SPOILER WARNING: This story discusses major plot points in the first two episodes of “Peacemaker,” currently streaming on HBO Max.
When Danielle Brooks first signed on to the new HBO Max series, “Peacemaker,” she was thrilled to be stepping into a DC Comics adaptation, a genre that to date has not made much space for women who look like her. She loved that the show’s executive producer, writer, and director James Gunn — who created the show as a spin-off from his 2021 feature “The Suicide Squad” — wrote Brooks’ role, Leota Adebayo, specifically with her in mind. And she relished the opportunity to do the same kind of physical stunt work as the show’s lead, John Cena.
But then Gunn told her and the rest of the cast about his plan for the opening credits.
“He just told us we’re dancing,” Brooks tells The Hamden Journal. “He didn’t even really ask us. He was just like, ‘So yeah, we’re gonna do this dance. Nobody’s ever done it before.’ I was like, OK?”
The opening credits for “Peacemaker” are, indeed, unlike anything else you’ve seen on TV, especially for a superhero series. The entire cast — including Cena, Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Chukwudi Iwuji and Robert Patrick, as well as recurring actors like Elizabeth Ludlow, who plays Adebayo’s wife, and a final pose by Peacemaker’s pet eagle, Eagly — partake in an elaborately choreographed dance number to Wig Wam’s 2009 jam “Do Ya Wanna Taste It.” Any attempt to describe the credits further would be woefully insufficient, so it’s probably best to just watch it yourself:
Suffice it to say, Brooks found the endeavor intimidating, especially when she saw Holland and Cena practicing some of the moves before she’d learned any of them.
“I’m like, ‘What the heck did they get us doing? I don’t know if I want to do this!’” she says. “I just had to kind of lean into it. Once we get the choreographer in there, and I actually saw the real moves, then I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’”
Brooks estimates the cast had two or three weeks to prepare to shoot the credits, and she appreciated that the choreographer, Charissa Barton, calibrated the steps to each person’s abilities. But there were still some hiccups.
“When we first did the dance, the choreographer kept saying, ‘Be expressive!’ When James finally saw me do the moves, he kept saying, ‘Danielle, relax your face, relax your face!’ And I was so confused, because he was telling me to show no emotion and she was telling me to show emotion. And once you get something stuck in your head a certain way, that’s your muscle memory. So I kept trying to relax my face, but I couldn’t quite relax my face, because I had practiced it that way for so long.” She sighs, “But anyway, it was a good time!”
There was one scene in “Peacemaker” that Brooks was sorry to miss: Adebayo’s FaceTime conversation with her mother, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).
Prior to the series premiere, Davis’ involvement in “Peacemaker,” and Waller’s relationship with Adebayo, was kept a surprise. Although Waller — an amoral prison warden who created the Suicide Squad as a way to repurpose captured super-villains for high-risk missions — is effectively the antagonist of Gunn’s film, Brooks points to Davis’ performance originating the character in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” as one of the very first times she’d ever seen anyone like her in a superhero movie. It also helped that both Davis and Brooks are Juilliard grads who grew up in South Carolina.
“She just means so much to me, because she really is my representation in so many ways,” Brooks says. “Just seeing someone that has come from the same state that I have come from, small town girl, you know, struggling and getting to Juilliard and making a way for herself. You know, it’s the same thing I’m trying to do and am doing. So when James told me you’re going to be Amanda Waller’s daughter, I was like, ‘Yo! Please tell me she’s coming to Canada!’”
Alas, Davis filmed her side of the FaceTime conversation months after Brooks did, while the show was in post-production — and Brooks even had to miss that shoot.
“I’m so sad, because when she did her coverage, I was supposed to do a FaceTime with her,” she says. “But she is Viola Davis, and she’s a very busy woman. So she didn’t get on the call until an hour [after the scheduled time]. And then I had things to do. So I was like, ‘I’m sorry! I can’t wait! I have to go!’ So I missed her. But she sent me a beautiful message. And I sent her one back of just saying I really wish that I could be there for my fellow Juilliard [alum], fellow South Carolinian.”
Brooks does note that viewers should expect to see more of Waller on “Peacemaker,” since she’s sent Adebayo on a secret mission in the hopes that her daughter will follow in her footsteps. That complicated relationship mirrors the one Peacemaker has with his father (played by Robert Patrick), an unrepentant racist who’s revealed at the end of Episode 2 to be the White Dragon, a white supremacist supervillain.
“Peacemaker and Adebayo are on that same journey together — they’re so different, but yet, that’s what connects them. They get each other because they’re experiencing the same things,” she says. “Both of their parents are not the best people in the world. It’s so hard to get that voice out of your head, when that’s how you were raised. So they both have to deal with that.”