The Suicide Squad — or Task Force X, if we’re being official — is a motley crew. Each member of the team, all of whom are supervillains doing government-sanctioned dirty work with the promise of a reduced prison sentence, is unhinged in their own way. However, few are as odd as King Shark, a walking, talking great white who may be a demigod and definitely likes to eat people. In James Gunn’s new movie, King Shark was voiced by Sylvester Stallone, but the Rocky star was only one half of the team that brought this half-man, half-shark to life. Comedian Steve Agee did the on-set motion capture for King Shark, forming what he calls a “shark version of Voltron together.”
Playing King Shark’s body was new territory for Agee, who is perhaps best known for his role on The Sarah Silverman Program. “I’ve never had any experience doing motion capture,” Agee tells Vulture. “I’m not, like, Doug Jones or anything.” Gunn, who is friends with Agee and previously cast him to play a Ravager in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, reached out to him anyway because, as Agee puts it, “I was tall and have a dad bod.” King Shark is about seven-feet tall, but the six-foot-six Agee has an improvisational nature that Gunn felt the other Suicide Squad actors could play off — all the while remembering that their scene partner would eventually be digitally replaced by a giant shark. For Agee, getting into character involved sweat, big helmets, a slow Sylvester Stallone impression, and some flattery.
Step 1: Don’t Sweat and Put on the Helmet
Joining the ranks of A-list superhero actors like Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Idris Elba (Bloodsport), and Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag) was, Agee admits, a little intimidating. “I was just, like, really nervous and sweaty,” Agee says of his first table read. “I was like, there’s gotta be one dick in the group. But there wasn’t, to the point where, at one point, I was like, Am I the dick? There’s gotta be an asshole here somewhere! But there wasn’t.”
What Agee had to do, post-table read, to become King Shark doesn’t exactly compare to what Mark Ruffalo did to become the Hulk or even what Gunn’s brother Sean did as a stand-in for Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. “They’ve got these velvety suits with balls and numbers and squares and triangles and shapes stuck all over them. And their faces are mapped out with a camera mounted facing them. That’s really proper motion capture, ’cause they’re getting your facial expressions and using those for the visual effects,” Agee explains. “For King Shark, I mean, he’s got a shark’s face, so you’re not really gonna see my facial expressions in him.”
Instead, Agee wore a helmet with a frame that roughly mapped out where King Shark’s triangular head would appear, along with a padded foam displacement suit to make sure that none of the other actors or elements of their environment got in the way of where King Shark’s digital body would eventually be. He estimates that the chest piece weighed in at about 40 pounds, due to a finishing spray that weighed a lot more than the crew thought it would. (“They brought it to me, like, ‘We’re really sorry.’”)
Agee explains that King Shark scenes were typically shot in two ways: one with him in the frame, and one without. Agee says that when it comes to the final cut, he’s sure the visual-effects team used the shots without him more often than not. That said, he’s seen the movie three times now, and he can still see his physicality in the finished King Shark.
Step 2: Lumber, Hard
“Acting-wise, I mean, King shark is very basic,” Agee says. “He’s driven by hunger and a predatory nature.” So Agee took special care to make sure his stride was extra lumbering, because as big as he was in the displacement suit, the “real” King Shark was even bigger. When the “real” King Shark rips a man in half onscreen, know that somewhere in there, Agee is tearing apart a prop torso filled with what he describes as “legitimate pig guts.”
“I’m sure it was something a lot less toxic and disgusting, but they had this torso — well, it was like a whole body, really — and it was kind of divided in half and they would kind of string it together once they put all the goop inside,” he continues. It was one of many instances when Gunn wanted to use practical effects. “It was hooked to wires and I literally just had to hold my hands on it and kind of lift it up.”
Agee’s stand-in, stuntman Harlan Norris, subbed for the comedian in many of the scenes involving water (“They were afraid I would drown or something”). There’s a moment when the Squad unwittingly attacks a guerrilla camp, and King Shark picks up a man and lifts him right into his mouth; Agee ran up to the man, but Norris did the actual lifting (with help from a wire rig) because there were concerns that Agee would “drop a guy on my head and break my neck.”
“He would lift him up and kind of lower him down behind his head, like he was going down the shark’s throat,” Agee says of Norris’s people-eating abilities. “It was really impressive to watch.”
Step 3: Do Your Best Sylvester Stallone Impression
Agee signed up for the role knowing that he would not be voicing King Shark, but he still needed to deliver the character’s lines. Initially, he was using a voice that was “darker and more intimidating,” but Gunn pretty immediately suggested something different. “He’s like, ‘I hear, like, a kind of slowed-down version of Stallone,’” Agee recalls. He says it was a dead giveaway that Stallone, who hadn’t officially joined the movie yet, would probably be voicing King Shark.
“I just remember, for most of the shoot going, ‘They’re going to use Stallone. It’s going to be Stallone,” Agee says. “I almost wanted to say, ‘Why don’t you reach out to Stallone because that’s clearly who you’re going to use.’ So I was not surprised when they announced that it was Sly. It makes sense.”
Agee has nothing but praise for Stallone’s voice performance, and Stallone reciprocates that praise. Although the two met briefly on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, they never interacted for The Suicide Squad until the premiere last month. “I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey man, I feel like I should introduce myself. I’m the guy who played King Shark on set.’” Agee says. “And he was so awesome. He was like, ‘Wow, man, I can’t believe you had to do all that running around.’”
Step 4: Be Flattered
In the wake of The Suicide Squad, there’s a small but vocal contingent of viewers who see something else in King Shark. Something … hot. The character, whom Agee says he was not familiar with prior to taking the role, has always been something of a joke in DC Comics. (He’s also a breakout character in the animated Harley Quinn series, where he’s voiced by Ron Funches.) Now there’s an ironic online appreciation of him, though, as is often the case on the internet, it’s hard to tell just how ironic it really is.
“I love that. It’s flattering to me,” Agee says with a laugh, guessing that it’s simply the next evolution of dad-bod culture. “I guess there’s going to be a new, I don’t know, shark-bod kink or something like that, but I’m all for it.”
Agee couldn’t confirm whether or not King Shark will appear in the upcoming HBO Max spinoff series starring John Cena, but John Economos, the other character Agee plays in The Suicide Squad, will be in the show, as teased by the movie’s post-credits sequence. So there’s hope for all the King Shark fans (fins?) out there yet.