If there’s one thing that DC and Warner Bros. have going for them in their growing cinematic universe, it’s comic book action with a very fine dose of reality layered on top of it, where cataclysmic struggles and battles come with some very real consequences attached to the. That’s clearly being felt in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, which is finally out next week in a cinema near you.
For characters like Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a quick injection of reality is something that their characters can easily adapt to. But what about a villain like Killer Croc? How does a hulking throwback to our reptilian DNA function in a team of trained killers and sociopath? Quite frighteningly well, as actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje donned some leathery make-up to bring the Batman villain to life on the big screen.
Thanks to the fine folks at Times Media, we had some questions for Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and he had some answers for us as we drilled him about the infamous Suicide Squad boot camp and sitting through five hours of prosthetics every morning before the cameras started rolling.
What was your reaction when writer/director David Ayer first approached you about Suicide Squad, and what inspired you to want to become involved?
Let me start with my reaction to first meeting David. You may or may not know, but David is a man of few words. He’s very much a man of action. When we met, it was as simple as him saying, ‘This is what I’m doing, what do you think?’ He insisted that he needed an actor who could bring forth the soul of this creature. He didn’t want Killer Croc to be a CG-character; he wanted an actor to play the character in prosthetics. Honestly, my first reaction was questioning whether or not anybody was going to know that it’s me in there.
And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ He really wanted to the soul of the character to come through the prosthetics, and he needed an actor that had the ability to do that.
So, I found that an interesting challenge, but what also inspired me is the fact that David’s body of work showed that he’s an actor’s director. He’s particularly good with ensembles, as was evidenced in Fury, where every character had an arc and seemed to pop. You’ll see a similar thing in this – it’s a huge ensemble, but you feel the personality and soul of each character and they all have an arc, whether they’re clad in prosthetics or whatever.
Then, of course, I was intrigued by the company of actors that I would be keeping, with Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie and the whole ensemble. It was a great stage on which to be able to perform your best work, but it was a challenge because I’ve done prosthetic work before, but not to this degree. This is probably the most intense job I’ve ever done in my career, not only physically, but mentally.
And, ultimately, for me as an actor, I knew I was going to have to act my butt off in order to be able to be seen and noticed among this phenomenal ensemble, and I relished in that and wanted to see what David and I could concoct.
Finally, I was inspired by the backstory of Waylon Jones/Killer Croc. He’s an interesting villain and an infamous hero because he was once a man who transformed into a beast that was a cannibal. To explore that and to have an opportunity to present the first cinematic incarnation of him, I thought, was exciting. David and I really worked hard together and tried to bring something original to the screen, as well as paying tribute to what was in the comic books.
How did you find your way inside the soul of character? What was your process in becoming Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc?
Well, it was various stages. It first began with the prosthetics because they were made over a period of time, so the full look wasn’t really complete until the final few weeks before shooting. Once I had done the molds for the face and the head and I got a sense of what the face was going to look like, that’s when I brought personality to the character.
In terms of the research, after reading up on the comic book history of Waylon Jones and Killer Croc, the first question I asked David was if my character really was a cannibal, and if that’s how he wanted me to play him. David said, ‘Absolutely.’ So, I did a lot of research about cannibals and, in particular, I found a really interesting confessional documentary about a real-life cannibal in Japan, Issei Sagawa. I would listen to the tapes of these confessions every single day – probably every single hour of the day – to get me into that zone.
What was fascinating about that was the empathy or understanding I gained of how somebody could be attracted to flesh; it was bizarre.
Also, I went down to the Everglades and hung out with some gators and crocs. I got in a pen with a few of them, just to feel the texture of their skin, but mostly to learn about their movements and to see how they eat. What I wanted to do was incorporate the movements and, particularly, incorporate them into the character’s fighting technique, which was the death roll that they do when they’re tearing flesh apart. To me, trying to create unique fighting styles particular to a crocodile was some of the interesting stuff that we did with the stunt team.
Those were some of the ways I got into character, and, of course, working with David regarding the look. Once we started dressing my character, that also added to the personality. There was a concerted decision between us to go with a celebratory look, something that allowed him to own his so-called misfortune. What accompanied that was a wardrobe that said, ‘I’m cool; I’m not ugly, I’m beautiful; I’m owning this; I’m King of the Sewer.’ So we blinged him out in the sewer, which added to his personality. All of those things were ways that we got into Killer Croc.
The prosthetics took five hours to apply, and, of course, we had a phenomenal team of prosthetic guys who really, day in and day out, nursed me through it. I feel sorry for them because they had to listen to those cannibal confessions while they were painting me for five hours and it drove them crazy. I think I sent a few of them to psychiatrists after having to listen to that all day [laughs].
