Entertainment

Peacemaker's Danielle Brooks on superhero stories: 'No shade, but where's the humanity at?'

The former Orange Is the New Black star loved being a plus-sized Black woman at the heart of DC and HBO Max's outrageous superhero show.

Danielle Brooks joins the squad of no-too-super heroes in Peacemaker.
HBO Max

Peacemaker is an action-packed superhero show from the pages of DC Comics and spinning off from big-budget blockbuster The Suicide Squad. But the heart of the show is new character Leota Adebayo, just a normal person who falls into the world of supervillains and black ops conspiracies because she needs a job. Bringing Leota to life is Danielle Brooks (who you may remember as Taystee from Orange Is the New Black). Brooks reveals why she loves the show's creator, James Gunn, why she was so excited to see Black women kicking ass and why she connected to the show's hilarious opening credits dance sequence.

Before joining the cast of Peacemaker alongside John Cena and Robert Patrick, Brooks also appeared in Clemency, The Day Shall Come, Netflix's Master of None and The Color Purple on Broadway. With new episodes of Peacemaker streaming on HBO Max every Thursday, I spoke to Brooks on the phone not long after her wedding, with plans for a honeymoon on hold for the moment.

Was it a new experience to do a superhero show?
Brooks: It was a challenge just getting accustomed to the lingo and things like the black ops team and what they do, but it was so much fun because I think this is a genre that allows you to really stretch your imagination and run with your creativity in a way that other shows might not do so much. So I really had a blast working with James Gunn. I think he's a genius. And he has such a humility about who he is. And I am so honored that he had me in mind for this part and just knew that I was the person to play Adebayo. That's super-dope to me. Especially I just have never seen anyone like myself in this universe, a plus-size dark-skinned Black woman in this world. So it just meant a lot to me to know that he saw me as enough. He was like, you're the one, so I just really appreciate his support and his approval.

I was going to ask you if you'd ever seen yourself in a superhero movie or show.
I haven't really. That's the cool part about Amanda Waller too [the chillingly ruthless boss of The Suicide Squad] and the fact I'm playing her daughter, because I think she, to me, has been the closest that I've seen to myself. To see this dark-skinned woman with an afro in this world being so powerful, but as far as sizing goes, I've never seen a plus-size woman in any DC or Marvel [film or TV show]. And so to get to show that bigger girls are more than capable of kicking ass means the world to me, because it's the truth. After having my daughter, I knew that it was going to be a journey to getting back in shape, but James didn't care about any of that. He was like, you get it girl. We're gonna rock this thing out together. And we did.

That said, were you just a little bit disappointed you didn't have superpowers?
You'll see later in the season that even though I don't have a superpower I still possess one within myself. I have to write that down for later… [Adebayo] possesses this superpower within herself to get the job done. So right now I'm not jealous of anyone's superpowers, but maybe once we get to season three!

Were there a lot of visual effects and stuff that was new to you?
Oh, yeah. A lot of greenscreen, a dummy eagle -- we didn't have a real eagle, we had a greenscreen eagle. A lot of training when it came to the fight, combat. Gun training. We had a great stunt crew and leadership that just made us feel really safe. I really tried to do all my own stunts as much as I could, but there's one they just would not let me do. Kudos to my stunt double. I'm glad I got to do as much as I did.

What was the stunt you weren't allowed to do?
Think about being, like, three, four stories, maybe even higher than that … four stories high in the air and just falling straight down on the mat. [Laughs] They wouldn't let me do that.

Were you actually keen to do that?
I knew that they would try to keep me safe, yeah! For me, I like the respect -- I guess not respect, but my ego, once you know when you look on that screen you see my face. I watched a movie recently that's a big, big movie and it's a big, big star, but I could tell, I saw his stunt double the whole time. I clearly saw his face the entire time. I'm like, nah, I want the street cred.

Speaking of which, was everybody really into the opening sequence dance?
Oh yeah, everybody was super into it. I was into it once I had proper training from my choreographer. [Laughs] Jenn Holland was the best one. She had it down. She was the pro of the team. It was a fun day, and I'm glad people are really receptive to it and they're, like, not skipping over this dance that we did.

When the opening sequence was explained to you, did it throw you for a loop or did it help you understand the tone of the show?
It was a bit of a surprise, but at the same time it was really exciting because I felt that James was stretching how we view television and just allowing another level to emerge in this craft. That was really cool. You want it to be elevating and you want it to change and not be the same formulaic thing that we watch over and over. So to me anything that does that, any TV show, film, cartoon, theater that does that, that excites me. I want to be a part of the change -- even if it's in the form of doing a dance for an opening credit, that's really cool to me.

On paper, a superhero show might seem very different to Orange Is the New Black. But I felt there was a similarity in the balance of heart and humor and sadness. Did you see any similarity?
For sure. I'm just gonna continue to stroke James Gunn's ego, but to be able to do that in this kind of genre is very rare. I cannot tell you how many of these new TV shows and the Marvel universe, no shade to them at all, but it's, like, where's the humanity at? I think people forget that we can add that layer of normalcy. I think he does that in such a beautiful way. I don't know if it's because he's chosen all of these characters that are so different from one another, it adds this extra layer of realness that I really enjoy. I do see that similarity with Orange. People are people. In this world they just happen to have superpowers.