After many months of anticipation, Suicide Squad is almost here, with the film exploding into Irish cinemas on the 5th of August.
It tells the story of a group of supervillains who have been captured by a shadowy agency. They're given a chance at redemption by taking on a mission which is pretty likely to get them killed.
The cast includes Jared Leto as a new vision of the Joker, Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Jai Courtney as Boomerang and Jay Hernandez as El Diablo.
Hernandez comes to the role after appearing in movies like Hostel, Ladder 49, Takers and the upcoming Bad Moms. Diablo had used his flame-throwing powers to take over the criminal underworld but is now trying to repent after his evil deeds by keeping the fire under wraps, but how long can that last?
Check out this Q&A with Hernandez where he talks about getting into the role of El Diablo, learning about the character and that makeup process.
QUESTION: When writer/director David Ayer first approached you about Suicide Squad, what drew you in and made you want to be part of this project?
JAY HERNANDEZ: When I first got involved they kept the storyline confidential so I didn't know much about the character. I just knew that it’s about a top-secret program called Suicide Squad. There were whispers about the story that gave me just a general idea, but it was all very secretive.
So, I met with David. We worked on some stuff, and I just went off not knowing if I was good or bad or where I stood with the project. Then, he called me on a Sunday. It was a number I didn’t recognize, which I don’t normally answer, but something told me to pick this one up and it was David. If you know him or have spent any time with him, you know he gets right to the point. He said, ‘Hey, Jay. What’s up? Want to go do a movie?’ [Laughs.] I was pretty shocked – it almost felt like a joke. I didn’t know what to say so I just told him, ‘Yes, thank you.’ It was exciting.
QUESTION: David is based in Los Angeles, and L.A. is your home town. Had you ever worked with him before or had your paths ever crossed?
JAY HERNANDEZ: I’d never worked with David or even met him professionally until about two years prior to Suicide Squad. But after spending time with him on this movie and chatting about where we were in L.A. during certain time periods, I’m surprised that we’ve never crossed paths. In a way, I feel like we probably have at some point, but just weren’t aware of it.
QUESTION: Once you knew you had been cast as Diablo, how did you find your way into this character? Did you look at the comics or work with David to shape a new iteration of the character?
JAY HERNANDEZ: I wanted to know as much of the history of the character as I could, just to inform my decisions about it because I knew David and I would create something unique and put our own stamp on it – and I think we completely did. But I wanted to know who Diablo was in the comics and what his world was like, so I went to a couple of comic book shops and picked up a bunch of The New 52 run of the comic, which had Harley Quinn, Diablo and a lot of other characters.
I had heard of Suicide Squad and obviously knew about the Joker and Harley Quinn, but I didn’t know anything about Diablo. He’s one of the lesser known characters, which, in a way, gave David and me a bit of freedom to create something unique. With the Joker, everyone has an opinion of what they think should happen creatively – but the reality is that there are a million versions of that, and everybody thinks theirs is right. We didn’t have that pressure, so it was nice to have creative license to just do what we wanted to do with Diablo – obviously staying within the boundaries – and build a world around this guy that maybe wasn’t completely filled out in the comic book.
QUESTION: How do you see Diablo individually, and how does he fit within the Suicide Squad as whole?
JAY HERNANDEZ: Individually, I think he’s one of the most tormented members of the Squad. He was given the ability to control fire, but he used it for evil purposes. He used it to hurt people – to kill, maim, make money, own the streets and become the king of the underworld – while trying to balance that with a legitimate life with his family.
Then one day he just loses control, and that’s the point in his life when he decides not to be Diablo anymore. He experiences the true cost of this awesome power he has and decides to give it all up. He gives up fighting, the gang life, the street life, the money – all that stuff. He turns himself in to the police and puts himself in a hole, essentially. He isn’t captured by anybody – he allows himself to be taken into custody. He did something horrific, and the pain, the reality of what he did forces him to take himself out of society, out of the equation.
QUESTION: Are his pyrotechnic powers something he can control?
JAY HERNANDEZ: Well, part of his journey is coming to grips with them and seeing if there’s a way he can manipulate them because if his powers can be used for good, then he’s a human being who has a shot at redemption. He has all these questions that he wrestles with, and he carries them with him throughout the film.
There’s a pivotal moment in the film when he does decide to fight but through the whole first part of the film – when Diablo is brought into the Squad and they go off on this mission – he doesn’t want to fight. He doesn’t want to get involved. He doesn’t want to use his powers at all. In a way, the Squad is becoming his family – what happens if he loses control again and kills everybody?
So, he’s faced with this dilemma and it’s really interesting because when the Squad initially engages the enemy, everybody is doing their thing. Everyone is fighting and shooting, and Diablo is like a rock in the rapids. The water is flowing in one direction, but he’s this stationary object.
QUESTION: Diablo’s face is painted with a skull tattoo and his whole body is just covered with ink. What was the makeup process like for you, and how did it feel to then look in the mirror and see this character looking back at you?