Can you talk about the intense five-week rehearsal period/‘boot camp’ that David arranged for the cast. What was that like for you and what effect did it have on you as an actor and the cast as a whole?
It was seriously intense and brutal at times. We went through a combination of training; I think I was working out approximately three or four hours a day. We would do weight training in the morning, fight training in the afternoon, cardiovascular in the evening and then, on top of that, we would do rehearsals every day, and go to fittings. We all did all of that together. No one was excluded from any element of this boot camp, so our pain was shared – we trained together and sparred together.
I’m sure there were questions during the boot camp from each of us about whether all this was really necessary, but as we went through the process, we started to see the method behind the madness of Mr. David Ayer.
Not only did it physically prepare us for an arduous, physically taxing shoot and train us to be ready for just about anything, the rehearsals really bonded us together as a genuine Squad because we poured our guts out in that sacred room. When we came out on the first day of principal photography, it was evident that we were a Squad.
As Killer Croc, my marching orders were to scare the hell out of the characters and to make everyone feel unsafe around me. So, to that end, I had a ‘Croc Crib’ built away from the rest of the cast to keep my character somewhat mysterious to them. They didn’t know what he was going to do, and he didn’t quite fit in, but he was there. It was a great way to maintain that element of mystery because the Croc is very nocturnal, and he is quite shy. If you see him, he’s always lurking at the back of the group, never getting in front because that’s just how crocs do.
They’re always observing and they’re stealth, so I followed that.
The process was hard, but it was hugely rewarding because I think out of it, everyone finished with genuine friends, and it was a solid Squad by the time we came to principal photography.
This cast seems to have such great camaraderie when you’re all together, with a lot of playful teasing – or ‘piss-taking.’ Was there anyone in particular who took the piss out of you the most, or was it pretty much a free-for-all, all the time?
Yeah, it was a freaking piss-taking orgy – that’s all I’m going to say [laughs]. It was hard work, but everybody was up for grabs, and no punches were pulled. And, believe me, the director was not excluded from it either. When you’re on a six-month shoot, you need that kind of energy, so it was great.
I had wonderful relationships with most of the cast, and especially Adam Beach [who plays Slipknot]. He is just an example of how close we all got; he personally bought me a reclining set chair because I couldn’t sit down when we were filming. I had this prosthetic that was pushing my head, so he could see the strain that was on me, and he went out of his way to purchase this chair for me so that I could have some place to rest besides my Croc Crib. That’s indicative of the relationships that we had and how much we were looking out for each other.
Mr. Smith was the cheerleader of all good times because he built a recreational room for all the cast. It was like a Disneyworld in there, so, between takes, many of the cast were having a heap of fun; I couldn’t really partake in the activities because I couldn’t sweat too much in costume, so I had to go and lay down in my recliner that Adam bought me.
We also had a gym built and Will had a DJ booth in the gym, so we even though everybody knew that we were there to work, we all had a really fun time on the set. Will was also the orchestrator of all evils, I have to say, in the sense of being a prankster. He was the big prankster, and everybody chipped in, so it was good fun. Great relationships developed all around.
You have a Master’s degree in law, you speak several languages and you recently made your first short film. How did the experience of working with David and being part of this film inspire you as a new filmmaker?
David is what I call an undercover genius. He’s very much on the down-low with it all so it’s understated, but he really does have the goods. This was a huge juggernaut to pull off – to service all the various characters and pay homage to the comic history arcs and all the consequent special effects – but he always managed to be quite centered. There’s not a beat that he misses.
He was ruthless about who he chose to play the characters, which gave him a lot more freedom to do all the other stuff. And his direction on set was minimal because, basically, he trusted us. We had pretty much worked out many of the kinks in the boot camp so, by the time we got in the space of principal photography, he’d just give little notes. He had already obtained very personal and precious things from each of us during rehearsals. He was feverishly taking these notes, and we later found out why [laughs].
Every now and then, at the right time, he would whisper in our ears to get a certain reaction on set. It may not have been the thing that we wanted to hear and it may have made us feel that he was crossing the line, but, again, there was a method to his madness. He wanted to get the truest reaction from the characters, and he would employ whatever device he needed, especially what he extracted from the boot camp.
I thought that was a really cool and unique way to direct a movie like this. I think he had a very healthy respect for the actors in what is a somewhat overwhelming project. The center was always the characters; David never felt that the machine was bigger. The movie is driven by some really cool characters and everybody brought their A-game; everybody put down an amazing performance, and that’s really down to his process.
So, as a filmmaker, I learned that no matter how big the movie or how large the ensemble – it is always about characters and story.