‘The Suicide Squad’: How Cancellation of ‘Akira’ Allowed James Gunn to Cast Taika Waititi

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[Editor’s note: The following post contains light spoilers for “The Suicide Squad.”]

Turns out, when you’re James Gunn, casting fellow filmmaker Taika Waititi in your latest outing is pretty easy, even when it’s set up at a rival studio from the one (in this case, Disney and Marvel) you collectively call home. Gunn hasn’t been hiding the fact that the “Thor: Ragnarok” and the upcoming “Thor: Love and Thunder” filmmaker appears in his DCEU film, “The Suicide Squad,” though fans have spent months trying to figure exactly who Waititi is playing. No major spoilers here, though the role is a small one, and eagle-eyed viewers of the film’s many trailers are likely to spot him (or his likeness) in various scenes.

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So, how did Gunn cast Waititi? Simple enough. Asked how it came together, Gunn was succinct: “I called him!”

Gunn admitted that he was initially interested in casting the Oscar-winning writer and occasional actor in a larger role, though scheduling got in the way. “I actually thought about Taika for another role and I offered it to him and he said, I don’t know…,'” Gunn told IndieWire. “He was working on ‘Akira’ at the time, and he said, ‘I had to give you my answer in like two weeks,’ he totally wanted to do it. It was one of the other superheroes. And he said that he wanted to do it and then ‘Akira’ got greenlit and it was happening.”

Asked if he’d reveal the original role Gunn had in mind for Waititi, and Gunn graciously rebuffed to answer. “I would feel too bad,” he said, indicating he didn’t want to hurt the actor who ended up taking the role. Though, he did offer that “it’s one of the guys from the beginning” of the film, in which a number of new potential members of the so-called Suicide Squad head out on a mission that not all of them survive.

Gunn and company were already in pre-production on “The Suicide Squad” just as Waititi was amping up to film his live-action “Akira” project, then set up at Warner Bros. with a planned May 2021 release. But in July 2019, the oft-pushed-back project was again stopped, and Waititi opted to sign on for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which just wrapped production last month. Suddenly, Waititi had some time on his hands.

“Then, all of a sudden, it fell apart and [Taika] wrote me and he said, ‘Oh, [the] fucking movie fell apart. Is that role is still available?,'” Gunn said. “And I said, “No, but let me get you in something else.'” While Waititi’s role in the film was not the one Gunn initially pictured, it is a memorable one, a sort of merry jester that fans will likely be happy to see when the film arrives this week.

A Warner Bros. release, “The Suicide Squad” will be available in both theaters and streaming on HBO Max on Friday, August 6.

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