‘Suicide Squad’: Charles Roven on Jared Leto Going Method, the Rating, and Hiring David Ayer
Folks are no doubt excited for next March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice—which is the culmination of an onscreen superhero battle/team-up we’ve been waiting on for decades—but perhaps Warner Bros. was a tad surprised at just how fervent the fan anticipation would be for the studio’s BvS follow-up Suicide Squad. It’s an ambitious film to be sure, telling a superhero story entirely from the “bad guys’” point of view, but it blends the iconography of the DC Comics library with something the film’s writer and director David Ayer does very well: a family story.
For those unfamiliar, Suicide Squad revolves around a group of villains who are tasked with performing high-risk operations for the government in exchange for commuted sentences. We don’t know exactly what they’ll be after/doing in the movie, but we do know that Jared Leto makes his debut as a radicalized version of The Joker, and the titular “Squad” includes Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc, amongst many others.
Steve recently sat down with Atlas Entertainment Founder and producer Charles Roven, who produced Suicide Squad and is part of the DC Cinematic Universe Brain Trust that works on developing this shared universe slate of films, and while the conversation was tied to the release of the first Warcraft trailer (which Roven produced), it inevitably turned to Suicide Squad.
Roven was more than happy to discuss the film, revealing that we shouldn’t expect an official trailer until the first quarter of next year, so don’t expecting more Joker for Christmas. But Roven tackled one subject head on that a lot of people have been fascinated by: Jared Leto’s performance. Leto is a method actor so, in keeping with how he works on all his films, he went method to play The Joker. There have been stories of isolation on set and strange gifts being sent to his co-stars, and Roven confirmed that it was indeed a “different” experience, but one that ultimately served the film:
“Look, you know, it was different, it was fun. The group first wasn’t sure because the AD’s had to call him ‘Mr. J’ to get him to come to the set [laughs]. And he did in many ways isolate himself from the rest of the group, but that’s really what his character was, the purpose of his character in many ways, other than when he was with Harley or trying to get Harley. It was very entertaining, it was fuel for a lot of good sport and a lot of laughs, and his isolation bonded the squad, and we wanted the squad bonded.”
Speaking of the squad, the film began not as an idea dreamt up by the folks at Warner Bros. as part of overarching superhero plans, but actually as a pitch from writer-director David Ayer himself:
“He had a close relationship with [Warner Bros. executive] Greg Silverman and Greg said, ‘He’s got an idea on Suicide Squad, he wants to come in and pitch it.’ Having a guy like that who’s been able to—all of his films have had a certain level of groundedness to them, really feeling very richly real. And so having that sensibility, which is along the lines of what we were talking about earlier how we like to have things grounded in science or whatever, I was very anxious to hear what his take was gonna be on Suicide Squad and I was very happily surprised, but it was right exactly in the pocket that we were looking for. Honestly that movie was essentially greenlit in the pitch meeting.”
It’s kind of refreshing to hear that Suicide Squad was built from the ground up by Ayer, and I think that speaks to Warner Bros.’ filmmaker-centric approach to its superhero movies. Suicide Squad wasn’t part of their big plans, but Ayer came in with a smart pitch and the film was off and running.
And having the film’s director also be its writer helped woo the caliber of actors that came onboard, some of whom may have otherwise been put off by the necessity of signing on to multiple films at once:
“Surprisingly, one of the things that is a natural benefit of having a writer-director is that when you meet with him, if he’s trying to meet with an actor and explain to them what the role’s gonna be, there’s a lot of confidence that the actor has that the man who’s telling him what’s it’s gonna be is gonna deliver because he’s both the writer and the director. So David was very fresh off the heels of a movie that he could show called Fury, which was a fabulous picture, and he was able to talk about these really—as he says ‘it can be fun to be bad’ and ‘just because they’re bad doesn’t mean they’re evil’, and so he was able to convince all of the actors that we went out to that he was gonna be able to make these characters so compelling that they would wanna be played more than once by these actors.”
Roven added that the atmosphere on set was one of absolute camaraderie:
“I have to say, it was one of the most fun sets ever. I’ve been doing this for a while, and the camaraderie that was built on that set—everybody couldn’t wait for the next day to come back to work.”
Seeing as how this is a film told from the point of view of some very bad people, and given Ayer’s filmography, one imagines Suicide Squad could’ve easily delved into R-rated territory. Steve asked Roven if an R-rating was ever considered for the film, but he says to keep it consistent with the DC Cinematic Universe, it will be PG-13:
“The intention of the film is definitely to be PG-13… We really want to make these films tonally consistent so that, as I said because this is a shared universe, at least our current thinking—and again, we’re not dealing in absolutes because while this is business it’s also a creative endeavor, so you want to leave yourself open to changing your mind, doing something different, being inspired, that’s the whole process of filmmaking is you have to allow for inspiration as well as having a road map for what you’re gonna do. So our plan right now is to make all these films PG-13. In some cases, you know, right there on the edge of PG-13, but still PG-13.”
It’s interesting that Roven makes a point to say these plans have the possibility of changing somewhere down the road, but the fact is Suicide Squad was an expensive movie and releasing it as R automatically puts a cap on the box office the studio can recoup. Something like Fox’s Deadpool was envisioned as R-rated from the beginning, which is why the budget was kept low, but it’s likely too late to slate Suicide Squad for an R-rated cut in theaters. However, here’s hoping the home video release has an unrated option.
Finally, Steve asked Roven what he thinks will surprise audiences most about the film, and he cited the satisfying character arcs for the entire ensemble:
“There’s a lot of characters in Suicide Squad, and I think you’ll be engaged with them. They all have fabulously different arcs, they’re all very individualistic, and I think that also they’re very, very human in their own dysfunctional ways. And I think that the personal individuals stories and how they relate to each other will be surprising.”
One thing’s for sure: we’ve never seen a movie quite like Suicide Squad before, so here’s hoping Ayer shakes up the superhero genre a bit. The film is slated for release on August 5, 2016.