Red Stewart chats with Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay director Sam Liu…
Sam Liu is an American animator, storyboard artist, and director who has been working in the animation industry since the late-90s. He has contributed to many famous cartoons over the years, either as a background artist, writer, or full-on director, including: The Batman, Teen Titans, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
His latest project is Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, an R-rated release from Warner Bros. Animation that focuses on the eponymous comic book team of the same name. Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview him, and I in turn had to honor to conduct it.
I started off by asking Mr. Liu as to what he felt was the biggest difference between working on a television show and working on a feature-length film like Hell to Pay. His answer concerned two aspects: time and content. “The main difference to me is the length of the stories. And also, the subject matter. Because we don’t have the restrictions of TV ratings, especially in America where there are whole broadcast standards that you have to abide by. And television is also limited by the 22-minute time frame: you can only tell so much story.” Because movie restrictions aren’t as tough as TV ones, Liu added that he appreciates being able to tackle more serious topics: “I have always wanted to direct movies. And some of them have been able to explore more mature subject matter. I just love being able to explore themes.”
‘Mature subject matter’ is an understatement when it comes Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Graphic violence, drug use, and sexual content all make their way into the film’s 1h 26 minute run time. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Liu has helmed an R-rated DC Universe Animated Original Movie. In fact, he has been the director of all but one of them: The Killing Joke, Gotham by Gaslight, and now Hell to Pay. I had to ask if this was all by chance or deliberate on his part.
“It’s just coincidence. To me it’s not about the rating but figuring out the story, and determining if we are more R-rated regarding, like, graphical content or psychological aspects.”
However, having also been involved with most of the other PG/PG-13 projects, Liu insisted that the R-rating does not make one particular movie better than the other. “I don’t feel we sacrifice anything when we do less than R.”
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons the R-rating was stamped on the film was because of the high violence. However, it isn’t just goons getting killed. Without giving away spoilers, a surprising number of major villains end up biting the dust. I inquired Liu as to whether he did this for shock value or genuine story reasons. “I think with each character and each story, you are entering a world. And in this case you’re entering a world that’s full of not just criminals, but psychopaths. And they’re arguably the most dangerous people in existence who have no problem killing people. Actually they’re in it so they can kill people, so you’re in the shark tank! That’s just the nature of the comics… and if you’re going to enter that world you have to honor it.”
Liu insisted that that the opening was meant to show this: “I wanted the audience to understand what kind of world they were in, right off the bat. People may be going on a mission, but they have ulterior motives. It’s a scary world they live in because you don’t know who to trust.” As someone who has seen Hell to Pay, I can assure viewers that they will be in for something fresh.
With our time running thin, I had two questions left for Mr. Liu. The first pertained to the film’s choice of voice actors. As someone who not only follows the voice acting industry, but has also been keeping up with the DCUAOM’s cast over the years, I have noticed that many characters often go through several different voice changes, and it can lead to inconsistencies. For example, Hell to Pay brought back C. Thomas Howell and Tara Strong as Eobard Thawne and Harley Quinn respectively, but not CCH Pounder and Jennifer Hale as Amanda Waller and Killer Frost. I asked Mr. Liu if it was because of scheduling conflicts.
“A little bit of that, but I think sometimes we want to just mix it up a little bit. And sometimes we can justify it with ‘it’s a different continuity’ or ‘it’s a different story,’ or it’s not consistent to like the Justice League series.
“Sometimes we’ll watch a TV Show and say ‘this guy has such a great voice he’d be a great character’ so we try to get this person.”
Finally, I had to ask Mr. Liu if there were any comics that he would personally like to adapt in the future. To my surprise, Liu said that he has been too busy to keep up with contemporary DC Comics storylines. “It’s funny. I haven’t actually read a comic or followed a series in 20 years. My comic book experience was in the 80s and 90s, so I’m kind of out of touch. That being said, I think we’ve gone through all the big ones.”
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Liu for sitting down with us. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is out on Blu-ray™ and DVD now.