Black Adam's Quintessa Swindell On How Dance Inspired Cyclone's Movement And Changed Their Body Image [Exclusive Interview]

The long-anticipated "Black Adam" will finally hit theaters this month after more than a decade in development. Dwayne Johnson plays the titular anti-hero in the new film in the DC Extended Universe, a character who has been awakened thousands of years after being granted superpowers, now out to avenge the son he lost. He's also wildly powerful. Trying to rein him in is the Justice Society of America, an organization of heroes including Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). 

"Black Adam" marks the live-action debut for Cyclone, a young woman who has been given the power of the wind. Though I won't spoil anything about how she got her powers here, I did get a chance to chat with Swindell about their character (Swindell uses they/them pronouns) and the training they went through to create a visual language for Cyclone's abilities. Swindell also spoke about their desire to allow Cyclone to be "fresh and new" as well as "a solid representation of a young, modern girl," and how playing the role allowed them to connect to their body in a new way as a non-binary person. 

The influence of modern dance and the freedom to create

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Cyclone is a character that some audience members might not be as familiar with as some of the bigger names in DC. Can you talk a little bit about who Cyclone is and what your introduction to the character was?

Oh yeah. Maxine Hunkel, aka Cyclone, she's a young girl who's just on the verge of becoming a superhero. She's a metahuman and she's learning how to utilize her powers and to even see the scale that her powers can go to. So this is that first instance where we're seeing this young girl, who comes from a lineage of superheroes, just stepping into herself and figuring out who she is among all of these other people. And for me, I wasn't familiar with Cyclone when I first heard about the film, but through source material and all of the information from DC and doing a little research and character development in the beginning, got more familiar and got 10 times more excited to play her because she's just so special.

I know you mentioned at the trailer reveal event that modern dance was a big thing here, taking inspiration from people like Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. So can you talk a little bit about how that came about for you in terms of a style for Cyclone?

Well, I think whenever I look at a character, I'm always like, "How can I make this person a punk? How can I make this person edgy and have a little bit of me inside of them a little bit?" So basically when I first met Jaume [Collet-Serra], we were kind of going over the ideas for the character. They mentioned how they really wanted her to move in a very specific way that almost seemed like a dance, and that was kind of how she embraced her powers and also just how she moved and created it. Because we could do something very general and normal — she just spins and then there's a tornado — but they wanted to make it really special. And for me, I was like, "If you guys want dance, I've studied dance, and I've studied physical theater and performance art." So being able to include a physical activity and rely on that for a character is like a dream come true.

So I was looking at experimental artists like Pina Bausch, I was looking at Martha Graham, how Alvin Ailey spins, and I was looking at Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller — a bunch of different ones. But the thing that stuck out so much to me is when you look at each and every one of these artists, they all have a distinct thing about them that you can look at and be like, "That's Alvin Ailey," or "That's Martha Graham," or "That's Loie Fuller with the fabric," so you instantly know. And for me, I was thinking about how I could create a superhero that people will see without the face or without anything and be like, "That's Cyclone." So it was just to create something special. And they were also giving — our producers, Jaume — just giving that freedom to create. So that's how it all came together.

Building the right muscles for the job

I love that you said making this punk, because modern dance was an edgy movement when it started.

Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

Was that part of it for you, too?

I mean, doing an edgy ... yeah. I mean, honestly, yeah. I think I'm most connected to things that are unapologetically themselves. And for me, I was like, "Let's do that for Cyclone. Let's create something that we haven't seen before and not push anything, but truly allow this character that we're building to breathe and really be fresh and new," and just honestly, too, a solid representation of a young, modern girl. She's quirky, she's herself, she's authentic, and she's leading with that. For me, creating that representation and having something so special and different was so important to me.

I love that so much. And I know this wasn't the same type of training that some of the other actors were going through because obviously dance is a totally different type of training. So what was a daily session for you, movement-wise?

It was cool. In Atlanta, I'd meet up with my dance double, and we'd work, we'd look at different dancers, we'd look at different movements in a studio, and we would do free-form dance, and we'd move and just see how each other's body moves and responded and try to correlate the two the best that we possibly could. Because for me, it was like, if my stunt double has muscles, I want those muscles. If my stunt double can move a certain way, then I want to be able to move the way she moves. So it was like that. I went to the gym and did all of those things, too. Not because I felt like I needed to, but I needed to have muscle that could sustain the movement.

So it was really cool. It was different, but I tell you what, being able to learn something and rediscover something for a role, I mean, there's nothing like it. Because at the end of the day, if you have no idea what you're doing, at least you know what you studied for this character. Sometimes I forget, but I'm just like, "You know what? F*** it. I know how to move." And that's Cyclone. Trust that.

Reconnecting with the body

That's so cool. One of the other things you mentioned at the event was that stretching was a really big thing for you and that it wasn't just for the movements, but also sort of opening you up as a person. Did you study yoga or Pilates, or was it straight from the dance?

That's a great f****** question, because another aspect of the training — I went to circus school.


So at the circus school, I just really opened up my body. And my teacher, she's at the circus school in L.A. She put me on ropes, she put me on trapeze, and she taught me that in opening myself up and stretching and just being able to be flexible in movement, that I could just sustain everything. 

For me, that process of stretching and feeling my body more just kind of became a really beautiful journey because as a trans person, for me specifically as a non-binary person, I spend so much time disassociating from my body that I just don't want to look at it or I don't want to feel it and I don't want to have anything to do with my body sometimes. But with Cyclone, it was all about bodily awareness. So in the stretching, I felt my body and I felt it changing, and I started to love it more and give it more attention and appreciate it more, which I've never had with any other role because the role hasn't asked for it.

More action in the future

Oh wow. That's really cool. Just even hearing that movement can do something like that is really beautiful. Now that you've had this experience and even going through circus training — is that something that you want to continue or take into another role?

Oh my God, I would love to. [...] When I watch movies like "Suspiria," you know what I'm saying — old and new – I die because I'm just — even things like "Black Swan," but more or less "Suspiria," when I see that really intense movement, I'm like, "F***, I want to do stuff like that." Because I think any physical activity, whether it's dance, whether it's action, whether it's stunts, you have to be so present in your body. And this feeling that I've had and garnered from my overall experience with "Black Adam" is the most euphoric feeling I think I've had in my life. So when I'm looking at all of these projects that are coming through now, in the future, I feel like something has to ... yeah, I feel like "Black Adam" ruined me because now I'm like, I only want to do action and things involving my body.

That's not a bad thing. That says something pretty great about the cast and about the whole experience.

Yeah. Oh my God, they're incredible. They're my family. Noah [Centineo] feels like a brother. Mo [Amer] feels like a weird uncle. I'm joking. I'm joking. I'm joking. [laughs]

In a good way!

In a good way! 

"Black Adam" will hit theaters on October 21, 2022.