Exclusive interview: Steve Agee talks ‘Peacemaker’
HBO Max’s The Suicide Squad spinoff Peacemaker is currently one of the most popular and talked-about shows on the planet, with James Gunn’s irreverent superhero series ranking as the best-reviewed film or television project in DCEU history.
John Cena’s Christopher Smith might be the guy with his name in the title, but the supporting cast are all excellent across the board. One of the many recurring highlights of Peacemaker is Steve Agee’s John Economos, who we first met in last summer’s feature-length Task Force X blockbuster, but this time he’s got a much larger and more important role to play.
We Got This Covered recently had the chance to speak to the actor about Peacemaker, his desires to be the DCEU’s ‘guy in the chair’, which character he’d love to come face-to-face with in the future, and how he feels about dropping so many f-bombs in such a short space of time, which you can check out below.
Peacemaker is currently the best-reviewed film or TV project in DCEU history, which is quite an achievement for one of the most bizarre, bonkers, and foul-mouthed superhero stories we’ve seen. How does it feel to beat out Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam and the rest of the gang?
Steve Agee: It’s honestly… it’s very surreal to hear that for, you know, a little HBO Max show that takes place in a smaller part of the DC universe. We’re in this country town of Evergreen, more kind of grounded characters. Like, Cena has no superpowers, you see us eating in restaurants and bars, but it also just happens to take place in a world where Superman exists. So I’m very happy with this!
As part of the James Gunn inner circle, how early were you clued in on the show? Because James said he wrote it mostly for fun to keep himself busy during the early days of COVID, which was well before any official announcement was made, so did he give you a heads-up that there might be a juicy role in a TV series coming your way?
Steve Agee: No! We had finished Suicide Squad in February of 2020, so just about two or three weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. So we’re really lucky that we finished, and then… it wasn’t until October, I think, that James called me and said he’d written a spinoff. And he’d written it a long time before he told me, he just said he didn’t want to get my hopes up in case it didn’t happen. So he told me in October, and I was already in… I was on my way to Vancouver to shoot it in December. So it was really fast for me.
I want to ask something similar about The Suicide Squad as well, because it was long after shooting wrapped that Sylvester Stallone was revealed as the voice of King Shark. Did you know from day one that it was going to be Stallone, or did you just know somebody would be coming in to do the voice?
Steve Agee: I knew that they just wanted me to do the motion capture. They didn’t have an official voice, like you said, until way after we had finished shooting. But early on, in rehearsals even, I was trying out different voices. And James wasn’t really excited about any of them. And, you know, I was trying to do him a little more scary and ominous, since it’s a giant shark. And he just said, “Think of Stallone. Think of like, kind of, big, oafish, kind of slow”. He’s like, “Think of a slower Stallone”. Like slower speech, not saying that Stallone is slow!
Like a speech pattern, that’s kind of deep and slow. And so for most of the shoot, I’m just doing a Stallone impression. So you can see in behind the scenes clips and features, on the DVD or the digital print of it, that there’s a few clips when you hear me talking like this. I figured, you know, if he wants him to kind of sound like Stallone, I was like, “It wouldn’t surprise me if they got Stallone to do it”. And they ended up getting Stallone!
Even though Peacemaker is the DCEU’s first TV series, did it ever feel like there was less pressure on the show in a way, than if it starred Batman or Superman characters? Because you’re getting away with the sort of stuff that would never fly if the stories were full of household names, so to speak.
Steve Agee: 100%. There would have definitely been pressure for this to perform if it had been, you know, one of the ‘major players’ like Superman, or Batman. Like you said, this is Peacemaker. It didn’t seem like there were a lot of stakes, like James could write him how he wanted. James brought him out of the comics, and kind of made him what we see today, and he did it pretty successfully. So, I just felt going into the series that if James just stayed true to how he had been, you know, treating Peacemaker in the movie the same in the TV show, then we would probably be alright.
As an actor and a fan, what goes through your mind when you realize you’re playing one of the main roles in the first bg budget TV series that’s set in a universe where Ben Affleck plays Batman, and you’re getting called ‘sugartits’ by John Cena in the first episode?
Steve Agee: It’s insane! I still… you know, I only saw the first… Well, they showed me the first three episodes a few months ago. And now I’ve seen the first three, and the fourth episode which just came came out. So I’m watching them now, because I’m curious to see how they turn out, you know? I know the scripts, but there’s a lot of scenes that John Economos is not in. So I’m watching these as an audience member as well. And I’m still having to just be like, “Wow. I can’t believe we did a superhero show. And we did eight episodes”.
And it is in a world where somewhere out there, in a bigger city, Superman’s flying around, and Batman’s fighting crime, and Aquaman is swimming around in the oceans, like it’s a really awesome feeling. I was never a huge comic book person, but I grew up with movies like Superman, and the more kind of animated cartoony versions with like, Michael Keaton as Batman, which I love, and so it’s really awesome to just watch it as a fan, just going, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m in this world”.
According to DC, there were 220 f-bombs dropped in the first three episodes alone, but you got less than 20 of them. Do you feel you should have upped your game in hindsight, even though James Gunn said on Twitter recently that the amount of ad-libbed ‘f*cks’ you added to your dialogue was brought up by HBO?
Steve Agee: I saw that, I’m kind of embarrassed by it. But.. uh, yeah, I also feel like I probably would have had the number one, ranking and dropping f-bombs, if I had more screentime. If I had more screentime, I think, in the first three episodes… I had less screentime than everybody… so I think my ratio is still probably better, as far as curse words to screentime, than anybody else. If it was The John Economos Show, it would have been overkill, maybe.
