When the cast and characters started to get announced for writer/director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, folks were certainly excited to see Will Smith bring Deadshot to life or Margot Robbie play Harley Quinn, but one of the most interesting additions to the ensemble was Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost, Thor: The Dark World) as Killer Croc. This Batman villain is one of the most cartoonish characters in the comics, and as opposed to someone like Joker or Captain Boomerang, has lacked human-like features in his various iterations—the Killer Croc in Batman: Arkham Asylum, for instance, is a massive beast of a creature. So how, exactly, would Killer Croc fit into the grounded, gritty, hyper-realistic world of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad?
That was the question on everyone’s minds when I visited the Suicide Squad set in Toronto last summer, but it was clear upon our arrival that Akinnuoye-Agbaje was bringing Croc to fruition via some tremendous makeup work, not CG or motion-capture. We got the opportunity to speak with Akinnuoye-Agbaje about his experience on the film a few hours before he hit the makeup chair, and when he walked by in full makeup later on, I was genuinely terrified. The craftsmanship that brings Croc to life in the film is nothing short of magic, and it’s refreshing to see the character being done practically instead of adding a CG member of the Suicide Squad to the ensemble.
During our conversation with Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the actor discussed how he and Ayer built out the backstory and motivations for Croc in order to give him a humanity. He also talked about the intense rehearsal process for the film where he sparred with his fellow cast members, why he secluded himself from the rest of the cast during filming, making the shift from Marvel to DC, the extensive process of putting on the Killer Croc makeup and prosthetics, why Croc has a Bronx accent, and much more. It’s a fascinating insight into how Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Ayer made a concerted effort to make this larger-than-life character as real as possible, and it has me even more excited for the film.
Check out the full interview below links to the rest of my set visit coverage. Suicide Squad opens in theaters on August 5th.
- ‘Suicide Squad’: Over 55 Things to Know about the Ambitious DC Film
- ‘Suicide Squad’: Margot Robbie on Understanding Harley Quinn, Cracking The Joker, and Fighting in Heels
- ‘Suicide Squad’: David Ayer on Shooting on Film, Directing The Joker, and Working in the DC Universe
- Here’s How Batman Figures into the Plot of ‘Suicide Squad’
- ‘Suicide Squad’ Director and Cast on the Intensely Personal Rehearsal Process
ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: It’s always character dependent. This is particularly different and challenging. One of the great things about this character is the level of the prosthetics, the realness of it. One of the things I had to do was practice a lot in the mirror with the prosthetic mask. I normally do that but one of the reasons is to get a read on how much I have to push underneath the mask with my facial contortions or how much to pull it back. With this particular prosthetic it’s so real to life and so glued down on my face that it really mimics pretty much every facial expression I could do normally without over-exerting myself. And that’s one of the big differences between what I’ve done before … Before, as you know, Kurse [in Thor: The Dark World] is full-bodied. This tends to be a lot more flexible and give you a lot more creative ingenuity in what you can do with your face.
I discussed with David Ayer the director, we sat down and talked about it, how we wanted to reincarnate the first vision of Croc in the movie. We wanted to ground him, really make him real. You’ll see that with the color of skin-tones that were used, which were blended in with my own, so that it was almost as if it was a disfiguration, a man that inherited a disease that gave him croc like features and looks. We wanted to ground that. One of the reasons they went to a lot of detail in how to craft the mask was so that I could really do as many natural facial contortions as possible. Also, we decided not to use contacts so that you could really get to see the being, the soul, beneath the mask. We found that that really helps draw you into him as a being, as a creature. It’s different on several counts but mainly because of the level of detail that has gone into creating the sophistication of the mask and how real it is for me to be able to do the contortions.
How many pieces is it?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: It depends. Sometimes, if I’m just using the head and shoulders, it’s three main pieces: the head, there’s a jaw piece, and there’s an eye piece that they glue on. There will be full body. We’ve done that already and it took six hours to do. Now we’re constructing some pieces to expedite the process. If we painted us everyday, we basically wouldn’t get on camera. It’s been a teething and tweaking, and now we’ve come to the realization that we’re going to use pieces. There will be another four or five pieces to go on. So in all, maybe about eight pieces.
Can you talk about how Croc’s backstory influenced your portrayal? He was bullied by his family. What makes his more human emotive side? Are we going to see that?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: You certainly see it, the layered and the textured … David, as you probably know from his former movies, he’s very much about characters. You’ll see that the layers come out in Croc. We’re not about just making this beast. We’re making a being. He’s somewhat tortured and abused from his childhood. It dictates his reactions, from him wanting to go underground. He’s always been ostracized and ridiculed for how he looks. What he’s done is embrace that. Instead of saying ‘I’m ugly’, he’s says ‘I’m beautiful’. Instead of going underground as if he’s hiding, he says ‘this is my kingdom’. He’s kind of reversed some of his childhood abuse into allowing him to become what he is, which is really the next threat to take over Gotham. That’s really what his ultimate goal is. One of the reasons is probably because obviously power, respect, but people liking him. And if you don’t, you’re going to have to if he’s got power. So all of those elements play into it.
