The Birds of Prey movie is giving its star Harley Quinn a new story in the DC movie universe, with the filmmakers making it clear that this Harley isn’t tied to Suicide Squad or the Joker. It’s time for Harley to do things on her own, and that sense of female empowerment goes beyond the film’s cast of characters. With star Margot Robbie producing this adventure intended to give Harley some friends to play with, there’s nobody better to speak to the decisions made behind the scenes, as well as the approach being taken by director Cathy Yan. First things first: don’t call Birds of Prey a team-up.
Speaking with Robbie during our visit to the Birds of Prey set, we learned about the film’s creation as a story being told through Harley’s mind, her separation from the Joker, and where her and the Birds fall on the scale of heroes and villains. Check out our full interview with Margot Robbie below.
You executive produced this movie, and you also advocated for a female director, and diversity with the cast. So it looks like this movie is going to challenge and reframe ‘sisterhood’ beyond the lines of color. Is there one takeaway you want women to have from this?
When I first pitched the idea it was really because in everyday life I am always surrounded by a group of women. Whether it’s in friendship groups, or people I strive to work with. It was crazy to me that I hadn’t really gotten to be part of a female ensemble on-screen. I felt that you would get to see the best sides of Harley’s personality in a group of girls, as well. Then we kind of pieced together a group that does feel like a very eclectic mix of ages and backgrounds. Even down to the fact that you’ve got a cop in the group, but then you’ve got someone like Harley who is a complete anarchist. Everyone can offer something different to the scenes. I thought that would be a fun thing to dramatize on-screen, but also an opportunity for people who–I guess all us audience members who are like, ‘I have a girl gang in real life, I kind of want to see one represented on-screen.’
When did you know you wanted to take this character and make it your own? Was it during Suicide Squad, during the script, or reading the comics? When was that moment that you said ‘this is me, I want to do this, and I want this character’?
I was so excited to play her from the very beginning. And the more I read the comics, and the more I got to play her in real life during Suicide Squad, the more I just fell in love with her. And there were such obviously limited segments on-screen to really showcase different elements of Harley’s personality in the first Suicide Squad. So it’s been really amazing in this movie because I have more screen time. And what’s different about this film is that you see Harley in her element, you get to see Harley’s apartment. What does her house look like? What does she wear when she gets to pick her outfit? In Suicide Squad there was a box there to choose from and she wore her mission outfit, but what is she wearing when she goes to get drunk at night? How does she deal with a hangover? You got to kind of see these other sides of Harley, a more personal side.
We talked with the producers and they mentioned how in Suicide Squad Harley is a hero and not a villain. Do you see Harley as an anti-hero in this film, or a hero, or a villain?
I think anti-hero is an easy way to classify her. I don’t think she’s evil, but I don’t think she’s good either. She’s a baddie with her own set of rules that she follows. So her moral compass points a very different way to someone else’s, but she does have a moral compass, she does have a feeling of what is right and wrong. She just places her priorities in a very different order to some other people.
So Harley is going to be different, now that she’s not with the Joker. How much self-analysis has Harley done especially considering her past profession?
Yes. I think it’s funny, it’s like one of those things where it’s easier to give people advice than to work it through for yourself? I think it’s a similar thing, where she truly is a mess. She’s a total mess after the break-up. And despite her background and knowledge of the human condition, I feel like she’s just really struggling to figure it out for herself. You definitely see the different stages post break-up. And it’s pretty messy.
What surprised you most about Harley when you first read this script, and what is your favorite snack out of all the ones we saw in her apartment?
The second one is the easiest to answer because my head just goes to food immediately. Fruit Loops are like one of my favorite–when I was first moved out of home and I wasn’t allowed Fruit Loops… are they called Fruit Loops in America? I wasn’t allowed them growing up. And then I moved out of home when I was like 17 and I lived on nothing but Fruit Loops for probably the first three months. Breakfast lunch and dinner was just Fruit Loops, because I was so excited to be able to eat them. I’m still not sick of them. Also there’s an image in a comic I read where she is sitting… I think she’s actually with Poison Ivy, but there’s an image of her watching cartoons and eating cereal. There are a couple of images from the comics that have always really stuck with me, and I spoke to Christina, ‘Can we inject this moment?’ There’s a couple key moments I’ve seen in images, and that was one of them. Her eating cereal watching cartoons. So we have a scene like that with Cass. So that’s definitely my favorite.
And not specifically reading the script, because I was on the project before the script was written, so that kind of came together. I guess what’s always surprised me, or the thing… and I said this when publicizing Suicide Squad, the first film, is that her relationship with Joker always did confuse me the most. That was the thing that took me the longest to get my head around. In this film though, we’re exploring her not being with Joker. And I actually understand the break-up. That’s something I feel like everyone can kind of understand and relate to in some ways. Though she deals with–like she blows things up, I don’t do that. I understand the motivation that spurred on that train of thought.
What do you expect from the audience response to this film?
