There are many horror stories from the set of “Suicide Squad.” For his comic book movie about a team of villains rounded up to save the world, filmmaker David Ayer (“End of Watch,” “Fury”) encouraged his actors to get really, really, really into character. Some took it too far: Jared Leto got so into playing the Joker that he mailed fellow cast members condoms. There was only one crazy thing Viola Davis had to do. As Amanda Waller, the manipulative government official who created the squad, she was asked to keep calling her fellow actor Joel Kinnaman, who plays a solder, a “p—ssy.”
And yet Davis, 50, couldn’t have had a better time. Still reeling from reuniting with the close-knit cast for the “Suicide Squad” junket, the two-time Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner gushes about a very unique experience.
Apart from calling Kinnaman a “p—ssy,” were there other things Ayer would do to get you in character?
Besides calling him a “bitch” and a “p—ssy” [laughs], that was pretty much the height of it. But what [Ayer] constantly encouraged me to do was tap into my power and not shy away from it at all. Whenever I did something, he would say, “Nah-uh. Louder! Harder!” It was very liberating for me. It was a great exercise in terms of tapping into my power and understanding how much further I need to go in my life.
Have you ever experienced something like this kind of production? Doing a play might be somewhat similar to this.
No. It just became a different sort of camaraderie. We had a rehearsal period of four weeks where they encouraged everyone to just go for it, to share their intimate secrets. The members of the “Suicide Squad” had sparring watches and spent a lot of time training together. We just got to know each other and it created this atmosphere of safety and togetherness. By the time we started shooting we really felt like a team.
What were some of the things you had to do in terms of prep?
I had to go to gun training. I learned about the larger weapons, the semi-automatic, the 9mms. In the past I’ve done so much training with the FBI, so I knew that in and out already.
I know Ayer asked you to read M.E. Thomas’ book “Confessions of a Sociopath.” What were some particularly interesting insights you gleaned from that?
One of the things she says is leaders, CEOs of companies, hedge fund people — a lot of them are sociopathic. A lot of those Type-A personalities are power hungry. It gave me a mental picture of who I was shooting for.
Amanda Waller can sometimes be the movie’s most villainous character. But the film doesn’t judge her. She’s someone who thinks the ends justify the means.
Look who she had to lead! Look who she had to control! Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, who’s a cannibal — you would have to be pretty badass to control them. You have to be just as ruthless as they are.
She sounds like she was fun to play.
I had a blast. I really did. I’m serious.
Even though this is a comic book movie, it does have something to say about how we treat people who are different than us.
I always go the line I have in the movie where I talk about Killer croc: “He grew up looking like a monster and pretty soon people treated him like a monster. After awhile he believed he was a monster.” That’s what we do to outsiders, with people we label as “those people.” They begin to act like outsiders. They begin to feel like outsiders.
Given how intense the production was, was it hard to shake off?
I’m one of those actors who never has a hard time shaking off roles. But I did see this rearing its ugly head in little parts of my life. I’d have a little bit more bite to me than usual. I’d shut down a little too much, to the point where it kind of scared me. Listen, I need some laughs in my life. I have a six-year-old. I don’t think she wants to play dress-up as Amanda Waller. [Laughs]