JAY HERNANDEZ: When we were going through the process of creating the character and deciding on the makeup, I was on board with the direction we went with ultimately. I wanted more tattoos, a shaved head, and I was ready to lose my eyebrows. I was really excited about it. I just loved the look, so I wanted to take it as far as possible – but then it turned out to be around five hours of makeup.
During filming, we’d have 16-hour days, and I’d still have hours on top of that to get the makeup on and off. As time went on, we were able to perfect the technique and get the whole thing down to around three hours, but it was a pretty grueling schedule. We worked nights for many months, and those extra couple of hours in the chair were torture [laughs].
But I really enjoyed seeing myself in the mirror. It was a nice departure to create this character that didn’t look or sound anything like me. I think people will be surprised that it’s actually me, which is a good thing.
QUESTION: What kind of reactions did you get from people when they’d see you in your full Diablo look?
JAY HERNANDEZ: It’s funny. I remember one time when we were shooting on the street in Toronto and I forgot my sense of self for a minute. This woman was sitting on the curb with her dog – and it was cute – so I asked her, ‘Oh, can I pet the little guy?’ She looked up at me and just turned white. She was paralyzed with fear so I said, ‘No, no! It’s makeup.’ She had no idea what the hell I was talking about – probably just thought I was crazy – she slowly got up and backed away from me. I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got to watch myself in public’ [laughs].
QUESTION: Can you talk about the five-week rehearsal period/‘boot camp’ David brought all of you together for prior to shooting? What was that experience like for you and what effect do you think it had on the cast as a whole?
JAY HERNANDEZ: We trained, did martial arts, weightlifting, cardio, all that stuff. We also had a lot of rehearsal sessions, which were almost like therapy for everybody. Everybody was candid and open; it was very personal and revealing. It was a similar process to what they do in military boot camp – they sort of break you down and then build you up, and, at the end of it, you’re part of a unit. That’s what we went through – physically in training and, then, emotionally in the rehearsals – and, by the end of it, we were a Squad.
Everyone is really close, and that was David’s process for getting us there. This stuff comes from the top down, and when the director has a certain disposition and certain guidelines that we can play with, that created the space for a real sense of unity amongst us.
QUESTION: This film has such an amazing cast, and you all have such great camaraderie when you’re together, with a lot of playful jabs. Was there anyone in particular who hit you with it the most or was it pretty much a free-for-all, all the time?
JAY HERNANDEZ: I think everybody had their own moments, and it was equal measures of jabs and love. Like I said, it was a grueling schedule. We all loved what we were doing; we were engaged with our characters; and we were having a great time. Then we’d have these crazy action sequences with a million people involved, and it was just great. It was a wonderful experience.
QUESTION: How much of Diablo’s flames were real fire rigged by the special effects team on set and how much of it was created digitally?
JAY HERNANDEZ: It was a combination of the two. We did practical stuff, and then obviously they layered a lot of that in with visual effects. They actually built these flame-throwers, and there were a couple scenes where, like, thirty- or forty-foot balls of fire would shoot out of them and we’d act like that they were coming out of me. It was really great to be able to see it happen practically, just like shooting on sets as opposed to putting us in front of massive green screens. It gives you a sense of the world, a sense of space, and a sense of how large what you’re working with is going to be, like Diablo’s flames and the other characters’ stuff. It really helped us to correctly visualize what’s going on.
QUESTION: You didn’t have any fire phobias, I hope?
JAY HERNANDEZ: No [laughs]. I could have done without getting into the tank of water that they used to douse Diablo. It’s this scene when Amanda Waller is pulling the Squad out of their cells at Belle Reve Penitentiary, so they douse Diablo in this tank to get him out safely – in case the fireworks came.
I had to get in this massive, industrial-looking, rusted – just disgusting – tank and they’d flip a switch and thousands of gallons of water would flood into it and wash me out. If anything, it was probably the scariest scene for me because the tank filled up with something like 5,000 gallons of water in a matter of four or five seconds and completely engulfed me. They’d open a release door and all of the water emptied out – but I had to hold my breath in this big, dark hole and it seemed like a lot longer than a few seconds. So, yeah, that scene was not fun [laughs].
QUESTION: What qualities do you think David brings to this film, and what do you hope audiences experience when they see Suicide Squad at the cinema?
JAY HERNANDEZ: David is a storyteller who believes in characters. If you look at the guys in Fury, End of Watch, or any one of the other movies he’s directed or written, you can see that he really cares about the characters. The action is almost secondary in the sense that if you don’t care about who these people are and if you’re not engaged in their story, it’s all sort of meaningless, like bubble gum – it seems to be satisfying, but if you really don’t care about the characters, it’s empty.
I think this movie will surprise a lot of people. I did some research beforehand to get a sense of what I might be doing on this project by watching pretty much every super hero movie there is. But the reality is that none of that applied to what we were doing on Suicide Squad. David managed to take these larger-than-life anti-heroes and make them human. So, in some ways, it feels like a next step in the evolution of this genre. I honestly can’t wait to see the movie. I’m as excited as anybody else out there.
Suicide Squad is in Irish cinemas on the 5th of August, 2016.