Steve Agee calls himself the nerd in every ‘80s teen movie. But the six-foot-six comedian, best known for his run on TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program and quirky guest roles on sitcoms like New Girl and Superstore, says he barely read comic books as a kid. Like, at all.
“I was never a comic book nerd,” Steve Agee tells Inverse. “It completely skipped me. Everything I knew about superheroes was from TV shows, like the old Batman show or the Spider-Man cartoon. Then the movies. That was all I knew.”
Even if Agee’s introduction to Batman wasn’t from the comics page but on the screen, he still really liked them. “I love the genre,” he says.
But Agee’s lack of knowledge only threw him for a loop when his friend, writer and director James Gunn, introduced him to the strangest oddballs from both Marvel and DC. “I’ve known James [Gunn] for probably 12 or 13 years. When he told me he was doing Guardians of the Galaxy, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I was like, ‘A raccoon and a tree?’”
After working with Gunn on 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a minor role, Agee reunited with him for 2021’s The Suicide Squad. In the DC Universe, Agee plays John Economos, a tech expert for the government black ops program Task Force X. (Agee was also the on-set stand-in for King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone.)
After finishing The Suicide Squad just before pandemic lockdowns in 2020, Agee didn’t think he’d return to the DC Universe. At least not so soon. Once again, James Gunn had to tell him something he didn’t know before: That John Cena’s Peacemaker just got his own HBO Max series, and that Agee would once again play his John Economos.
“I didn’t know we were doing this until fairly last minute,” Agee tells Inverse. “We started shooting in January last year. I found out about it in, like, October 2020. It was quick. [James Gunn] just called and said, ‘We’re doing a spin-off and we’d love to have you back.’” Comic book lore is often complicated, but sometimes, things come together as simple as that.
In an interview with Inverse, Peacemaker star Steve Agee reveals how his role has changed for Peacemaker, what he hopes to see his role become in the DC Universe, and what secrets lie ahead at the end of Peacemaker’s first season.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What was the first thing James Gunn told you about your expanded role in Peacemaker from The Suicide Squad?
James said he didn’t want to get my hopes up. [I was told] it would be a much bigger role. A series regular, which would mean an arc and just a little more of a well-rounded character to dig into. When we did The Suicide Squad, [I was] a pretty flat character. Obviously. You’re not going to get a lot of backstory on these people working in the headquarters.
The first thing Peacemaker reminds us about John Economos is that he didn’t stand up to Amanda Waller at the end of The Suicide Squad. He lets his colleague take the fall. Does Economos feel any guilt about that?
Maybe internally. But Economos is very non-confrontational. You see it throughout the series, whenever they have to go into the field and he has to leave the comfort of his office, he’s always bummed about that. The prospect of maybe getting into a fight scares him. I think he probably felt a little guilty about being quiet. But he’s non-confrontational and terrified of Amanda Waller. She’s killed people for less. He was never going to stand up to her.
How do the events of The Suicide Squad inform us about Economos at the start of Peacemaker?
John Economos and everyone involved in the [Suicide Squad] headquarters pretty much think Peacemaker’s dead, and that’s a huge relief. That’s one less douchebag in the world. And then, when we see the cut scene at the end of the movie, Harcourt and Economos now realize they have to work with the worst person in the Suicide Squad. They thought they were rid of this guy. Even before he meets him in person, Economos is clearly bummed out.
John Economos [is someone] I relate to. I was an indoor kid. I wasn’t super close to the jocks. And then here we are with this dude who, once they meet him, is really antagonistic and makes Economos the butt of all his jokes. He didn’t like Peacemaker [before], and now that they’ve met he likes him even less if that’s possible. Economos is really bummed out.
What do you think is Economos’ role in the show as it relates to Peacemaker’s arc? What can you say about that tense relationship between your and John Cena’s characters?
