While James Gunn’s new HBO Max show, Peacemaker, might have John Cena front and center, he’s far from the only stellar part of the new DC Comics ensemble project. Among the ragtag group of new characters is Steve Agee’s John Economos. His character was first seen in last year’s The Suicide Squad where both he and Jennifer Holland’s Emilia Harcourt monitored the titular group from the ARGUS control room under Amanda Waller’s watchful eye.
Now, he’s back, and after rebelling against Amanda Waller is tasked with working alongside Cena’s titular character for punishment. Not only that, but John has to deal with a volatile team and one angry masked martial artist.
Steve Agee Talks Peacemaker, Gunn, & Sharks
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Direct, Peacemaker's Steve Agee spoke about his role in Gunn’s new series.
One thing that becomes abundantly clear about his character after watching the show's first few episodes: Economos sure does get picked on a lot. But why?
The actor attributed it to “working with a guy who’s a jerk and a boy” and that he’s simply “an easy target:”
“I tend to want to say that it’s just he’s working with a guy who's a jerk and a boy, so naturally, that would go along with it. But Economos is kind of picked on by everybody in that group. I think he’s just an easy target, and it’s kind of a bummer to see all these people punching down. But yeah, I mean, it’s a journey. He’s gotta pay his bills.“
Peacemaker is far from the only person that picks on John, as the rest of the team is “mostly assholes.” For viewers worried about the character’s sanity, Agee promised that viewers are “gonna see things start to come around a little bit for John Economos in the later episodes:
“He’s just gotten stuck with these, mostly, assholes. Some of them are nice, but you know, the lucky thing with this opposed to the movie that we did is that we all get arcs in here, and everyone kind of changes a little bit. You’re gonna see things start to come around a little bit for John Economos in the later episodes.”
With such toxicity, one has to ask: why doesn’t he leave? The actor defended his character, saying the reason could be two-fold. For one, he has to pay his bills. Secondly, there’s a good chance “Amanda Waller’s got some shit on him… and he’s just kind of stuck doing this:”
“I feel like there are probably a few reasons. I don’t know if this job would pay; I assume it pays okay because of the secrecy and stuff. But yeah, it’s bills, but also I kinda like to think that Amanda Waller’s got some shit on him that he’s just kind of stuck doing this because she knows some shit.”
Does that mean he and his fellow co-workers might have bombs in their heads? Agee doesn’t think so, but he noted that “if [Waller] wants you working for her… she will find a way to get anybody:”
“I mean, I don’t think he has an explosive planted in his body anywhere, but there’s probably some embarrassing stuff [she’s holding onto]... if [Waller] wants you working for her, I think she will find a way to get anybody.”
Amanda Waller may be terrifying, but imagine doing an entire opening dance number for a show’s opening credits.
Agee laughed when the topic came up, describing the process as “difficult.” The actor went on to make it clear that “[he’s] a giant and over 300 pounds,” not to mention he’s self-admittedly “uncoordinated… [and has] poor rhythm:”
“If I had to pick one word, I’d say ‘difficult’? As you can see in the show, I’m a giant and over 300 pounds; I’m very uncoordinated—very poor rhythm. Next to Robert [Patrick], it was probably most difficult for me. But luckily, we had a great choreographer, a woman named Charissa Barton, who took the time to do several rehearsals with us leading up to the day that we actually shot it... They kind of figured out who the people would be who were strong dancers [and] weaker dancers. I think you see people like Jennifer Holland featured a little more prominently because [she’s] a great dancer, who's a gymnast, and I’m thrown in the back—which is pretty much where I belong with my dancing talent.”
A huge dance number to “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” isn’t the only strange thing Peacemaker has in store for its audiences. The show is filled with obscure characters––from its titular character to the likes of Vigilante or Judomaster, obscurity is in James Gunn’s DNA.
Agee confirmed how “James likes to call out really obscure comic [characters],” and that every time the actor asks Gunn if a particular character is a real thing, “most of the time [it is]:”
“Well, James likes to call out really obscure comic [characters], I mean obviously, look at his work. The Suicide Squad he had Polka-Dot Man, TDK, which I think in the comic books is actually Arm-Fall-Off Boy is that character’s actual name, and Javelin—there’s just all these characters that when I get a script, I’ll text James and say, ‘Is this… did you make this up or is this real?’ And a lot of the time, I mean, most of the time, it’s real.”
On top of the featured unknowns, the dialogue alone in the first few episodes has called out even crazier heroes and villains. How many people even know Bat-Mite existed in the first place?
Agee joked about how “[he] would love to see more of these [obscure] characters” while noting how “it’s just a testament to how great [he] is at writing characters” that the writer and director can make such insane characters work:
“I would love to see more of these characters. And it’s just a testament to how great James [Gunn] is at writing characters. Like, he can take a really stupid character on paper, you know if you’re like, ‘This is a bad idea,’ and really give him depth, and he’ll make them somebody that you’re rooting for. I would love to see Bat-Mite and Matter-Eater Lad [show up].”
