'You're playing with other people's toys'
Suicide Squad director David Ayer on making movie set in DC Extended Universe
David Ayer has taken on the biggest undertaking of his career.
Helming a comic book supervillain movie like Suicide Squad, said the acclaimed US film-maker, was the hardest thing a director could do - not only in terms of production budget but also the sheer size of the cast.
The former Navy submariner has carved out a reputation in Hollywood for writing unflinching, gritty and realistic stories.
Training Day (2001), which he wrote for director Antoine Fuqua, led to Denzel Washington winning his first Best Actor Oscar for playing a rogue detective.
Then came Ayer's directorial debut Harsh Times (2005), followed by Street Kings (2008), End Of Watch (2012) and Fury (2014), all about hardened, hard-hitting characters.
Suicide Squad, which opens here tomorrow, is no different.
Though the tone may be irreverent, Ayer grounds his ragtag motley crew of notorious comic-book villains with real-life issues.
For instance, Will Smith's Deadshot may be a cold-blooded assassin, but he is also trying to redeem himself so that his young daughter can see a better side of him.
Here, Ayer, 48, tells M at the press junket for Suicide Squad at New York's Moynihan Station about his biggest challenges, not conceding to movie studio Warner Bros and selling his soul to the DC Extended Universe.
You are known to be a director who makes no concessions. Did anything have to give for Suicide Squad?
Yes and no.
It was very clear in the beginning that I'm making a PG13 film for a major movie studio. I went in knowing what I was making and knowing exactly what they want so I was able to make them comfortable right away. That gave me a lot of freedom. Nobody messed with me.
But you are using things from other movies. It's like you're playing with other people's toys. You can't break it. You have to return it. It's interesting to see how different movies can connect together. They let me make my movie, but it has to fit into the DC world.
SQUAD LEADER: David Ayer directing Will Smith (above) in Suicide Squad. PHOTO: WARNER BROS.
What were your struggles?
The beginning was really hard. You not only have to introduce so many characters, but a whole new world too. People don't know anything about them. You have to set the tone of the movie quickly. That first 10 minutes is so important.
The Navy Seals have this saying - "The only easy day was yesterday" - and that was what this turned into.
The hardest for me was in the preparation phase. Lots of meetings. Everything was very complex... There is so much detail and so much planning.
What do you think is the appeal of Suicide Squad?
This is supposed to be the little brother to the bigger movies (like Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Justice League).
But people really connected to it once they saw the early photos.
It's about who's to decide who's good or bad. If you are a bad person, can you love? Can bad people do good things? That's their journey.
The most important thing to me was the human story, which people always forget about in superhero movies. People forget about the soul.
I want to let people love these characters by the end of the movie, where they can have some light in their lives.
Are you surprised that fans are taking to Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn so well?
Yes. The character is magnetic. She is made for our current times. She's happy with who she is, she's passionate, she says what she thinks, she's tough, and she doesn't care what the world thinks about her.
I have two daughters, and I know it's difficult for girls to find their voices. Harley has a voice.
So have you sold your soul to DC?
(Laughs.) Yeah. Who needs a soul? Working on a movie like this can be addictive. They give you all the equipment you want, and I get to create something I want. This is a big test for me. I feel like I've grown as a director to be able to handle such a large-scale project.
"The character is magnetic. She is made for our current times. She's happy with who she is, she's passionate, she says what she thinks, she's tough, and she doesn't care what the world thinks about her"
- David Ayer on Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie