HBO Max’s Peacemaker is one of the most hilarious superhero shows ever made. And with James Gunn at the wheel, that should come as no surprise. But despite this being a showcase for John Cena in the titular role, the show is really an ensemble. And one of the vital parts of Peacemaker’s ensemble is actor/comedian Steve Agee, who portrays ARGUS employee John Economos.
At first, John Economos isn’t exactly taken with Peacemaker. Like everyone else, he finds him pretty insufferable. But as viewers will find out, it’s a relationship that evolves. And Economos gets a lot more screen time as the series rolls on. We got the chance to chat with Agee about being a part of the wildest superhero series ever. And yes, we talk about that opening title sequence.
Nerdist: You’ve been working with James Gunn since Super. And you’ve done a lot of work together since. Did you guys know each other before, or was Super the first time you met?
Steve Agee: I met James around 2008 or 2009. He was doing a reality show on VH1 with my friend Shawnee Smith called Scream Queens, where they were looking for the next Jamie Lee Curtis for horror movies. And one day, Shawnee called me and invited me to a party at James Gunn’s brother’s house. And I immediately hit it off with James, who told me they had these get-togethers every Sunday. “Come over any Sunday” he said. So I actually ended up going every Sunday! Shawnee never went back, but I was just like, “screw that man, this guy’s great!” So we started off as friends a year or two before Super started filming.
I’m a big DC Comics guy, and yet somehow I didn’t know that your character John Economos is from the old Suicide Squad comics from the ‘80s. Now, I know these versions on the show are pretty wildly different from the comics, but was there anything in those old books that was useful? Or did you just keep the name?
I also didn’t know John Economos was an actual comic character. When James wanted me to do the motion capture for The Suicide Squad, I actually knew of King Shark, even though I knew very little about the comic books. But not Economos. I went home that night, and read up on him, and there was very little to go on. All I got was that he’d been divorced a bunch of times, he was the warden of Belle Reve prison, and he didn’t always agree with Amanda Waller. Oh, and he had a beard.
I’m not a beard guy in general. I’m a scruff guy. But James wanted to put me in one. James told me “start growing your beard man.” And I groaned. I don’t know if it was because John Economos has dark hair in the comics, but we were going through hair and makeup, and he wanted him to have a dyed beard. And he wanted it to be very obviously dyed. And I said “when you yell cut everyone gets to go home, and I gotta go out and look like this asshole!” That was for six months!
And in the movie, the beard thing never really paid off. But then James told me we were doing a spin-off. And he wanted me to start growing my beard again. And he wanted it to be even more obviously dyed than in The Suicide Squad. It pays off here. Because I’m clearly the brunt of all the season’s jokes. I get the nickname “Dye Beard.” In the end, it was actually worth it. On Suicide Squad, the writer of the original comic, John Ostrander, was on set. And he told me I looked like the real John Economos. Not the comics’ character, but a friend and business partner of his he named the character after.
This is already my favorite opening credits of maybe any show ever. And it’s SO James Gunn. Can you talk a little bit about making that? And was it as fun to make as it is to watch? I never skip it.
Yes. You know most of these streaming services have a “skip credits” option now. But we wanted to make the least skipped over credits ever. I’ve done like fifty interviews for this show, and always, the number one question asked was about the credits. They came totally out of left field, and so not in the show’s genre.
The first time you see it, after the cold open of episode one, you’re like “ what the hell am I looking at?” Whenever we had days off, we’d go and rehearse it. It’s pretty simple and basic, but it still took me a while to learn. I have no rhythm. I’m so uncoordinated. We shot it in an afternoon. James just wanted to make sure none of us were smiling. But it’s so weird. I love it.
For the first few episodes you’re mostly “the guy in the chair,” to steal a Marvel term. But about halfway through, that changes a little. I won’t give too much away, but you got an awesome hero moment in episode five. It’s kind of an all-timer. What was it like to finally have that moment? Without spoilers of course.
I’ll tell you, when I got all the scripts, there’s a moment in the show, as an action and superhero movie fan, it was the one scene I was looking forward to the most. We started shooting in February 2021. It wasn’t until spring that we got to shoot that scene, and I had I marked on the calendar. I was rubbing my hands together saying “I cannot wait to shoot this!” I can’t wait for it to air so I can finally talk about it.
So far, what’s been the hardest part of making this show? Especially as it’s a show made during the pandemic.
There’s was nothing hard about shooting the show itself, except maybe the all-night shoots. But it was so fun. We’d generally shoot one episode of the show in like fifteen days. We were in Canada, which was really slow in rolling out the vaccines. So none of the cast was really hanging out. You really looked forward to going on set and being around cast members and friends because we were isolated otherwise. And sometimes there were up to two weeks where we weren’t shooting, and that was really the hardest part. Being away from everyone.
I know the name of the show is Peacemaker and John Cena is the star, but it’s really an ensemble show. I think you have great on-screen chemistry with him, but especially also with Danielle Brooks. Her character seems to be the only one who really shows John any kindness. What’s your favorite relationship on the show?
Oh man. As a comedian my favorite relationship is the one with Cena. Because it’s such an abrupt, abrasive relationship. But we eventually see them become friends. But maybe it’s the relationship with Danielle, because her character is a lot more sympathetic to John, because she’s not as jaded as everyone else. Or as crazy as Cena’s character.
You were the stand-in for King Shark in The Suicide Squad. Any chance at all that you could reprise said role for Peacemaker? Kind of have a double part on the show? His character is still out there.
I would love that. I had so much fun shooting that. Because I got to be on set with Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, and Joel Kinnaman. All these amazing people. It was an honor to just be there. Nothing would make me happier to play King Shark again. I would love it if he showed up in the show right alongside Economos.
There’s a lot of ‘80s hair metal references in this show. From Cinderella to Hanoi Rocks. I imagine most of that is James Gunn, but is any of that from you? Because I know you’ve played in some metal bands.
I played more in punk bands. Some bios of mine say metal bands. But I did play in a lot of bands. But this soundtrack is all James. When you get a James Gunn script, it includes music cues. He knows songs he wants to use when he’s writing it. And he sends you a link to a playlist, so you can listen to it when you’re reading the script. Obviously, I’d heard of a lot of those bands, like Cinderella. And I knew Hanoi Rocks. But there were bands where I was like “I have never, ever heard of these bands.” Like, super deep cuts. But that’s all James.
I first saw you on The Sarah Silverman Program, and I loved you on that show so much. As a gay guy, they always portray us glamorous and fashionable. But your character Steve and his boyfriend Brian are just regular slobs. It was kind of refreshing actually. When you look back at that, do you realize your portrayal was pretty groundbreaking?
It wasn’t until the show started airing that I understood. I’d go to places like Amoeba Music in Hollywood, and there was this guy who worked there, in a heavy metal t-shirt, big old beard, probably twenty to thirty pounds heavier than average. And he’d say “oh my god, you and Brian are exactly like me and my boyfriend!” It wasn’t until then that I realized that media never portrays the gay community this way. So it meant a lot to me when people would come up and say that. Brian and I pitched a spin-off for them, just in the last few years, but it never went anywhere.
Is there anything cool you can tease about your character’s future in the rest of the show?
I can tell you one of the last scenes of the last episodes, it was a night shoot. It was like 3 AM. We were all giggling and laughing. But especially James. And all I can say is that James said “I can’t believe Warner Bros. and DC are letting me get away with this.” That’s all I can say. And that I can’t wait to see it.