James Gunn and John Cena on the dramatic father son story at the heart of 'Peacemaker'

Peacemaker creator James Gunn and stars John Cena and Robert Patrick talk about the new series and reflect on its complicated father son relationship.

Video transcript

PEACEMAKER: Hi, Dad. It's been kind of a rough go for me, really, Dad.

AUGGIE SMITH: You don't say.

PEACEMAKER: Somebody shot me and a building fell on me.

AUGGIE SMITH: You let somebody shoot you?

PEACEMAKER: It's not like I invited him to come shoot me, Dad.

AUGGIE SMITH: Pathetic.

ETHAN ALTER: I always appreciate how you anchor your superhero stories in stories about parenthood. So I'm going to laser in there with you about this. What's interesting to me, it occurred to me that Guardians of the Galaxy is all about an absent father at a certain level. Suicide Squad had the story of the loss of a father, with Ratcatcher. And now this one, Peacemaker is all about a father who's present, but whose idea of love is twisted by prejudice and hate. Why was this the right vehicle to tell that story for you?

JAMES GUNN: Peacemaker is just a very current character for me, and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to tell this story. Because he has a lot of prejudices himself, he's bigoted in a lot of different ways. I also know that we're coming up against a character, Peacemaker, who people despise oftentimes because he was the bad guy in The Suicide Squad.

And so I think that we have a number of things that make us go, oh, well, maybe this guy isn't exactly who we thought he was. We see a more vulnerable side of him, but we also see his relationship with a lovable eagle, who he treats like his baby, and who also treats him like his baby. And then we see his father, and we see where he came from. And we go, oh, well, peacemaker is a piece of [BLEEP], but he's a big improvement upon where he came from. And generationally, he's on the progressive upswing.

And also, it's part of the Paul Kupperberg comics that it's based upon. You know, his father was a Nazi in the comics, an actual German Nazi from the 1940s. And this is simply updating that character to the present day.

ETHAN ALTER: John, one of the things I really like about Peacemaker is that in this all the over-the-top comedy and things, there's this really dramatic story of a father and son trapped in this love-hate relationship, I think it's fair to say. How did you and Robert approach that off camera, that relationship?

JOHN CENA: Robert's fantastic. You know, it's-- it's crazy you ask how do we approach it off camera. That was very difficult due to the COVID restrictions. So a lot of it we just to-- we had to come up with what we were going to do by ourselves and then just bring it together on the day. And Robert was tremendous. You know, I think we've all had a quest for the approval of others in our life, and that oftentimes leaves us in a very submissive state. So I just tried to be the best version of that that I could, and he took over from a commanding standpoint. And I thought he just played the role beautifully.

ROBERT PATRICK: Look, they needed somebody really horrible, and James wrote a very, very horrible Auggie Smith. As we discussed it, it was Archie Bunker on steroids, you know, just a horrible, horrible man. But he is an engineering genius, so, you know, he creates the helmet. So there's a need for me too. So I was so thrilled to be a part of it.

ETHAN ALTER: Well, we certainly know in-- in real life there are fathers like Auggie, who are sort of their minds are affected by prejudice and hate. Is it difficult--

ROBERT PATRICK: Certainly. And I've met-- I've met those people in my travel. I mean, you know, I've been all over the world I've, lived all over the United States America, I've met a lot of people in my time. It's sort of something you can't explain, you know. But you're just horrified and offended by it. I mean, you know, you don't understand how could you possibly-- you know, where did you come from? Where did you get that point of view? What's that perspective?

So, James and I did discuss that. He's from a part of the country that I am and we've both spent some time there. We both kind of said that we knew people like this, so we had something to draw from.

ETHAN ALTER: For children who grew up in this environment, like Chris, do you hope that they can change in real life? Can they evolve as they grow up?

JOHN CENA: So I think at the core of your question is the concept of, do I think people can take a challenging environment and become their best selves? Man, I think I'm a poster child for that. I'm an optimist, man. I believe in humanity. And I believe that there's only a few of us-- there's a few folks out there that are truly rotten to the core, and most of us want to do good. I believe that people can be their best selves.

ETHAN ALTER: Do you think the kids, like Chris, who grow up in those households, can change over time? You see Peacemaker change, you hope that's a thing that kids from troubled backgrounds can also go through.

JAMES GUNN: I came from that background. I mean, I'm a guy who was-- I was on lots of drugs and messed up and criminal by the time I was in my teenage years. And got sober, changed my life, and-- and really became a different person. I grew up with a lot of people like Chris, you know. I have aspects of myself that are like Chris. So I think that-- I think that's absolutely possible. I think people can change, you know.

My father was not the greatest father when I was a young man. He-- he got sober too, and he became a better and better human being as I got older. And he was a great role model, not because he was a perfect father, but because he was someone who was able to change. And I think that that is a part of what is the heart of this story. And that also that change, you know, we spend a lot of time on Twitter yelling at each other, which of course only further radicalizes whoever were yelling it. It doesn't-- never will ever help anything.

But with Peacemaker and Adebayo, we see the commonality of understanding and kindness is the only thing that can affect change between people who are on opposite sides of any issue. And maybe if we spend a little time-- less time judging each other and a little time, you know, looking at what what drives each other and having compassion, maybe the world will be a little bit better place.

LEOTA ADEBAYO: Your dad is not a good man.

PEACEMAKER: He's still family.

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