Black Adam’s Atom Smasher and Cyclone on DC Aspirations and Comic Book Inspirations

Black Adam’s Atom Smasher and Cyclone on DC Aspirations and Comic Book Inspirations

“I’d like to punch Aquaman in his face.” That’s Noah Centineo, one of the stars of this week’s mega DC film Black Adam, when asked which DC hero he’d like to share the screen with. His co-star, Quintessa Swindell, said Rorschach from the Watchmen, and those two answers, different as they may be, tell you so much about the young actors.

In Black Adam, Centineo and Swindell play Atom Smasher and Cyclone, two members of the Justice Society, the superhero team tasked with stopping the incredibly powerful being played by Dwayne Johnson, who just woke up after 5,000 years. That’s a tough task on the best of days but it also happens to be the first day in the Justice Society for Smasher and Cyclone. Talk about trial by fire. And lightning. And lots and lots of death.

But while the circumstances their characters find themselves in are dire, the actors are playful, funny, and introspective. Centineo joking about Aquaman is exactly the type of thing that makes him so captivating. Swindell invoking Watchmen illustrates just how deep her commitment to the role is. And, in Gizmodo’s discussion with the duo, we talked about those things as well as their potential DC futures, what they learned from their massive co-star, and so much more.

Atom Smasher (Image: Warner Bros.)
Atom Smasher (Image: Warner Bros.)

Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: I loved you both in this movie. You bring such great energy, and I think it’s really unique that the film tells the story of both of your character’s first missions as part of the Justice Society. So to start, I was wondering, how did the character’s lack of superhero experience impact your interpretations of them?

Quintessa Swindell: I think it was something that Jaume [Collet-Serra, director] said in the beginning when we were first on the Hawkjet. We were just like “What’s the vibe we should be going in with? Where’d we just come from?” And Jaume was like “Just embrace how you feel right now. Like you as actors. You’re walking into this Hawkjet in this massive set. It’s pretty crazy. Aldis [Hodge] is on one side. Pierce [Brosnan] is on the other. You’re excited, right?” And we’re like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Yeah. So just embrace that.” And I feel like both correlate so, so strongly. It’s their first time. They’re figuring out who they are and what their superpowers are. And we’re figuring out, like, what all of this is as actors.

Noah Centineo: 100 per cent.

io9: In the movie, we only see a few days of their lives. So who were the characters before this in your mind? Did you come up with a comic book-inspired origin backstory or did you kind of infuse your own interpretations?

Centineo: So it’s a little bit of both, I think. For me personally, I always like to find the character in myself. Like which parts of myself should I just amplify to bring out and find, you know, Albert Rothstein, for example? And so it was looking into his past. His uncle Al who was originally the Atom superhero and his grandfather who was, under a precarious situation, a villain. So how that informs how he walks into a room is very important to me. He comes from privilege and nepotism but he’s also a very sweet kid and I think he only knows what he knows. So going to Kahndaq with the Justice Society was world-changing for him, and you can see that occur over the course of the film. So figuring out who he was before was very, very important. And then, of course, just being willing to walk into a room with the rest of the cast and throw it all away and just see what happens.

Swindell and her director. (Image: Warner Bros.)
Swindell and her director. (Image: Warner Bros.)

io9: Quintessa?

Swindell: Yeah. For me, it was…sorry, I forgot the question. Noah just spoke for so long.

Centineo: Really? [Everyone laughs.]

io9: It was just about your back story.

Swindell: Oh, yeah. For me, it was all comic reference, as much as it made sense. There’s stuff that’s like way, way far in advance that I’m like — there can be like small notes of that in the beginning — but right now I just want to focus on the moment before. What’s happening right now. And I think there’s a conversation with Red Tornado being so closely linked to Cyclone, you know? That’s like that superhero lineage. So I think for me, I just really based it off of that. I’m like, “This is someone who is just in the beginning steps of like their superhero life and everything.” And I think they’re trying to [figure out] who they are in juxtaposition to Red Tornado and how are they different and what type of superhero are they going to be? And that’s what this journey really represents, is just, Cyclone figuring it out.

io9: The movie just kind of throws us in with the Justice Society. There’s no real backstory. They just exist and we just go with it. So what is your understanding of how they fit into the larger DC universe at the time of Black Adam?