Economos plays a really huge part in Cena’s [character’s] growth. Peacemaker is a shining example of toxic masculinity. We learn throughout the season why he’s such a bully. Because of his horrible father, his horrible upbringing. You’re not going to see somebody like that grow unless you put them in a position where they have to. Economos is that person that has to be there, [for Peacemaker] to come around and realize Economos may be a nerd but he’s not a bad person. And you don’t have to be shitty to people who aren’t bad people.
No spoilers, but what can you say about Economos’ future in the DCEU after Peacemaker?
There’s definitely room for Economos in the extended universe of DC. That will become a lot more apparent, I think, after or during the final episode. Nobody in the press is seeing the eighth episode and there’s a great reason. It’s amazing, some huge stuff we didn’t want to spoil. When people see it they’re gonna have a hard time being quiet about it. But we see everyone’s [story] kind of resolved at the end, so I can’t say where Economos is, but he’s somewhere. Hopefully, if we get a second season, we can explore his life.
Has there been any chatter about an early-season renewal for Peacemaker?
As far as I know, I haven’t heard any. I’m never involved with them anyway. But I mean, definitely among the cast and the crew, everybody is excited and had a great time shooting the show. Everyone I know is really ready to do a second season. We all want it.
I want to know everything about Peacemaker’s amazing opening credits. What did rehearsal and shooting look like from your perspective?
There were a lot of rehearsals. Like, six or seven. We were all broken up into groups of three. I did all my rehearsals with Jennifer [Holland] and Chukwudi [Iwuju]. I’m not a dancer, I don’t have good rhythm. So rehearsals were very crucial for me. It was difficult. We had a great choreographer named Chris Barton, and on days you weren’t working were usually days they call you to rehearse the dance number. On the day we shot it, we had one afternoon to shoot the whole thing. James’ main note was “Don’t smile.” He wanted everyone to look blank.
I noticed that.
[It was] the biggest problem we had shooting. It was not with people not knowing their moves or screwing up. It was having to stop and say, “Hey, Steve, can you not smile doing this?” Because it was a lot of fun to shoot! I mean, you’ve seen it, the stage we shot on was just neon and purple and pink and just really cool. It was hard not to smile. And when you dance, it’s weird if you don’t smile. It looks really weird.
As far as all the interviews I’ve done, that’s like the number one question. Hands down, it has been about the opening. The whole purpose was to have something that people aren’t going to fast forward. Because most streaming services have an option to skip the opening credits, and I have a feeling it’s not going to get skipped very often.
You started your career roughly in 2000, as superhero movies started taking off. What surprises you about the genre’s popularity in 2022? Do you think interest will wane anytime soon?
I love it. Everything I knew about superheroes was from TV, but I still really liked them. James [Gunn] is a die-hard nerd. I’ve learned so much through James about the comic book world. We have references in this show, like Bat-Mite and Judo Master, which I didn’t know was a thing. When we did The Suicide Squad, I was like, “Polka-Dot Man?” Comic books are a huge well of stories studios can go to for a long time. There are still characters nobody’s ever heard of.
Peacemaker has white supremacists as its villains. Fandoms can be very touchy about “politics” in pop culture media. Do you think it’s radical for Peacemaker to have white racists as villains, or should that just be a more normal idea?
No, I don’t think it’s radical. Our show is grounded in reality. I’ve been saying our show is like The Office but in a world where Superman exists. You see characters in our show in bars, in restaurants. You’ve never seen Batman in a restaurant eating dinner. And in reality, there are white supremacists, and I think that lends a little more reality to the world.
Do you think Peacemaker could open the door for more DC TV shows? Do you think Economos could hack his way into them?
I would love that. That’s one of the cool things about these worlds. You see people in Marvel, like Nick Fury drifting in and out of other stories. As an actor, I would love the work, but it just helps solidify this is a world where all these people exist. Like I was saying, our show takes place in a small town, but Superman’s out there, so it would be great to see more crossovers.
Peacemaker is streaming now on HBO Max.