‘Peacemaker’ Star Chukwudi Iwuji on That Shocking Moment and His ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Role

Chukwudi Iwuji
Laretta Houston

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched Episode 7 of “Peacemaker” on HBO Max.

The past few episodes of “Peacemaker” have peeled back the secretive layers of Clemson Murn, the no-nonsense mercenary played by Chukwudi Iwuji. First, he was revealed to be a Butterfly, a race of insect-like aliens secretly taking over human bodies. Then, instead of being pro-Butterfly, Murn turned out to be a rogue agent trying to stop their world domination, and his true identity was only known by a select few.

In the latest episode, Murn’s attempt to save humanity was foiled, as his human body was shot multiple times and his Butterfly form crushed by the alien leader Goff. Luckily his death wasn’t in vain, and he was able to buy time for the rest of his team to locate the Butterflies’ food source, a gargantuan, fleshy monster called a Cow.

Iwuji’s time on “Peacemaker” may be over for now — after all, it’s a superhero show and anything can happen — but he’s already reuniting with director James Gunn on his next project, Marvel’s highly anticipated “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” The nature of the actor’s role is being kept under lock and key, but many Marvel fans have theorized he could be playing an all-powerful cosmic character, like Silver Surfer or the High Evolutionary.

Here, in a literal postmortem, Iwuji breaks down the latest episode of “Peacemaker,” reveals John Cena’s line that made him laugh and shares a few tantalizing details about his “Guardians” role.

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What was it like filming your death scene?

We shot the last couple of episodes out of sequence, so I knew I still had some more shooting to come back to. It wasn’t farewell; it was a bit of a punch in the gut. This is where he goes down. It became a surprisingly emotional scene. There was a moment in it, where I said, “I’m proud to have had you on my team.” When we were doing it, it sort of choked out of me, which is always fun as an actor. You always want to be surprised by yourself and by what happens.

Should we take it that Murn is 100% dead and we’ll never see him again?

Let’s face it, in the world of extended universes and all that stuff, no one is ever really dead, are they? You never know.

In the previous episode, you say that the original Murn was an evil guy but could’ve turned himself around. How much of that intentionally mirrored Peacemaker’s character arc?

The original Murn was very much Peacemaker when we meet Peacemaker. The actual Butterfly Murn is a guy who is aware of the capacity for change that even the bad Murn had. That’s a big message behind “Peacemaker.” For all the laughs and giggles and explosions, it is about characters like Peacemaker and Adebayo meeting, and the two extremes of America now, you could sort of say, meeting and finding out they can, through talking to each other and being honest with each other, change and accept the other. It takes two to tango, and then it grows mushrooms out into something bigger. That’s the central relationship in “Peacemaker,” those two. “Capacity to change,” that should be the subtitle of “Peacemaker.”

Peacemaker lives by his motto of achieving peace no matter how many men, women and children he has to kill. What’s Murn’s motto?

The original Murn probably had a motto similar to Peacemaker’s, if anything. And if I were to come up with one for Butterfly Murn, my motto would be “humanity at all costs” or “humanity must survive.”

While playing Murn, how did you keep track of all his layers of secrets he kept hidden from different people?

I knew right from the start that I was a Butterfly. The way I do it is that I never play an arc for a character. In life, we don’t know our arc. We live moment to moment. So I played it moment to moment. In the end of Episode 4, when he’s eating out of the jar, I wanted to hear the collective gasps of the audience across the world because I hadn’t hinted or winked at it beforehand. “Layers” is a a wonderfully retroactive word. Layers happen when you look back on the whole thing. As it’s happening in real time, you’re playing scene to scene.

Murn is the serious leader keeping everyone together while they goof off, but what was that dynamic like off camera?

I’m one of the first to laugh. For a while, I kept it together, and I didn’t know that John Cena had a mission to make me crack on camera. At some point, I started losing it when we shot one of the scenes in the office, then it was chaos. James gets into it. He lets people riff, and he loves it. He’s laughing in the director’s box, the cameraman’s laughing, the grip is laughing. Steve Agee is making me crack up. Sometimes I worried if we were ever going to get the shot. But that meant when we were ready for the shot, in a weird inverse way, I could take all that energy we generated and let it drop and be serious. It made it more fun to play the seriousness because I knew how much we all wanted to laugh.

What was John’s line that made you crack?

The diner scene in Episode 1. I was keeping it together as they were talking and going back and forth, and at some point John is riffing. He’s making fun of Economos, and he just goes “Look at me!” I lost it. And he goes, “I got Murn!” I kept it together again until the scene where John says, “You know what you get when you get 50%? A D.” And I go, “F” at the same time. And he goes, “A D…F.” I had to keep a straight face, and I lost it the first couple times.

Is your “Peacemaker” group chat still active?

We still have it. James tends to lead often. Steve tends to be the most random. John is still somehow Peacemaker in his responses. It’s a group effort. It’s actually very sweet, and we do keep in touch that way. It’s quite beautiful to have that connection ongoing.

How is it different working with Gunn on “Peacemaker” to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”?

The production is so big. James and I, we’re picking up where we left off. [The character] is very different from Murn. It requires different stuff from me. The way James works with me is pretty much the same, which is he trusts my choices — but at the same time when I give him a choice, he’s ready to push it further. He’s making me push myself. This character needs an extremism that I didn’t need to really tap into in “Peacemaker” that I’m tapping into here. Our relationship remains the same, one of enjoyment, mutual love and trust.

Which “Guardians” members are you sharing scenes with the most?

I can’t say who I’m opposite the most, but I will say that I interact with everyone. I’ll give you that nugget. I get to share the love.

Are you flexing different acting muscles while playing this mystery character compared to Murn?

It’s a lot different. Murn is a very contained guy with bursts of anger and emotion. What I’m dealing with is a completely different guy, who, let’s just say, is the extreme opposite of Murn in many ways. It’s a different kind of world and universe. You’re really trying to push me for more, aren’t you?

This interview has been edited and condensed.