Black Adam Producer Hiram Garcia On Dwayne Johnson's Transformation And The JSA [Exclusive Interview]

(Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Black Adam.")

"Black Adam" has been in development at Warner Bros. for more than a decade now. We're finally about to witness the hierarchy of power change in the DC Universe, and Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam is the one to do it. This will mark the live-action debut of the Justice Society of America (JSA), which includes, in this line-up, heroes like Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). 

I recently got a chance to chat with "Black Adam" producer Hiram Garcia about the film. He talked about getting the JSA on the big screen, having a character who questions the right way to fight evil, that mid-credits scene (and the leak about who is in it), Dwayne Johnson's love for this character, a very special cameo, who he'd like to see as a JSA character in the future, and so much more. 

'Black Adam comes at things in a different way and handles them in his own way'

There was a trailer event that I went to a while back, and you had mentioned that we need a character like Black Adam to speak their mind, no matter what the repercussions are. So I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about that.

I do. I really think that the world is ready for a character like Black Adam, and I think there have been so many great comic book movies out there, but there's never been an antihero like Black Adam on the big screen. We've seen antiheroes before, but especially an antihero that functions at the power level that Black Adam does, and his aggression is always rooted through his love of family and people.

That's the interesting thing about Black Adam and actually the beauty of an anti-hero, where he still does have a moral compass. But whereas other heroes abide by those hero tropes, Black Adam doesn't. He abides by his own rules, and if you hurt his family, if you hurt his people, if you hurt someone he cares about, he's going to handle you in a way that makes the rest of the world very uncomfortable, but you can't fully argue with.

And that's the great thing about Black Adam, and one of the great things we love about one of the questions we pose in the movie: Black Adam functions from a place where, for audience members, you can honestly say, "Well, he's not really wrong." Right? So we had so much fun presenting that situation for Black Adam in the movie where he functions in the gray, and it really makes the audience think. Because we have so many fans that are fans of the traditional heroes, but Black Adam comes at things in a different way and handles them in his own way. But at the end of the day, he's still functioning from a place where there is a moral compass. It's just a much more aggressive result when you make him angry.

'You needed a team that really had weight and was worthy enough to counter a force of nature like Black Adam'

Dwayne actually came to the screening that I was at and mentioned how long this has been in development, how much it means to him and that we were going to see a different side of him. Did you guys have discussions about how he would be presented as an actor as well as the character before you started?

Yeah, and I think coming into this, we have been so familiar with the character of Black Adam, and there were a lot of traits in Black Adam that we knew aligned with the storytelling we wanted to do and a lot of things similar to DJ. But one of the things that you don't get from Black Adam that DJ is known for is the big smile and that vibrant energy. Black Adam is a very serious man, and he's humorous in his own way, but you're not going to see that big beautiful toothy smile you normally get from Dwayne Johnson.

This is a version of a character Dwayne's never played before, and I was so impressed with how Dwayne transformed in Black Adam, and I truly do believe that DJ disappears in the movie and you really start to get embedded with Black Adam. But it was something we always knew that we wanted to deliver on, we were focused on. We really wanted to make sure that when we made this movie, we were really taking care of Black Adam and the fans who were looking to finally see that character appear on the big screen. And that required us to really lean into some of those things about Black Adam that are different from DJ while also delivering on just the aggression and approach that Black Adam conducts himself with.

Totally. And having the JSA in here, for a DC fan, that was really cool to see. I'd love to hear your thoughts on bringing that into the DCEU and what that could mean for the future.

Oh my God, as I'm telling you, I'm a comic book fan. It's the coolest thing in the world. First off, we have this incredible cast, and I'm just so proud when I look at that cast up there and the relations that they formed among each other. They became a real family off-set, and I think that really shows and translates on-screen to their chemistry being that much better. Aldis and Pierce, that relationship is so strong and resonates so much on screen. And then Q and Noah and just the way they all interact, it's such a wonderful group of actors, such a wonderful group of people, and it just translates on the screen in a big way. So as a big DC fan, to have the opportunity to introduce the JSA in this movie, the JSA being the first real superhero team of its kind like that, to represent that on our film and to have a really great split among the members of it.