I don’t know, to be honest. It’s always so different. When you make a film–Bryan and I made I, Tonya, and I just did not know how people were going to react to it. And all you can do is really find the truth in the story that you’re telling, and tell it to the best of your ability, I suppose. Then explore it and try to explore it in an unbiased way. I feel like if you try to keep catering to the audience too much you ultimately disappoint them. So it’s tricky with something like this where you know there is already a fanbase, there are already people you want to please so badly. It’s hard to not try to play for the laugh, or play for the spectacle, but really find the truth in the situation. So I guess you just have to check yourself every so often and make sure that we’re telling an honest story. Even though it is spectacular, and funny, and this and that, I feel like that can’t be the root of your intention.
Can you talk about the dynamic of the team? We know that Harley is one extreme, but where do the other characters fall in the middle?
Like I mentioned before, I feel like everyone has their own set of ethics, and everyone’s moral compass does definitely veer in different ways. Which makes it interesting. It isn’t until later in the film where we all kind of coalesce. But you’ve got Renee Montoya who is a cop obviously, and does truly want to… you know what everyone has in common? They’re all from Gotham. This part of Gotham, we’re exploring the outskirts of Gotham, as opposed to… if Gotham is New York we’re not in Manhattan, we’re in Queens or Brooklyn. But they’re all from here, it’s that feeling. It is contained in a way that there is a smaller community and everyone is in it, and everyone has their roots in this part of town, and therefore want to fight for it. So I think that’s what they have in common. Whether they place priority on upholding the law like Renee Montoya might. Or Canary again is different. Huntress is more of an outsider coming back in. It’s home for them, and they’re fighting for their community in some way, I suppose. In a very weird way.
The real life cast, part of the fun of Suicide Squad coming out was the camaraderie of the Squad. How is it different? Is it the same? More intense, less intense? Are you tattooing people on the set?
No, I put the tattoo gun away. That’s led to some interesting discussions. I guess it’s different in the that that in Suicide Squad we got thrown together right at the beginning of the film. In this the group finds each other. So we’ve had less physical time as a group. The scenes we’re doing today is actually quite late in the film, and that’s when we first all kind of [gather]. So we’ve all had these moments to spend time together individually, as our characters run into each other, but this is the first time that we’re being thrown together. There always is though, on a film set, that feeling of camaraderie. You find that quite quickly. You gravitate towards the group, the gang, quite quickly. I’m sure by the time we’ve done fifty million junket days we’ll be lifelong friends. But the group immediately got along, and it’s great.
There has been a real trend with superhero movies becoming all about special effects, and action. But the last few years with Wonder Woman and Black Panther, they’ve become more character-driven. More about the story and not just about the powers of whoever the hero is. Harley is not flying across the universe.
Yeah. I think there are so many films coming out now that the bar has been lifted. There’s just too much competition. You can’t really get by with just a big explosion, that’s not going to satisfy people. Audiences are very smart, and audiences do have high expectations. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Here’s a really cool CG effect.’ Plus I don’t want to spend years of my life working on something if that’s all we’re aiming to do, you know? I also want to deliver something that has an incredible plot, and character work. And the spectacle as well, but the design in all aspects… I strive to have that all working at the highest possible level. In this film in particular, it is very plot-driven in some ways. Because we have a non-linear storytelling structure and we jump around in time, and therefore the plot actually is quite important. The character motivations are all quite simple and straightforward: we’re all fighting for something pretty straightforward. But I think the DC world does offer quite an opportunity for character work anyway, because the characters are quite dark, and often have quite a dark past. So we do explore that in bits and pieces in this, and help find character motivations through their back stories I suppose. But it is plot driven for sure. There’s a lot of wonderful character moments. The design is beautiful. It does hopefully incorporate all those things audiences are looking for.
In a lot of these comic book movies and superhero movies in general, the stakes can often be so high — the end of the world, that kind of thing — this seems like it will have more personal stakes.
It’s more contained, for sure. Yeah. That was one of the few criterias that I started off with. When I first pitched it I was like, ‘I am just so desensitized to seeing a city being flattened, it doesn’t register. I’ve seen it so many times on screen by this point, and VFX is so advanced at this point, it can’t even shock me with the realism of it anymore. I just don’t want to see stakes that big because I’m numb to it. I feel like if we had it a little more contained…’ My initial pitch was it should be no bigger than Mafia level, or gang level. It should all exist in a very small geographical vicinity. And the stakes should feel very personal, and feel life or death, but not the life or death of thousands of people. Just the people that we’ve spent time with on-screen. So it’s a far more contained version, but it doesn’t really take away from the stakes, it still feels really, really important. That was a huge part of it. I was just tired of seeing billions of buildings falling down and stuff like that.
You’ll hear from [Cathy Yan] and see how awesome and smart she is. Truthfully she just came in and blew our minds with her pitch for the film, and her understanding of what she was going to bring to it. Automatically built off all the ideas that we were excited about, she came in and spoke about them in a way that was going to elevate them to a whole new level. That’s kind of your dream scenario. You care about a project so much, you want someone to come in and understand it, and also feel as passionate about it as you do. And she did, she came in and we were all like, ‘Oh my God, we found the person for this film, thank God.’
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for more interviews and news from our visit to the Birds of Prey set, and more!
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