You’ll probably see it today actually. This is the first time we really get into Croc as that being; him being in his subterranean seclusion. You get into his mind about why he’s there. What he does while he’s there. What he thinks about. His aunt used to scrub the scales off of him. He used to have to fight everyday. All of that certainly comes into play in the character, or in the creature that he becomes.
With the fact that it’s going to be pieces, and you have all this makeup, and working in the elements, how does that effect your mobility for fight scenes and stuff like that? It’s gotta be a challenge in and of itself.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: As you know from the past, it’s always a challenge wearing prosthetics, and doing physical fight scenes. In fact, we did the first one last night. There are many challenges. One just being able to breathe and not pass out because circulation is somewhat cut off. As far as the flexibility of the outfit, we haven’t actually fought in the full body yet. I was painted, so that was fine. But in terms of the head and shoulders, it’s challenging. There are certain exercises, workout strategies that I do. It’s not simply bulking up. It’s a lot of calisthenics. It’s almost yoga-ish, bending, twisting, so that when you actually get into that you’re not going to rip or pull muscles. The natural tendency for the head is to push it forward, so you’re like that for thirteen hours. So pretty much a lot of neck exercises so it helps you when you get in the moment. It’s challenging but as I said in the beginning, because of the detail that my prosthetics team have gone into in creating flexibility, they’ve made it pretty much so that I could whoop anybody’s butt.
Can you also talk a little bit about the training and what you studied before coming to the set?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: All of us went through a pretty intense boot camp. About six weeks of boot camp when we got there, which pretty much entailed physical … I mean I was working out twice a day. Not only weights in the morning and weights in the evening, but fight training in the afternoon, and then as I said to you the specific exercises that I needed to do in order to wear the suit and fight. Pretty much for the first six weeks we were doing about four or five hours working out and exercising. And in terms of what I did … We rehearsed also. At the end of those four or five hours, we were rehearsing everyday for an hour and a half with the director and the cast. And it was very intense. We were going into depth in each other’s characters. Bringing things from our childhood, whatever was relevant to make them real. Not only super villainous but also have a human aspect to them so that you can like them or hate them. It was an intense process from there.
Were you in the same training group as your co-stars?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: We all trained together. Everything was done together. We worked out together. We rehearsed together. We cried together. We hurt together. We laughed together. There was definitely a magical method to the madness. Once we began principal photography, we saw why David works that way because it’s such a solid bond, solid squad. You’ll hear this from the other cast, it’s so tight and we support each other in getting through it. Once we came out of that intense training course, not only were we like a family but we were pretty much ready for anything that he was going to throw at us.
We walked through the set a little while ago, and got to see where you’ll be filming later. Does Killer Croc have a thing for cats or just for art?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I think it’s pretty much how he expresses himself. He’s very primal, carnal. He’s a creature. And those felines, those are his brethren. And so, if he’s making sculptures that reflect that, it may be a pet that he may have had when he was a child. Things like that. I was thinking today, after the battle he may sculpt people that he’s taken down, you know as symbols or trophies. He’s very creative. Again, another aspect that you’re going to see to him, just when you think you’ve got him pegged, he does something very surprising and makes these beautiful sculpted pieces. It’s a testament to the gentle, creative side of him. David is very much about bringing that out and juxtaposing it with the visceral, viscous, barbaric creature that he has to be when he needs to be.
The fact that you had to be specific with your facial movements, did you study any sort of reptiles?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I did a lot of home research, to the point that I went down to the everglades down in Fort Lauderdale, watched the gators down there, spent hours videoing them, went in the ring with them. Yeah, there’s a tourist thing. You can actually go in there. It’s really not that dangerous. They’re probably sedated. But just to touch them and feel them, and actually feel the texture of their skin, and the blood flow through them—its actually quite soft, especially on the belly—and to know that when approach them from a certain angle, because of their eyes they cant actually see you. So you can actually get very close under here, but if you go in here you’re going to lose a hand.
Also, I studied a lot of video on how they kill. I was very intent on bringing the characteristics of a crocodile to him. So you’ll see in the movie, we’ve got these great signature moves, like what we call the “death throw” the “croc throw,”where he latches on to his prey and they twist. We’re doing that not only on the ground but in the water. So there’s a lot of movements.
