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John Cena had plans for Peacemaker — then James Gunn said ‘throw all that away’

‘Just be a douchey Captain America.’

John Cena in full Peacemaker gear in a still from the Peacemaker show Photo: HBO Max
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

John Cena is known for his work ethic as an actor, which was evident when Polygon met him in London for a brief interview for Matthew Vaughn’s new film Argylle. Cena, his wrestler’s physique filling out a smart three-piece suit, sat upright, made locked-in eye contact, turned on his considerable charisma, and gave full, thoughtful answers — hustling hard to promote a movie he has only a small part in.

Part of that work ethic is having the humility to scrap his preconceptions about a role and let his director lead the way. Cena plays Wyatt, a sidekick to Henry Cavill’s superspy Aubrey Argylle; they’re both fiction-within-a-fiction characters who only appear in certain “fantasy” sequences in the movie. Cena said he took a similar approach to working with Vaughn on the movie as he took with DC Studios head James Gunn on The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, after Gunn effectively scrapped all his careful prep work for the Peacemaker character with a single bit of direction: “Throw all that away and just be a douchey Captain America.”

Asked which badass action heroes from the cinematic canon inspire him when he approaches a project like Argylle, Cena said: “I could give you a list, but I don’t think it applies to Argylle. Argylle is a weird and interesting world. And again, I did the same thing when I approached the DC Universe. I don’t want to fill my head with any biases, because I’m relying on the mind of James Gunn, and in this case, the mind of Matthew Vaughn. And if I come in with, like, ‘These are the badasses I want to emulate, this is what I want to do,’ and he says, ‘Uhhhh...’”

“This happened to me with James,” Cena said. “OK, no problem. I got it! Learning from that experience, I allowed Matthew to curate what he wants. I was open to listening to his opinion, and then playing within his goalposts.”

Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa, and John Cena sit around a quaint Greek cafe table in Argylle
Cena with Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa in Argylle.
Photo: Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures/Apple Original Films

Cena said the size of his role in Argylle was immaterial to him. He really wanted to work with Vaughn, and he felt it would be disingenuous to put ego-based limits on what that work could be.

“[It was] a chance to be on the track, as I like to say. Just get me on the track,” he said. “Doesn’t matter that it’s a massive part. This is just my perspective, but I hate people’s perception of, ‘That is beneath me.’ Who the hell am I to say I’m above anything or anyone?

“I just like a chance to be able to tell stories. If I really love it, I don’t want to tell a story on my terms; I just want to get out on the track. So this was a chance to work with someone I said I wanted to work with. And I’d be one hell of a hypocrite if I was like, ‘I’d love to work with you, but just on my terms.’ You know, opportunity shows up? Take it.”

Cena might be hoping for a bigger role in future if Argylle turns into a franchise, which Vaughn has confusing plans for. Even so, as his acting star rises, his ego-free approach to his work stands out.

Argylle is in theaters now.

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