Centineo: We really set a foundation and there’s an introduction to so many different characters in Black Adam, right? Not just Black Adam, but with the Justice Society and even other key players during the course of this film. Every character has such an incredible background that can go in so many different directions. And I know that we’re all super, super game to explore any direction that the producers or Warners or DC or New Line, whoever’s all the way up there, and whenever they decide to point the compass at north and say “Go,” we’ll go. [Pause] That’s weirdest way I could possibly…

[Everyone laughs.]

Centineo: But you know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about.

Atam Smasher at full-sized. (Image: Warner Bros.)
Atam Smasher at full-sized. (Image: Warner Bros.)

io9: Yes, absolutely. In the film, there’s more than a hint that your characters develop a crush on each other. There are some good vibes there. Was that something that was in the script? Did you develop that on set? Tell me a little bit more about playing that and if we think you’ll see more of it. 

Centineo:  You and I are married. We eloped.

Swindell: We just said fuck it. 

io9: Wow. End credits scene. New end credits scene.

Swindell: No, no. I mean, honestly, working with Noah is like a no-brainer. This guy. Ever since we had our chemistry read, I was like, “Dude, this guy is so amazing.” And he genuinely just, like, if there’s silence in a room, he’ll just come out bursting and just make everyone so much more comfortable and excited. And so working with him every day was just a joy because there was someone to rely on if I didn’t really know what to do. And also just like crack up when maybe I wasn’t feeling it that day or I don’t even know.

Centineo: You’re too sweet, thank you.

Swindell: He’s such a dear friend at this point. So that chemistry and everything is just, like, undeniable and so easy. But I think in the future, you know, we’ll see. I think I’m down for anything with this team and these people. Trust ‘em. Love ‘em.

Cyclone in full effect. (Image: Warner Bros.)
Cyclone in full effect. (Image: Warner Bros.)

Centineo:  I love how subtle everything was in Black Adam whether it was the Atom Smasher and Cyclone dynamic or whether it was the seniority of Hawkman and Dr. Fate, whether it was the moral compass of Black Adam, what is good, what is evil, there’s subtlety in all of it, except for, of course, the action. It’s just so beautifully woven into the narrative. Like you said, wherever they want to go with that.

io9: Now, not as your characters, but as Quintessa and Noah, which hero from the DC universe, besides the ones we meet in this film, would you like to share the screen with?

Swindell: To be honest, it would be a pinch-me moment if there was some possible way… there is a comic where Cyclone is in the same vicinity as… I mean, they both make appearances in Watchmen Doomsday 

io9: Ooo.

Swindell: But I would love to share the screen with whoever plays Rorschach. I think Rorschach is just such a fascinating character and is reinvented any time we see him. Yeah. And it just, it seems so complex and just so crazy. Or even like Dr. Manhattan too. It would just be so cool.

io9: That’s an awesome answer. What about you, Noah? Can you beat that?

Centineo: I’d like to punch Aquaman in his face.

The Man in Black. (Image: Warner Bros.)
The Man in Black. (Image: Warner Bros.)

io9: [Laughs] That would work for sure. Now, you’ve both been acting for several years, but you’re still at the start of your careers. In Black Adam, you share the screen with the biggest star in the world Dwayne Johnson. What lessons about acting or maybe even life did you guys take away from him?

Centineo: Oof. [Pause] I mean, dedication to the craft, to the grind, and attention to detail in how you choose a team to build with you. The alignment of vision that everyone in his camp and around him shares is profound and being able to carry forth any of those aspects would be a blessing.

Swindell: Yeah, I fully agree. I think something that’s just really stuck out for me from everyone is like, you can compromise, but then the vision is compromised. And seeing DJ and seeing just how he works and being around his team and his people, they’re airtight and their vision is so strong and so fleshed out. So it’s like moving forward, yeah, we can compromise, but what happens if we don’t? Does that mean that, you know, a project takes, what? Like, 10 years? Then so be it. We want to get it right and we’re going to stick to it and believe in it. And those people around will do the same. So I think that for me was just so inspiring.

Black Adam opens in theatres Friday.

Want more Gizmodo news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.

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