Peacemaker’s Danielle Brooks on Superhero Stories: ‘No Shadow, But Where’s Humanity?’

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Danielle Brooks joins the not too superhero team in Peacemaker.

HBO Max

Peacemaker is an action-packed superhero spectacle taken from the pages of DC Comics and spun off from a big-budget blockbuster The Suicide Squad. But the heart of the series is new character Leota Adebayo, just a normal person who falls into the world of supervillains and black ops plots because she needs a job. Bringing Leota to life is Danielle Brooks (whom you might remember as Taystee from Orange is the new black). Brooks reveals why she loves series creator James Gunn, why she was so excited to see black women kicking ass, and why she tuned in to the show’s hilarious opening credits dance sequence.

Before joining the cast of Peacemaker alongside John Cena and Robert Patrick, Brooks also appeared in Clemency, The Day Shall Come, Netflix’s Master of None and The Color Purple on Broadway. With new episodes of Peacemaker streaming on HBO Max every Thursday, I spoke to Brooks on the phone shortly after her wedding, with honeymoon plans on hold at the moment.

Was it a new experience to do a superhero show?
Brooks: It was a challenge getting used to the jargon and things like the black ops team and what they do, but it was so much fun because I think it’s a genre that lets you to really stretch your imagination and run with your creativity in a way that other shows might not do as much. So I really enjoyed working with James Gunn. I think he’s a genius. And he has such humility about who he is. And I’m so honored that he thought of me for this role and knew that I was the person to play Adebayo. It’s super dope for me. Above all, I have never seen anyone like me in this universe, a tall, dark-skinned black woman in this world. So it meant a lot to me to know that he considered me enough. He was like, you’re the only one, so I really appreciate his support and approval.

I was going to ask you if you’ve ever seen yourself in a superhero movie or show.
I do not really have. It’s also the cool part of Amanda Waller [the chillingly ruthless boss of The Suicide Squad] and the fact that I play her daughter, because I think she, for me, was the closest I’ve seen myself. To see that dark skinned woman with an afro in this world be so powerful but size wise I’ve never seen a plus size woman in any DC or Marvel [film or TV show]. And so getting to show that bigger girls are more than capable of kicking ass means the world to me, because it’s the truth. After having my daughter, I knew it was going to be a journey to get back in shape, but James didn’t care. He was like, you get it girl. We’re gonna rock this thing together. And we did.

That said, were you just a little disappointed that you didn’t have superpowers?
You’ll see later in the season that even though I don’t have a superpower, I still have one within me. I have to write it for later… [Adebayo] has this super power in itself to do the job. So right now, I’m not jealous of anyone’s superpowers, but maybe once we get to season three!

Were there a lot of visual effects and things that were new to you?
Oh yes. Lots of green background, fake eagle — we didn’t have a real eagle, we had a green background eagle. Lots of training when it came to the fight, the fight. Pistol training. We had a great stunt team and leadership that made us feel really safe. I really tried to do all my stunts as much as possible, but there was one they wouldn’t let me do. Congratulations to my stuntman. I’m glad I was able to do the same.

What was the stunt you weren’t allowed to do?
Think about being, like, three, four stories, maybe even higher than that… four stories in the air and just falling straight to the mat. [Laughs] They wouldn’t let me do that.

Did you really want to do it?
I knew they would try to keep me safe, yeah! For me, I like respect – I guess it’s not respect, but my ego, once you know when you look at that screen you see my face. I watched a movie recently that’s a big, big movie and it’s a big, big star, but I could tell, I saw his stunt double the whole time. I clearly saw his face the whole time. I’m like, no, I want street cred.

Speaking of which, was everyone really into the opening sequence dance?
Oh yeah, everyone was great in it. I was in it once I got proper training from my choreographer. [Laughs] Jenn Holland was the best. She had lowered it. She was the team pro. It was a fun day, and I’m glad people are really receptive to it and not skipping that dance that we did.

When the opening sequence was explained to you, did it blow your mind or help you understand the tone of the show?
It was a bit of a surprise, but at the same time it was really exciting because I felt that James was expanding the way we see television and just allowing another level to emerge in this craft. It was very cool. You want it to be uplifting and you want it to change and not be the same formula that we watch over and over again. So for me, anything that does that, any TV show, movie, cartoon, theater that does that, it excites me. I want to be part of the change – even if it’s in the form of a dance for an opening credits, it’s really cool to me.

On paper, a superhero show can look very different from Orange Is the New Black. But I felt there was a similarity in the balance between heart, humor and sadness. Did you see a similarity?
For sure. I’ll just keep stroking James Gunn’s ego, but being able to do that in this kind of genre is very rare. I can’t tell you how many of these new TV shows and the Marvel Universe, no shade for them, but it’s, like, where is humanity? I think people forget that we can add that layer of normalcy. I think he does it in such a beautiful way. I don’t know if it’s because he chose all these characters so different from each other, it adds that extra layer of realism that I really appreciate. I see this similarity with Orange. People are people. In this world, they happen to have superpowers.



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