Both Steve Agee and James Gunn have worked together on several projects, including Super, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and The Suicide Squad. So when did it all start?
Agee recalled how “James was doing a reality show… [with his] friend Shawnee Smith,” and her invite is what set the fateful stage:
“James was doing a reality show for VH1 called Scream Queens and my friend Shawnee Smith, who you’d probably know best from the Saw movies, she was co-hosting this show with James, and she called me one day and said, ‘I’m going to this dinner party thing at James Gunn’s brother’s Shawn’s house.’ She goes, ‘I don’t think I’m going to know anybody else… so if you want to go with me. So I went, and James and I hit it off immediately. Like immediately. And then at the end of the night, he said we do this every Sunday, we’re here every Sunday if you want to come back. Shawnee never went back once, and I kept going back every single Sunday. And that kind of set the ball in motion. That’s how James and I became friends; was over wine and cheese. Neither of us drank… we ate a lot of cheese.”
So what keeps Agee working with Gunn? The actor claimed how “[James] writes all his own scripts” is a substantial contributing factor, and that the famous director “knows in his mind exactly how he needs the scene [and] how he needs it to feel:”
“The consistency and the thing I like the most about working with James… not only as a director, but the fact that he writes all his own scripts. So you notice a huge difference in who has written the script as opposed to one who hasn’t. By the time we get to set and start shooting, James has gone through enough drafts, and he also does his own storyboarding, so he knows in his mind exactly how he needs the scene, how he needs it to feel. Like there’s no question about it at all because he wrote the source material.”
Another benefit of Gunn’s abilities is how “he can move really fast” because he realizes the moment the actors do what he wants, so he avoids needlessly doing the same scene over and over again. However, at the same time, Agee laughed at how “on the other side of that coin, if you’re not getting it… you’re gonna stay there for hours:”
“So he’s a really fast director to work with. If you get a take in one try, he realizes it, and he’s like, ‘Alright, let's move on.' He can move really fast that way. [However] on the other side of that coin, if you’re not getting it the way he’s seeing it in his head, you’re gonna stay there for hours doing the same thing. But yeah, aside from him being my friend and being really fun on set and great to be around, is the fact that by the time you’re shooting with him, he knows the stuff inside and out. He’s created it already in his head, so it’s a really easy shoot with him.”
Before Peacemaker was ever a thing, Steve Agee played a large role in Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, not just as ARGUS Agent John Economos but also as the on-set King Shark.
“[The] King Shark deal was great,” recalled the actor, “I worked more days than anybody else on the movie:”
“The King Shark deal was great… that was a lot of shooting. I think when we did The Suicide Squad, if you figure in King Shark and the John Economos stuff, I think I worked, at least when we started on the schedule, I worked more days than anybody else on the movie, including Margot [Robbie]. I think they were adding days here and there, so she may have surpassed me, but it was a lot of work. But you know, the good thing about doing motion capture is that you don’t have to sit in the makeup chair. You can literally show up five minutes before work.”
While King Shark lived through the entire movie, fans have no idea what has happened to him since. So will audiences get to see the large aquatic king again?
Agee’s “fingers are crossed,” and the actor observed that based on how viewers reacted to the character in his debut outing, he doesn’t “know how [Warner Bros.] can afford to not bring King Shark back:”
“My fingers are crossed. I mean, judging by audiences' reactions, I don’t know how [Warner Bros.] can afford to not bring King Shark back. I don’t know if The Suicide Squad will do a sequel or not. I think it would be great, but I think they’ve also just established his character… [he’s] an audience favorite. It wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up in other movies. I would hope so. I would love to do him again.”
Was there ever a version of The Suicide Squad’s script where King Shark died? The actor firmly responded with a “No” and said that he “think[s] James knew not to kill that character off:”
“No. Every script I saw King Shark lived. I think James knew not to kill that character off. He was too lovable.”
As for his human character, when could he show up? His co-star, Jennifer Holland, is rumored to have a role in Dwayne Johnson’s upcoming Black Adam film. Could John Economos join her?
Agee sadly confirmed that he “think[s] [he] missed that train” but that his character could “easily pop up here and there" in a similar manner to Nick Fury and his many appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
“I don’t think I’ll be joining her in Black Adam. I think Black Adam has finished shooting already. So I think I missed that train. But, you know, much like King Shark showing up in other movies, I think they’ve set up a world where John Economos could easily pop up here and there. Much like the way Cobie Smulders’ character did in the Marvel movies or like Nick Fury. Kinda just walking in and out of things here and there; it makes sense. He’s part of ARGUS, and he’s around Belle Reve a lot. I definitely think it’s possible, and I have my fingers crossed for it… Fingers crossed, man.”
Steve Agee can currently be seen on HBO Max’s Peacemaker, which airs weekly every Thursday.