Secrets of the Awesomely Eighties Glam-Metal Dance Party that Kicks Off ‘Peacemaker’

·9 min read
Peacemaker_IntroFinale2c - Credit: HBO Max
Peacemaker_IntroFinale2c - Credit: HBO Max

The Streaming Era of television has also proved to be the Skip Intro era, where binge-watchers are encouraged to jump past the opening credits of their shows and get right into the plot. And many shows of this era offer long and tedious main title sequences for which this function seems a godsend. (The first major streaming drama, House of Cards, had a coma-inducing credits sequence that almost singlehandedly inspired Skip Intro.)

Then there are the intros that you will never, ever want to skip, like the awesomely cheesy title sequence for HBO Max’s Peacemaker, in which John Cena and friends get their dance on to the sound of Norwegian glam metal band Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It.”

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Like all of the best TV intros, from The Rockford Files to The Sopranos to Game of Thrones, this musical number — which Peacemaker creator James Gunn came up with on the first day of writing his script for this spinoff of The Suicide Squad — is hugely entertaining in its own right, while also building the right mood for the show that follows it.

Gunn spoke yesterday with Rolling Stone about where the song, the choreography and why he hopes to “vanquish the Skip Intro” button forever.

Where did the idea for this title sequence come from?
The real, absolute truth is I did this exact thing in a movie called Super, only it was animated. We didn’t have a budget for it. I love having dance sequences and having fun with it and I wanted something in the beginning of this show that was going to be different and fun and make it clear that we were going to be a different kind of superhero show, that we didn’t have any rules in place, and that would say something about the creative approach and tone.

Do you have favorite title sequences from other shows?
I have favorite title sequences mostly from movies. The Grease title sequence was really special to me. I was just loving the idea of creating a cool title sequence that people will watch and want to pay attention to.

I have the credits paused on my monitor right now, and there is still the Skip Intro button taunting me.
Part of my goal is to vanquish the Skip Intro button. People work really hard on these things, and you want the audience to be paying attention when their names go by. Having the viewers do that for all eight episodes would make it well worth doing what we did.

How many songs did you consider for this, and how did you end up with the Wig Wam song?
All the music is glam metal that exists in the world of Peacemaker — hair metal, sleaze rock, whatever you want to call it, or a mixture of those genres. The Wig Wam song was just, to be completely honest, one of the first things I thought of. I started collecting a list of Peacemaker music long before I started writing the show. And the Wig Wam song just seemed to be the one that had perfect lyrics for our show: “Do you wanna taste it? Do you really wanna taste it?” And so there really was nothing else in consideration besides that song. It came to me, along with the idea of the dance itself written into the teleplays.

Where did the idea for the choreography come from?
I hired a really great choreographer by the name of Charissa-Lee Barton. who I thought understood what I was saying the most. I’m not a choreographer, but I showed her some of what I thought the dance moves were like, and I explained the basic essence of the scene, which is it’s just this absolutely ludicrous, goofy, nonsense dance, but combined with everybody being absolutely dead serious, and not breaking for even a half-second. Everything is completely serious on the one hand, and everything is completely goofy with the other. I think it’s very much like the spirit of the show. It’s a serious show in certain ways, and in others, it’s just completely bananas. So I explained that to Charissa, and then she did the hard lifting. She got all of the actors coming into the rehearsals to work really hard. One funny thing is that it was only after I hired her that I found out that she was married to my friend [Resident Alien star] Alan Tudyk, and when she was sending me all the little clips of ideas for dance moves out of her kitchen, they were all starring Alan as Peacemaker.

