On a cool evening last July in Toronto, the director prepares his team of supervillains for the final showdown against the film's main antagonist.
A downtown street and buildings have been constructed behind Pinewood Toronto Studios, where Joel Kinnaman (as Rick Flag), Scott Eastwood and a group of soldiers await the approaching Task Force X in a scene drenched in manufactured rain. The tense standoff could easily escalate into an epic battle if it weren't for the circumstances: A desperate Flag needs the Suicide Squad's help to save the city. Ayer yells "cut" as the crew regroups for a second take. And then another and another.
Clearly, Ayer knows exactly what he wants from the scene.
Earlier that day, Ayer took a break on set in front of Deadshot's prison cell to speak with journalists about why "Suicide Squad" was the perfect film for him, how he narrowed down which characters to use, casting Will Smith, and who the mysterious Eyes of Adversary are.
Since we are sitting outside of Deadshot's cell, I wanted to ask about Will Smith, who has made a career out of playing the hero on the big screen, and casting him in this role where he's maybe not such a hero.
David Ayer: Antihero.
He's an antihero and not a supervillain? Are we making that distinction?
Probably a supervillain. He's a bad guy. They are all bad guys, that's the beauty of this. That's the fun of the genre. I think Will is incredibly versatile and can handle any kind of role you throw at him. It's funny because none of the normal words apply. When you say, "He's the father figure of the team," it's like herding cats. They don't care.
He definitely has that leadership quality. It's a great character for him because I think all these characters are conflicted and complex. So many times you feel like these genres are trying to inject complexities in what's a very black-and-white character. Good guys, who are doing the good thing. It's very easy to get ahead of them in plotting because you always know what the good guys are going to do. These guys can do anything. They are not bound by the normal rules. That's what makes it so fun to play in this space.
If that's the fun of it, what are the challenges of having protagonists that are bad guys?
You are talking to the guy who wrote "Training Day." For me, it's not going too far. It's very easy to go too far. At the end of the day, they are people with lives. They are people who have made bad decisions. You get into the question of, "Are you your worst day? Are you your worst act that you've ever committed? And should that define you? When you are defined in that way, is it immutable? Can you change? Can you learn? Can you grow?" A lot of this is about people that have been defined in an incredibly negative way and have absorbed and are maybe discovering that they are not so bad after all.
Your films are in the streets or in the military, or are very grounded and very contemporary realism or historical realism. What attracted you to finally getting into this world that has magic and superpowers?
It's interesting. It was really "Fury," because that was all about world creation even though it's a depiction of a historical event. You're trying to recreate things that exist and existed. It's not like you can run downtown and swing a camera. That taught me to swing a camera. That taught me to think in terms of creating a visual world and creating a layered visual world. I got excited to then take that level of control of what goes in front of the camera and apply it to the genre.
Plus, as a storyteller, there's a mythological power in comic books. In a lot of ways, comic book characters are really avatars for gods. They are very much like the Greek or Roman pantheon. There's something about the epic quality of that kind of character, of these characters that are avatars and almost have these superhuman powers. Some do have superhuman powers. To reverse engineer that into a psychological realistic space and execution, it just seems like the perfect assignment for me.
What was some of the comic book material that you looked at that really inspired you? Were you looking at the [John] Ostrander or the new [Adam] Glass stuff? And obviously taking characters that have never been part of the Suicide Squad comics and putting them in this movie.
You almost have to go back to the beginnings and look at Batman and look at the origins of Superman and start there and work your way through the canon and how it's evolved as society has changed. Certain elements haven't changed and certain elements have. The revolution going into the '90s and the graphic novel and [Frank] Miller's work - you sort of have to look at all that. For me, it was going into the original Suicide Squad, which was very interesting because it's a product of the bipolar world. These guys were fighting the Russians. It was very 80's and I'm a child of the '80s, so I totally understand where they were coming from. Then, you can really see how in today's world - where the government sometimes engages in murky activities to solve problems and make us safe - you could sort of see something like this happening and how it would happen today.
Can you talk about how you narrowed down which characters you were going to use and how they best serve the story?
Deadshot is a no-brainer because he's just a core element of that team. I got Harley Quinn through the New 52 version, but then I really started going, "OK, what's this character?" Then you get absorbed in her stand-alone things and then you get into her origins and her relationship with Joker. Defining that, it's salt and pepper. You have to have one thought with the other.
It is a lot of fun to see Boomerang, who is sort of the most villainous of all these characters. This has been a blast creating this absolutely out-of-control force of nature with Jai [Courtney, who plays Boomerang]. In character paradigms, he's evil-chaotic. It's like building a family and you just look for who is going to be complementary to each other and this is a new venture and it's a lot of characters to introduce. You're looking for that team and that family with interlocking skills that will complement everybody else's.
Building off that, were there any characters that you considered putting in, but had to cut out?
It's crazy how many characters there are. They keep killing them all and blowing their heads off. That's the beauty of this story: Nobody is safe. No matter who is in the movie, they are not safe. Anything could happen. There are definitely early rosters, but I think the core team was always there.