John Cena may play the title role in the new HBO Max series Peacemaker, but exec producer/writer/director James Gunn stressed in a recent interview with IGN that Cena is actually the show’s co-lead alongside Danielle Brooks as Leota Adebayo. Leota, however, is not just Task Force X’s latest recruit; she’s also revealed to be the daughter of their fearsome boss Amanda Waller. (Viola Davis cameos in episode two, marking the Oscar winner’s third time playing the character.)
This familial connection is an invention of Gunn’s as Waller doesn’t have a daughter named Leota in the DC Comics. The core relationship explored in Peacemaker, though, won’t be between Waller and her daughter but rather the friendship between Peacemaker and Leota, which Gunn told IGN is “the true love story of the show.”
Gunn cites their status as the children of two very different DC antagonists – in Chris Smith’s case, his father is revealed to be the racist supervillain White Dragon, a deviation from the original comics – as the root of their bond despite otherwise having so many differences between them.
“I think they’re both people that are entrapped by who their parents are and in very different ways,” Gunn told IGN in a recent video interview. “Leota has much more independence from her mother than Peacemaker does from his father. Peacemaker is still desperate for his father’s approval, (whereas) I think Leota has made up her own mind about the way she wants to live, and it’s not as her mother’s daughter. So I think that they’re very different in that respect. I definitely think Leota is a more evolved human being, but she has her issues as well.”
Gunn said it’s precisely the differences between Peacemaker and Leota that make for a rich relationship to explore. “One of the most interesting things about the show for me is they’re both these characters who have such different belief systems. They come from such different places, and yet the true love story of the show is between the two of them. Not romantic love, not sexual love, but just this genuine appreciation for who each other is as a human being,” Gunn said.
“They’re genuinely fond of each other and like each other and share a sense of humor. That is the heart of the story. That probably is partially because they do have – although their belief systems are different, their personalities have some things that are similar because they both come from these power-hungry parents who are intent on dominating everything around them.”
Brooks echoes Gunn’s sentiment that it’s the common denominator of Peacemaker and Leota being the children of villains that makes their unlikely friendship compelling. “It is very interesting that James Gunn has done that parallel between these two people that are so completely different. I think it’s safe to say that they’re different politically and with race and all of their views are just so on the opposite spectrum,” Brooks told IGN over Zoom this week.
“Yet they have so much in common and that’s what makes them bond at the end of the day, because they are struggling with this morality thing of like, ‘Am I loyal to my parents?’ Which is all hard for all of us. I had struggled with that growing up. It’s like my mom, anything she said was, that was it. And I had to do that, to be that. And then you start to say, ‘I don’t necessarily have to do what they want me to do. How do I move on my own? And what’s important to me.’”
But while the series shows Peacemaker still withering under the spiteful abuse hurled at him by his vile dad Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), Leota appears to have a warmer relationship with her otherwise intimidating mom Amanda Waller (at least from their one scene together so far). For Leota Adebayo, how far does the apple fall from the tree when you’re the child of stone-cold schemer Amanda Waller? While Gunn believes Leota has decided not to live “as her mother’s daughter,” we’ve also seen Waller ask her daughter to plant incriminating evidence in Peacemaker’s home.
“Do I think Adebayo holds a bit of her mother in her doing this behavior? I think that’s what we will definitely come to discover,” Brooks said. “Does she? What is more important to her? Is she going to be following what her mom wants her to do? Is she going to be selfish? Is she going to hold down this new black ops crew that she’s joined? What direction is she going to go in? And we’re going to definitely watch her battle that and fight that and figure it out.”
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Leota may still be learning about covert ops, but she’s not completely unaware having grown up with Waller. “I think she is familiar with this kind of world. It’s not too off for her, especially being Amanda Waller’s daughter. I’m sure as much as she tries to ignore the world her mother lives so deeply in, I think she still has a familiarity with it,” Brooks said. “But when it’s that up close and personal, where she is not just a civilian, she’s in this world. I think that holds a different weight for her and to be threatened with the possibility of her life being over … It’s this thing of who do I trust? How do I move and operate in this world? So it’s very interesting.”
Brooks admitted she didn’t grill Gunn about what sort of childhood Leota had or what growing up in a household run by Amanda Waller would’ve been like but wishes now that she had: “I think in my head, I went off of what I knew of Amanda Waller. And then I also wanted it to be similar to the relationship that Peacemaker has with his father. And how you want to do right by your parents. You want them to be proud of you, but at the same time, I think for Adebayo what was more important to her is taking care of her family. It just felt like that was her purpose of doing this anyway. So she kind of owed her mother in a sense for being able to keep her on her feet. So, no, I wish that we would’ve delved a little bit more into that, but I think sometimes as actors, you’re just like, ‘I know what I can do here, and if I’m going in the wrong direction, I’m just going to trust the director/writer to just tell me more.’ I guess the ideas that I had in my head about their relationship and about how she grew up were on track enough for James and us not to talk about it as much.”
While it remains to be seen how much Leota Adebayo may be like her mother by the end of Peacemaker’s eight-episode run, executive producer Peter Safran said the title character’s evolution over the series will see him end up in a very different place by the end as he must reckon with having such an SOB for a father. Safran said it was always Gunn’s plan to have the white supremacist supervillain White Dragon be Peacemaker’s dad as it was necessary to illustrate why one of The Suicide Squad’s least sympathetic characters was the way he was – and why and how he will change over the course of the spin-off series.
“When you have somebody as repugnant as Chris Smith is in The Suicide Squad, you really need to create somebody that is even more repugnant and repellent to have a shot at creating some empathy or sympathy for that character,” Safran said.
“I think when people discover what kind of upbringing (Peacemaker) had, he’s a guy that just wants his dad’s approval, just wants an ‘attaboy’ from his dad and he gets nothing but, frankly, blame for the death of the father’s favorite son, you start to understand where his life view comes from. So that I thought it was a really bold choice, for James to go with such an Archie Bunker on steroids character. But I think it was really essential to have that in order to help explain who Chris Smith is, and also to give him that push and the arc towards who he is by the end of the show. He’s just suffused with this toxic masculinity in episode one, but he’s really come a long way from that by the end of the show.”
The first three episodes of Peacemaker are now available on HBO Max with the remaining five to be released on a weekly basis.