You have the two OG characters with Doctor Fate and Hawkman that are legends in the DC universe and our elder statesmen of the team. But then you also have this youth injection into the team of the young guys through Atom Smasher and Cyclone. It was a lot of fun, and you needed a team that really had weight and was worthy enough to counter a force of nature like Black Adam that enters a universe.

But I think the other thing that we're really excited about as filmmakers and for the fans is that if the movie's received the way we hope it will be, and the fans want us to be able to tell more stories in the space, the JSA is really a portal to so many other amazing characters in the DC universe. If you're a fan of the JSA or you've ever done any research on it, there have been so many amazing heroes that have been a member of that team. So to be able to have that opportunity down the road to start to explore those characters and the complex history of the JSA and just start to usher in a new era of DC storytelling through this movie and through the characters we're introducing, it's so exciting to us and really part of our big ambitions for this universe.

'We really tried to give the essentials in the storytelling'

There's not a lot of handholding in terms of Doctor Fate and Hawkman's history. Are we at a point, do you think, where we can just assume certain knowledge of certain characters?

Well, I think it's complicated, right? Because you bring up a great point. When you have a movie like this that is a movie about Black Adam, you only have so much screen time. We played with so many iterations of how we were breaking up the story where, how much do we get into the weeds in terms of, do we get to show the history of some of these characters out here learning it?

But the movie just started to grow and grow because we have so many characters, but we really tried to give the essentials in the storytelling. We knew that this was going to be the story of Black Adam and Kahndaq. We wanted to really make sure that we were establishing that character. And then as for the JSA, how much can we give so that audiences started to get familiar with them, started to feel a connection with them, but we are still able to keep the tone and pace of the movie?

But those are all things that, again, if we have an opportunity to tell more stories, then we would start to lean into a little bit more, so we could really start to tell some of the backstories of these characters. And all of them in the JSA have amazing backstories. If you're familiar with Cyclone and obviously how Cyclone got her powers — a villain had abducted her and injected those into her. And Atom Smasher comes from a whole family of powered people — there's a villain in his family and there's a hero on the original JSA. There are great stories that we want to be able to tell. We just need the time to tell them. And so that's all of a part of our big ambitions for this universe as we start to introduce these characters, and hopefully we'll be able to tell those stories.

'We wanted to get someone that would get the fans excited'

I love that! Speaking of Atom Smasher, there's a little cameo involving his past and I'd love to know how that came about.

In all the iterations of this movie that we were making where we were giving ourselves options as to how much can we get into the history of these characters, we wanted to have a little moment where we acknowledged that relative of Atom Smasher that was an original part of the JSA, and has history with Noah [Centineo's character]. So we wanted to get someone that would get the fans excited, who was charming and fun, and Henry [Winkler] came in and just crushed it. We only had him for a little bit, but he went, he recorded that stuff, it plays so well with Noah, Noah is so engaging, and you just love watching him on screen. We were so happy with the way that scene turned out, and it was just enough to give a nice bit of history and also add the stakes for Smasher.

We understand that even though he's fun and has a comedic flair for us in the movie, this is a young hero that really wants to do well. He really wants to make sure he makes his uncle proud, he makes his family proud, and he is also aware that there's some darkness in his family history — that while his uncle was a hero, there's another relative of the family that was a villain. And we wanted just the slightest elements of that to show in terms of Atom Smasher really wanting to find a path and do what's [right], while also trying to plant seeds at how intrigued he is by Black Adam, and how Black Adam functions in that universe. If you're a fan of the comic book lore of all these characters, there's obviously very interesting paths that cross between Smasher and Black Adam in the comics that makes for a very interesting pairing with those two. We love to plant seeds all over the place of where things could possibly go if we're able to go there.

That was such a fun moment.

He's so good!