Even the way I walk, I walk like I’m moving through water. So he has this sinuous twist. When I was studying and training in the mirror, I did various walks but the minute I did that the whole prosthetic came alive and took another dimension. It was very creepy, but it was very, very animalistic. So we have this kind of sinuous walk like he’s walking through water even when he’s walking on ground. All of this came from watching them, studying them. To me as an actor that’s some of the most exciting stuff to do because you have so much creative license. He’s a man who has become a croc. You can bring all these elements.
Even yesterday, when we shot the fight sequences, the way he fights its just … because if you see crocs, they can be quite slow and sluggish but the moment they move its very surprising how fast they are. And that’s how we were doing it. It is really quite scary. And then seeing him bite somebody’s face off … I mean, we did it last night. And also, what I’ve done, during the movie, I’ve literally kept myself away from the cast. And it’s a very hard process because he’s subterranean and I wanted the cast to be weary of him. And it’s a very tough because we’re all friends and we get along but I wanted to create that environment on the set where they’re wary of him and they don’t know if he’s going to bite them and they don’t know what he’s going to do. I mean we’ll walk in a scene, and he’ll jump over the car and come down as opposed to just walk the street. So they’re always like, “wha?” You know, “what’s Croc going to do?” That’s been the hardest part, not being able to party with my squad. But it creates a dynamic between the squad that I think is important and the audience will get. But at the end, we’ll party.
Is it safe to assume you’re doing an American accent for Croc. Even right now, you seem to be more Americanized here?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Yep. I mean obviously I’m in character because we’re about to go in as well. But definitely. He derives from the Bronx. David was very clear about the type of background that he had. We studied with a great dialogue coach, trying to get the Bronx accent. Again, it’s a great juxtaposition because you see this creature and then this Bronx accent comes out. You’ll be like, “Wait a minute”. It’s deep baritone, very rich in baritone, and quite slow, almost southern Bronx.
I know people from the Bronx. You do a really good job.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Thank you. I hope I could hold it down at the Bronx. I’ll just say that it is for the movies. We had a great dialect coach. We’re trying to knock it out. Croc from the Bronx.
Are your fingers, were those injured yesterday? They’re all scraped up.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: There’s lots of cuts and bruises. It’s just part and parcel of the job. What happened was, during the fight sequence, I grab a guy and I literally claw his intestines out of him—his gut, I pull it right out. You know you get into it, I clawed him, and the fingers broke off and just kind of scratched my … but literally the fingers were hanging off. That worked. But again, its all about utilizing … because his superpower, apart from being able to sense … you know like crocodiles can, they’re very still, they’re very attentive and they can sense everything and their eyes are always moving but they stay still … he has that extra sensory perception and hearing and knowing. But his power is this visceral strength. He can throw people and rip them apart. Using the claws was all part of that.
Were you at all familiar with the character before you got the part? Did you ever read the comics that featured Killer Croc growing up?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I have to be totally honest with you, no I wasn’t. Growing up, there’s a few comics that I read. But growing up, we didn’t really have comics. We were more interested about putting food in the belly. But no, I never read any of the comics. I wasn’t privy. And I think it kind of helps because it brings a fresh … And when I delved into it, I just had such an appetite because it’s such an interesting character to bring to the forefront. And also that he’s never been done before. So I wasn’t privy to any of his background. I knew one or two of the other characters. I heard of Harley Quinn. And then a few others, but no I didn’t know anything about croc to be honest with you.
I see you guys have a gym right there. Do you have any specific gym buddies, spotting you among the cast?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Like I said, my process of working for this character is to isolate myself. We all have this wonderful gym. Will [Smith], he’s so great in making us all feel like this is a fun experience. We have a leisure room right here. I don’t know if you’ve been in there. We should have done the interview in there. There are common playrooms and the gym. We all worked out there together. But in terms of a spar playmate, I have a specific trainer that I work with. And I worked with him on other movies. And we’re very specific, and we pretty much stay away and do those croc exercises.
Was there anyone who stepped into a leadership role when you guys were training together? Who kind of organically stepped into that role? The cheeleader for everyone.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: In the beginning, when we were all doing the boot camp, I think we were all together because it was pretty brutal and it was a really good bonding time. You’d be falling on the floor, sweating your guts out, “Not another one, I don’t want to do it.” We were also sparring with each other. There was a specific exercise that David had us do, where we were literally sparring … whether it be kickboxing or … and that was with each character. That was women, men, didn’t matter what size you were, we were fighting each other. I fought everyone from Jai to Joel to Will. We all knocked each other. We were just like all in it together and just trying to support each other through it. I think the fact that we all had to go through the same thing, it just made us like “Ok, let’s do this”. In terms of like a cheerleader, I think we just all dragged each other through it man.