John Cena on the Power of James Gunn’s Storytelling for ‘The Suicide Squad’

     January 13, 2020

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2020 is looking pretty good for John Cena. He lends his voice to this month’s big-budget Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the famed physician with the ability to talk to animals (Cena plays a bear who, sadly, does not wear jean shorts). He’s joining the Fast and Furious family in this summer’s Fast and Furious 9, and he’s currently filming a yet-undisclosed role in James Gunn’s hotly anticipated The Suicide Squad.

Simultaneously a soft reboot of and a direct sequel to the 2016 film, The Suicide Squad follows a group of raucous super villains recruited by the government and forced to do “good” deeds. Gunn is no stranger to crafting a fun adventure around a band of likable miscreants – he took arguably the most obscure characters in the Marvel Universe and made Guardians of the Galaxy into one of the MCU’s most popular franchises. Joining one major franchise and getting in on the ground floor of two potential others means the next several months are going to be pretty crazy for Cena’s film career. Collider’s Steve Weintraub recently got to talk with the famously good-natured actor about his current slate of roles and his experiences working with Gunn.

“Dude, it’s a… I don’t know how any of this is happening,” Cena said. “I mean, I’m promoting a movie with Robert Downey Jr. I’m currently filming a movie, a superhero movie, with James Gunn.”

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Image via Universal Pictures

He recalled his initial reaction after reading Gunn’s script, saying, “I was blown away. The first 10 pages [are] like a movie in itself. It’s really, really special. That’s because the guy steering the ship [Gunn] is committed to narrative and committed to creating characters that we connect with and sending them on an awesome journey. I mean what he did with [Guardians of the Galaxy] is really special.”

Cena was equally blown away the first time he met Gunn and walked into his office to see the walls covered with storyboards for The Suicide Squad. “The whole thing’s story boarded. I’m like, ‘Man, this guy already knows the movie and if that wasn’t flooring enough, I’m in some of the storyboards.’”

Cena compared Gunn’s storytelling style with his career as a performer in the WWE. “When I watch Guardians, immediately I’m connected to these people and I walk away with a certain takeaway from that movie,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the preconceived notions of the comic book characters. I watched the movie for the movie and I enjoy it. I’m also a storyteller at heart. I got to go out there on a nightly basis in WWE and entertain Birmingham, Alabama and make them want to believe that they want to see a WWE title switch or that so-and-so hates so-and-so or whatever story we’re trying to put together for that night. So I tip my cap to a great storyteller. James is a writer and a developer and he has great vision.”

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via Getty Images

Ultimately, Cena was most impressed by Gunn’s passion and dedication to the entire project. “You want go to work with people who jump out of bed every day and want to go to work,” he said. “[Gunn] is the epitome of that. He cares so much about what he’s doing and I think especially when he’s put in a position to write, develop, and do this by his rules essentially. He chose the franchise. He kind of dictated his terms and now he’s really betting on himself and I hope everybody enjoys seeing it as much as we’re enjoying making it, because it’s awesome.”

And what was it like putting his character’s costume on for the first time? “Awesome. Awesome. There’s folklore about like, ‘Yeah kid, wait till you do a superhero movie.’ I guess I’m used to my costume being jean shorts and a tee shirt. So, it’s a nice little change up that I didn’t have to wear a ball cap and wristbands, but it was really cool.”

The Suicide Squad is due to hit theaters on August 6, 2021. Look for a lot more from Steve’s interview all week.

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