Each time I watch the intro, I start noticing different things. Like, when Jennifer Holland comes in as Harcourt, she’s moving like a marionette. Were there certain thematic ideas you were going for?
[Laughs.] I don’t know. Maybe Charissa was. The absolute truth of it was that some people are better dancers than others. Jen was probably the best dancer of anyone, she’s a former gymnast and she was able to do everything really well. Other people were in between. Danielle [Brooks] was great. Annie Chang, who plays Detective Song, is a dynamite dancer. And then we had our Robert Patricks who are fun to watch in the background, but is definitely not a song-and-dance man. It’s fun to focus on the different people doing the dance. Steve Agee was saying he and Chuk [Chukwudi Iwuji] were the worst, but I thought they were pretty good. I think Steve was surprisingly good for such a big guy.

John Cena’s an athlete, but not all athletes are necessarily good dancers. How much help, if at all, did he need?
He needed help. He was not like Jen or Danielle or Elizabeth [Faith Ludlow]. He would take a few more tries than some people. But I thought John was a really good dancer, and I think we got lucky overall in how everybody was able to dance fairly well, to do the choreography, when I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to do it. And Charissa, to some degree, built it around the actors, and what they would be capable of, giving some people more to do and certain people less as we moved on with it.

You have your main cast in there, but you also have some guest stars who only appear once or twice over the course of the season. Were some of those people in the dance only because they were in the first episode?
That’s sort of true, but someone is in there who doesn’t come in until Episode Five, and we shot it in the middle of the schedule for the season. We shot it all in a high-school auditorium for one day, and I remember it was a pain. We called up Rizwan [Manji, who plays hospital custodian Jamil in two episodes], and said, “Do you want to be in the dance?” He said yes, but it was during Covid in Canada, so he had to quarantine for two weeks three different times, and one of those was just for the dance.

Was there a particular visual inspiration for that black and neon stage?
That was mostly from Lisa Soper, our production designer. I originally said I want it to look like a Seventies variety show, like with Sonny and Cher, but we tried that and for some reason it didn’t work, and we got more into the Eighties stuff. And I think that just made more sense, because a lot of things about Peacemaker’s personality come from that decade, so the Eighties music video set, like from Kraftwerk, fit a little bit better. Originally, we were gonna do the whole dance sequence in the Peacemaker headquarters, which is a big set throughout the season. But we started rehearsing it in there, and it didn’t look right; it looked too small. So I said, “I think we have to create a set for this.” I’m so glad that we did that.

You have a reputation at this point for coming up with soundtracks that match the personality of your characters. Why glam metal for Peacemaker?
It just seems like that is the kind of music that Peacemaker would like. For the last few years, I’ve also had this personal obsession with what people call “hair metal” music. So that dovetails perfectly into making this show. It might have even been part of the reason why I chose Peacemaker out of all the characters in The Suicide Squad. I was a punk rock kid growing up, so I had an appreciation for some pop metal bands. I liked Mötley Crüe and certain things. Hanoi Rocks, which we talk about a lot over the course of the season, was a really important band to me. But I also pooh-poohed a lot of hair metal music. I think there’s great songs in every genre of music if you look hard enough. And I became obsessed with finding really good hair metal bands and songs, and started this massive collection on my own on Spotfiy, and through that discovered all of these great modern sleaze-rock bands, that are mostly out of northern Europe, making music today. And I think they’re much better in general than your average hair metal bands from the Eighties because they don’t take it so seriously. It’s a commitment to fun. And part of the idea was getting the word out on some of those modern bands, like Wig Wam or Cruel Intentions.

Was Eagly, Peacemaker’s pet eagle, always meant to fly in at the end of the credits?
I wrote the dance scene into the first draft of the first script. I wrote the first script in a week, probably wrote the first few pages in five hours, and wrote Eagly into the dance scene within those five hours. I recently came across a storyboard I made that has those exact positions at the end, including Judomaster on Peacemaker’s shoulders and Eagly in front.

Do you remember how you described the dance scene in that first day of writing the script?
I said, “It’s the greatest opening credits scene of all time,” and “It’s the weirdest dance you’ve ever seen and everyone in it is completely and 100 percent serious.”

Thanks for chatting, and I promise I will not be hitting Skip Intro on this one, ever.
We’re just thinking about how we’re going to up our game in Season Two.

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