'We understand he's doing it for a version of good and for people he cares about'

There's a balance here, obviously, with Black Adam as an anti-hero and, as you said, his actual reasoning for it that the audience can understand. So how did you decide on that balance and what was going to work as the movie's been in production? Because originally he was going to be the antagonist for "Shazam!"

Yeah, well, there's been so many iterations of Black Adam in the comics, and we had a lot of fun really studying all the comics. I've been a fan of them for years growing up. So we always had an idea of the elements we wanted to pull and to just pull some of the great storytelling elements to combine into a version that matched our story. 

But we really wanted to root Black Adam in something really grounded and heavy that the audience could start to connect with him on. And one of the common threads that he found in Black Adam in the later versions of the comics was the ties to his family. A lot of the things that he does, a lot of the rage that he demonstrates is always attached to things happening to his family or his people. So we knew that was essential for us, and we felt that anchoring a character like Black Adam in that space really then gave us a license and I think would allow the audience to really get behind how he conducts himself in terms of his aggression.

We understand he's doing it for a version of good and for people he cares about, and especially that he is doing it to people that are bad. It just makes it more fun and easier for you to get lost in it. So there have been many versions of Black Adam. There have been versions where he's a pure villain. There have been later versions now where fans love him so much — he became an anti-hero. That was the space we wanted to play, but we really wanted to anchor him as a man that, even though he is extremely vicious and quick to action, it is always rooted in something that is attached to his emotion and his heart and about how much he cares. And that's always attached to his family and his people.

'You want the audience to be fully invested in these characters'

You have other characters in here who could go forward and become major characters, like Adrianna [Sarah Shahi]. Are there specific characters that, if you had carte blanche, you would want to give them their own film? Or who you would want to see them team up with?

Yeah, I mean, look, if we had carte blanche, we have a lot of stories we want to tell. Our favorite version has always been, when getting into this world, is having the time to tell as many stories as we can and really allow the audiences to go on a great ride. The beauty in that is that the audiences become really invested in these characters — really feel a connection to them. And as you start to roll out these bigger, grander storylines that usually culminate in these big emotional stories, you want the audience to be fully invested in these characters so that they're really caring about what happens to these characters when things happen — the stakes of them, the danger that they may be on, and the audience is being connected to each of those characters' worlds.

So for us, this is an opportunity to introduce a whole bunch of new characters. You meet Black Adam, you meet the new people that come into his life, you meet the JSA, you start to feel their connection. And then underneath the JSA umbrella, you have the opportunities for many more characters, but you also feel the scale of our world where you see Amanda Waller [played by Viola Davis]. And Amanda Waller's implications being in this world means that so many other characters you've seen in the DC cinematic universe now mean that they can exist in our world, too. And for us, that's what we're really excited about. When a person like Black Adam appears in the DC universe, it sends a ripple through the whole world that every hero has to take notice of. And so hopefully what we want to be able to do is figure out a way that, at some point, Black Adam is able to cross paths with all of those incredible heroes.

It's been interesting to watch the DCEU and what's connected and what's not. Was there a point where you knew that you could bring Amanda Waller and that you could connect some of these things?

It's funny, I'll tell you, we didn't know that we could, but we weren't going to stop it. So there's been many regimes. We've been developing this movie for so long, there's been many regimes that have passed through the halls of DC and Warner Bros. But the great thing was, with the new regime that came in — Pam Abdy, Mike De Luca, our longtime partner on this, Richard Brener at New Line — they really understood our vision and supported it, but it was never clear from the get-go who we were going to be able to get. But we were really ready for a fight, and we were not going to stop until we were able to get as many characters as we could in our world. 

We had specific ones that we were determined to get, and it took years of working on it and years of conversations, but we finally got to the point. We were extremely happy that we did, but you know how it goes. You have to really fight and claw and grind to bring your vision to life. And there weren't always people that understood it, but this new regime really got it, really aligned with our vision, and really helped us achieve what we wanted to.

Leaks for the mid-credits scene

I'd love to talk about the mid-credits scene because that was so huge. And then it's frustrating to see it leak, because I want people to be as surprised as I was. 

