in February, I think, and it was snowing. I don’t know how they got rid of the snow in that scene. It was definitely snowing. Every time they would cut, they would have to brush the snow off the crashed Mercedes. You can’t tell it was even there, and that’s amazing. But it was freezing.

I also had one of the worst asthma attacks of my life that night. I don’t know if it was the cold, dry air, and me having to repeatedly slug this guy with a pipe — but it was a lot for one night. It turned out so great, though.

Peacemaker (2022)

69 %
tv-ma 1 Season
Genre Action & Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Drama
Cast John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma
Created by James Gunn

One of my favorite scenes so far is when Peacemaker is running through that long list of people Economos could’ve framed instead of his father. How much of that was improvised by John Cena? Was there much improvisation on the set?

It’s mostly all written. In that scene in particular, though, the only thing that was written was like, “You could have framed … Ariana Grande or Drake …,” I think. It was just two names. But James just let the camera go. He was like, “Keep saying names!” There were probably 20 to 30 minutes of us just sitting there listening to John — off the top of his head — naming people. James would throw in some names for him to say, but that was about it. That was the most improvisation you’ll see in the season, though.

The cast of Peacemaker gathers for a heated discussion.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Without spoiling anything, what can you say about the season finale? Press weren’t allowed to see it ahead of time, so there’s still so much mystery around it, which is actually kind of nice.

I loved shooting the finale. I can’t wait for people to see it. There’s a scene in the finale that is so amazing, and I recall shooting it at like three o’clock in the morning with James running around yelling, “I can’t believe they’re letting me do this! I can’t believe I get to do this!” That’s what I’m looking forward to. I can’t say what it is, but I’m looking forward to that.

In fact, when I went in to do ADR [rerecording of dialogue added after filming ends] for that episode, I asked, “Hey, can you fast-forward to that scene?” And they’re like, “Nope.” I said, “But I was there! It’s not like I don’t know what happens!” And they told me, “Yeah, but there are other people in the room now who don’t know about it, and we can’t afford to have anyone leak this.”

Peacemaker feels like such a fun show to make. Is that the case? Is James Gunn and the cast as fun to go to work with as they seem?

Yeah, absolutely. It was great and obviously so much fun. I was friends already with Jennifer [Holland] and James, so after a bunch of months in isolation, it was nice to shoot with all these people again. That made it really special in its own right. But even if there hadn’t been a pandemic, it was just a blast hanging out with these people.

Season 1 of Peacemaker is available on HBO Max streaming service. Season 2 of Peacemaker has also officially received the green light.

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