While on the set of BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN earlier this year, we talked to many members of the cast and crew behind the scenes, but perhaps the person who dons the most hats in the film is Harley Quinn herself, Margot Robbie. Aside from starring in the leading role, Robbie is also producing the film via her very own production company, LuckyChap. According to Robbie, she pitched the idea for BIRDS OF PREY back when she was still on the set of David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD. “I first actually pitched the notion when we were actually still shooting SUICIDE SQUAD” Robbie recalls. “I kept saying like, ‘Oh, Harley does so much better when she has people to play with’. I just kept thinking that in real life I had such a girl gang, like my group of girlfriends, and I just want Harley to have a girl gang. I’d been reading a ton of the comics, anything in involving Harley, and one of the separate line of comics is in the Birds of Prey”.
And thus, the road to Harley Quinn’s emancipation began.
Thanks to an extremely effective marketing campaign, SUICIDE SQUAD was the most buzzed about movie during the summer of 2016, earning the DCEU a whopping $133.6 million during the opening weekend, and staying in the top spot at the box office for three straight weekends. Worldwide, the ‘worst heroes ever’ garnered over $740 million, proving that comic book fans truly do want to see their favorite DC characters up on the big screen, especially when those characters choose to team up.
While the profitable SUICIDE SQUAD proved that DC fans are ready and willing to show up on opening day to support their caped crusaders, Robbie couldn’t help but feel that there was still some Harley Quinn potential yet to be tapped. After devouring comic after comic herself, Robbie was curious to see who Harley Quinn could be when she’s not busy lusting after the Joker, the maniac of her dreams. Who is Harley Quinn when she’s alone?
“Something I explored a lot in SUICIDE SQUAD, the first film, was Harley’s co-dependence with the Joker” remembers Robbie. “He has a huge influence on her, but obviously she was very much in a relationship with him when we first saw Harley onscreen in SUICIDE SQUAD. I did want to explore what is the version of Harley out of a relationship, and whether she’s out of a relationship on her own accord or his….it still affects her, but in a very different way, and I thought we’d see a very different facet of her personalities. ‘Personalities’, I would say, because I think she has multiple”.
Manifesting a new interpretation of Harley Quinn meant bringing on the perfect director for the job. Although Robbie admits she was keen on the idea of bringing a female director on board, finding the most suitable filmmaker, no matter what their sex happened to be, was without a doubt the main goal when it came to creating the perfect persona for Harleen Frances Quinzel. Luckily, Cathy Yan checked all the boxes and then some. “Cathy’s film DEAD PIGS – it’s an ensemble cast as well” explains Robbie about their decision to hire Yan for the much coveted position. “The design of the film is stunning. I think it’s a very hard thing to do an ensemble piece and give everyone, with so little real estate onscreen, give them the time to understand them or see their point of view, and then of course, seeing all their storylines interweaving, which is something that happens in this film. We looked for a director who could accomplish that in a satisfying and organic way, and I saw Cathy did that incredibly in DEAD PIGS. I remember writing copious notes every time we spoke to someone, and Cathy came in and my page was just a big smiley face”.
It’s easy to understand why Robbie was so immediately smitten with the idea of Yan at the helm. When speaking with the director herself – a filmmaker who just so happens to be the first Asian American woman to direct a big budget superhero movie – it soon becomes clear that BIRDS OF PREY is going to be so much more than your average blockbuster. This film is going to be a revolution. A movie that both gets back to basics – there are no world ending stakes here, but it’s likely there will be good, old-fashioned, clear-cut revenge – with mostly practical, in camera effects, but also adds fresh new perspectives, by making Harley Quinn an unreliable narrator in an unconventional, parallel universe world.
“The structure of the film is a bit like PULP FICTION meets RASHOMON” explains director Yan. “So, it’s an unconventional structure. For me, there’s a lot of my favorite filmmakers that have influences on this film. Tarantino obviously. THE PROFESSIONAL for sure, especially the relationship between Harley and Cass. Visually, I think very much influenced by A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as well….like the Milk Bar. The Black Mask has a lot of that. The female figures, I’ve been kind of reinterpreting that. The Mod style, the ‘70s era. We really tried to make this film look like nothing that you’ve seen from a superhero movie before, and really ground it in a reality, and in some of the films that I’ve loved through the years”.
Although she has a plethora of fresh ideas in mind, Yan admits it was a real challenge stepping up behind the camera. Between the beloved comic books, David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD already establishing an onscreen presence for the cupid of crime, and Robbie’s wish to expand upon the past, Yan fought hard to find a middle ground that existed somewhere within the realm of a heightened reality and a grounded but entertaining parallel timeline. Harley’s hair is slightly shorter than her previous installment, but ultimately the same. There is not any known amount of time that has passed since the first film, so this is less a post-Joker world, and more of an alternate universe. It’s not so much about Harley’s break up with her puddin’, but rather, her emancipation.
“The story’s super compelling and personal to me because it is about emancipation, and the stranglehold that is the patriarchy” says Yan. “I feel like I very much have gone through that arc myself, and I’ve seen it with, especially set against the backdrop of #MeToo and what’s been happening in our industry in the last few years. So that definitely infiltrated its way into my pitch as well. For me this film was so much more than a superhero film about the first girl gang, but it really has a compelling narrative and theme to it that is very, very personal to me”.
Clearly, this project is a passionate one for Robbie as well. When asked to speculate on the idea of male versus female gaze, the actor/producer had this to say: “Harley’s aesthetic, looking at Harley specifically, I’d say her aesthetic is kind of dictated on her relationship status and whether she’s in a relationship with Joker, which, you’re gonna get the version of Harley that you see in SUICIDE SQUAD, and then in this version, where she’s clearly not with the Joker and it is erratic and it’s different, but also the world in general, everyone else’s looks for the film was created by women. We got female director, writer, producer…. Erin [Benach], our costume designer, really, when we first spoke, a lot of her inspiration were films that feel like a heightened version of reality, but can also exist in a world that isn’t too jarring, that you disassociate with immediately. Like, FIGHT CLUB, for example, is something that she mentioned, where you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m pretty sure that they all dress normal’ and then you look at a snapshot of FIGHT CLUB and you’re like, Brad Pitt’s wearing a flowery pink bath robe and it is quite out there and bright and colorful and strange, but it does feel grounded at the same time. So, I guess it’s a combination of achieving a heightened reality that feels grounded and recognizable at the same time, and also, distinctly from a female perspective”.
BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN is set to hit theaters on February 7, 2020.