Oh my God, it is so frustrating. You work so hard, but look, we understand that this ending and this dream, this family dream that we had to bring to life, we knew that it was going to have an effect on the fans that were just like, "Oh my God!" We heard them begging for it for so long. We've been wanting it for so long. It's disappointing that it leaks. You hope that the fans that are so passionate about it really do their best to block it out so that they can go and get the movie and enjoy it. 

You do what you can to try and protect these situations. But the fan base is so passionate and so enthusiastic about everything that deals with this world, and they're just so committed to it that they find ways of getting this information out. And unfortunately, there's always a few people that will try and spoil it for the rest of the world. But hopefully, the fans bond together, know that they want to see the movie, know that they really want to go in and have a great time and be surprised as they watch it, and will do their best to block that stuff out. We've been working with Warner Bros. to try and get some of those things under control, but really, it spreads like wildfire. It's something you always know you have to deal with when you start testing the movie. And with an ending like that, that is as big as any coda moment, I think, that there's ever been in comic book movie lore, it was always going to be hard to keep that thing locked out.

Do you think maybe even knowing that because it's something that fans have wanted for so long that it actually might drive more people to go see it? To see that moment knowing it's coming?

You hope so. We poured our heart and soul into this movie from top to bottom, and we really wanted to make a movie that the fans would be thrilled with. DJ always has his finger on the pulse. I always believe the foundation of why he has over 500 million social media followers, it's not just because of who he is, but it's because he's a person that listens to the fans. And his entire career, his success has always been founded in — he's an entity that loves the audience, loves his interaction with the audience, and loves listening to them.

So for us, we've been hearing them scream for this for ages, and we're like, "What is going on?" And we're fans, too, so their sentiment matches ours. We wanted the same thing. So if we had the opportunity to make a DC character film, which we did have the opportunity, one of our main goals was, "We've got to take care of the fans. We've got to take care of our bosses who are the fans, and we know what they want. We're going to do everything we have to do to make it come to life," and we're just really fortunate that we were able to.

A wish for the future of the JSA

If it hadn't worked out, if Henry Cavill got pulled for something or whatever, were there backups, other people that you would've had in that same spot?

I've got to tell you, we had those conversations, [but] nothing felt right. Nothing had the same impact that we knew this ending would have. And there were moments where, in our battles for this, where we were encountering walls and we had to regroup. And we're like, "Do we stop? Do we try and figure out a different ending?" And we're just crazy, and we're like, "No, here we go. Let's go back and do it again. Let's regroup." I mean, we brought this thing right to the limit to where you did not have time to get another movie. That's how hard we fought to truly — it was the absolute last thing done to achieve it, but we really would not stop. I think we got it to a point where, probably if we weren't able to achieve it, there was no other option. And I think our partners were feeling that, too, where they're like, "These guys aren't stopping, and their vision's right. This is actually going to make the fans really happy. We got to listen to these guys." And we're just glad they did.

If you had a dream JSA team for some time down the line, what would it be?

Oh my God, that's a great question. And that's the kind of question where you start listing characters and then it runs. Look, I'll say this: There are a lot of characters that we want to be able to explore, and I will say that we want to really be able to dig in — especially to more history. I really want to be able to get into the history of the characters we're establishing. I want audiences to really learn about how fascinating Hawkman's history is and what comes with the curse that he has and how he gets his abilities. The history of Doctor Fate, especially Cyclone and Smasher.

Without listing too many other characters, which I could go on, I will say that there's one we've always looked at that we're really fascinated with and that we'd love to figure out how to get involved in the world as well, and that would be Spectre. Huge fan of Spectre. I think the fans would love him. I love what he does to the universe in terms of, he's also a bit of a live wire and extremely powerful. I just think that's a dynamic that would play really well in the world that we're starting to build out there. I won't mention others, but I am happy to say that Spectre is someone we've always kept our eye on and hopefully we'll be able to figure out how to do that.

"Black Adam" is in theaters now.