DC didn’t publish those numbers, but you probably are number one in terms of f*cks-per-minute.
Steve Agee: I mean, yeah, if you could figure it out. Yeah, per minute. I would probably be up there. I think just in the episodes alone I have the third-most amount, so I’m okay with that.
Was there much ad-libbing or improvisation allowed or encouraged, or did the scripts come loaded with all of the weird asides and exchanges fans instantly fell in love with?
Steve Agee: Almost everything you’re seeing in the episodes is written. There’s a little bit of improvisation. And I honestly think most of the improvisation comes from James on set. Like, he’s sitting in his tent with a microphone watching the monitors, and he throws out suggestions that he’s coming up with on the fly.
A lot of those do get into the show, but generally it’s as written. Sometimes a scene will end, and you’ll just let the cameras keep rolling, and we can just kind of keep talking and let the scene go on. That’s usually where you’ll see the most improvisation. If you do see any, it’s at the end of the scene.
In The Suicide Squad, Economos was restricted to ‘guy in the chair’ territory, did becoming a man of action take some getting used to? Or have you always wanted to get your hands dirty and kick some ass?
Steve Agee: I have always wanted to. It took a lot of getting used to, especially the running around and the physicality, because I’m… you know, I’m 6’7″ and I’m over 300 pounds. So running is not something that I’m used to. That was really the hardest part.
The stuff that was not filmed, ‘in the chair’ as you put it, it’s the stuff out in the field where I’m beating Judomaster with a pipe or, you know, running from a bunch of butterflies and stuff. It’s a dream come true. As a kid watching action movies, as like, “Oh my god. I get to get in a fight. I get to jump, and run, and do all sorts of cool stuff”, no matter how difficult it actually is for me. Yeah, it did take some getting used to.
James Gunn says the eighth episode is his favourite, but Jennifer Holland is pushing for episode six as the best. Where do you fall on this argument?
Steve Agee: Well, the episode that comes out this week, episode five, is a pretty great John Economos episode. It’s the one episode that when I got the script, I was like, “Oh my god, I wish we could shoot this first”. Because, I get to do some stuff in this episode that… I marked it on my calendar. When we got the schedule, I was like, “This is the day I get to shoot, you know, X”. And it was not disappointing in any way at all. I mean, when you see the episode, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, because it’s a massive moment for John Economos. But that being said, episode eight is incredible.
And there’s a reason why they haven’t shown it to anybody, a lot of the press early on got the first seven episodes. But they wouldn’t release the eighth, because there’s so much insane stuff that happens in it, that they were really afraid of stuff being leaked, because it’s stuff that even I’ve had a hard time not talking about what happens, you know? And I know what happens! I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.
And James was… that shoot, that last episode was mostly shot at night. And one of the scenes in particular was, it was like three o’clock in the morning. And James was running around, biggest smile. I’ve known him for like thirteen years, and he’s got the biggest smile on his face. And he just keeps saying, “I can’t believe they’re letting me do this. I can’t believe DC is okay with me doing this”. And that’s part of the reason why they haven’t shown it to anybody. So, I’m really excited for episode eight to air so everyone can see. But also so I can see, like… I went in to do ADR recording for that episode a couple months ago, a different scene.
And I was asking them, after we recorded it, if they could fast forward the scene so I could see this particular moment. They’re like, “Nope. We can’t show it”. And I was like, “I was there! It’s not like you’re going to spoil anything”. And they’re like, “Yeah, but there’s people in the room who don’t know about it, so we can’t afford to have this slip out”. So I think you’re going to be really stoked with episode eight.
You’ve got well over 100 credits under your belt covering almost every type of genre, where does Peacemaker rank in terms of how much fun you had making it, and how much you’ve enjoyed the reactions to the finished product?
Steve Agee: I mean, it’s definitely the… it’s number one. It ranks, like… I’m a character actor by nature. So usually, I’m relegated to maybe recurring parts on TV shows. I’m rarely a regular. I haven’t been a regular since The Sarah Silverman Program in, you know… 2007.
So for me, shows that I’m usually in, I’m in like one or two scenes in one or two episodes a year. So this has just been a great experience all around. Just as far as screentime, but also I get to work with James, who has been a friend for a long time, and the subject matter is…. you couldn’t ask for something more fun to do. So, I mean it. It’s not even a hard question to answer. This is number one, for sure.
Fans are already hoping another season of Peacemaker becomes a reality, would you like to see Economos as a guy who can pop up all over the DC Universe in the future after Peacemaker?
Steve Agee: Yeah, like a Cobie Smulders in the Marvel universe, or a Nick Fury. I love this part, I love that he’s part of A.R.G.U.S., and he’s like a guy in the chair. So all these other groups need guys in chairs, so it would make sense, you know? It’s not a huge stretch to have Economos pop up in other stuff. So I hope James has laid the groundwork well enough that we see these characters in other worlds in this universe. And I think he has, so fingers crossed. And I need the work as well!
What superhero would you love to see Economos come face-to-face with, even if it’s for nothing more than comedy value?
Steve Agee: I mean, I would have said like Superman or Batman. I mean, just because I’m a big fan of theirs. But, I think when James wrote it into the script, that there was also a world where Bat-Mite exists, which I had never heard of until the show, a two-foot tall little superfan of Batman. I was like, “I kind of need to see this”. Because I’m 6’7″. So I think just the juxtaposition would be great, whether or fighting him or just driving in a car. So I’d have to say Bat-Mite.
That concludes our interview with Steve Agee. Peacemaker has four more episodes to go, which roll out every Thursday on HBO Max.