July 13, 2016

‘Suicide Squad’: David Ayer on Shooting on Film, Directing Jared Leto as The Joker, and Working in the DC Universe

Posted 2 days ago

Suicide Squad is, in many ways, the most exciting film of the DC Extended Universe thus far. What makes the picture unique is that this will be the first movie in this interconnected series of DC Comics adaptations that is not directed by Zack Snyder, therefore allowing audiences to see for the first time what a different director’s vision looks like within this same universe. And from the moment it was announced that David Ayer would be at the helm of Suicide Squad, it was clear that Warner Bros. would be enlisting some serious talent to direct its own slate of superhero movies.

Ayer’s career thus far has delved into the unflinching grittiness of the real world, be it South Central Los Angeles gangs in his directorial debut Harsh Times, the day-to-day of a pair of L.A. cops in End of Watch, or the ugliness of the tail end of World War II in Fury. With Suicide Squad, Ayer’s penchant for hardened stories meets the realm of the supernatural, and that mix thus far looks to be quite excellent.

Last summer I got the opportunity to visit the Toronto set of Suicide Squad along with a small group of reporters, and during our time there we were able to speak with Ayer as he was in between takes of shooting a scene involving Killer Croc’s dwellings in the Belle Reve prison facility. As both writer and director of Suicide Squad, the film is unmistakably Ayer’s, and so it was a joy to dive deep in our conversation, covering everything from his decision to shoot on film, how 70s movies like Serpico influenced his approach, the female characters’ costumes versus the men’s, working within an established universe, and why he wanted to put Batman in the movie. The conversation also, of course, touched heavily on Ayer’s relationship with Jared Leto in forming this new iteration of The Joker, and how he went about directing an actor who was in character the entire time.

If you’re at all interested in Suicide Squad from a filmmaking standpoint as well as story and character, I think you’ll find this interview worthwhile.

Can you talk about how you direct Jared Leto as he’s method acting? How do you direct someone who is in the character of The Joker?

AYER: It’s interesting because Jared is one of the first people I cast in this, and so those conversations and the character development, how to build this character have a lot of history between us. I understand how he’s built the character. I understand what he’s doing. It’s a little bit of like I know the magic trick. I know how the rabbit is hidden in the hat before you pull it out. He’s very professional and we’ve had a lot of discussions about his journey and his mindset in what are the pieces that become this character. As far as our on-set work it’s fantastic because, a little more of this, a little less of that, a little more of this secret ingredient here and a little less of that secret ingredient.

Plus the guy’s a rock star. He’s a bona fide rock star and so he has this incredible sense of presence, innate performance but also an incredible musicality about what he’s doing. He’s really found the voice of this character and I think people are going to be surprised because even though there’s some new visual elements to the Joker, when you see him on screen in aggregate as the character, I think it’s going to be hard for anyone to ever imagine anyone else as the Joker.

Can you talk about the decision to tackle Joker, coming off of the Heath Ledger performance? Was that always your intention with this project to do that? And can you talk a little bit about coming up with the look for him? I mean, obviously you’re online and you see that it’s getting a divisive response from the tattoos.

AYER: Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s definitely, the Joker’s sort of the third rail of the DC Comics world, right? And Heath and his work is in the Pantheon. That shouldn’t preclude reinvention. It’s the most iconic bad guy in any medium. For me, what an incredible opportunity to reinvent, to have some fun with the character, and to use him in the role of Suicide Squad, and that’s what’s so fun about what Warners is doing with the DC universe now is cross-connecting these films so that different characters can enter and leave and go through these doors and have these worlds link up.

We came at it with an incredible respect for the history of the Joker, and I’ve read every freaking comic. If you look at—I grew up on the Batman TV show, the Adam West TV show. Look at the incarnation of the Joker in that, look at how the Joker has evolved. So I don’t think we should freeze him in ice and never let him evolve with us as we evolve as an audience. As far as visual development of Joker, I wanted a guy who felt like he had history and he wears his history. This is a guy with some prowess and presence in the criminal world and I want him to feel like a modern day criminal. I want him to feel like someone that you believe could emerge from today’s underworld.

Read more on Collider.

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