With the holidays around the corner, what better way to celebrate than with news from the anticipated Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. The Nerds of Color was invited to the set of Birds of Prey this past April to explore the dangerously fun production of the all-women led “superhero” movie and chat with the cast and creatives of the film.
Written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and directed by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs), the movie stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn teaming up with several other known DC characters — Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (played by newcomer Ella Jay Basco). Robbie also serves as a producer to the film alongside Sue Kroll and Bryan Unkeless.
Here are a few things we learned from the upcoming production of Birds of Prey:
1. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a standalone movie.
This film has nothing to do with Robbie’s previous portrayal of the psychiatrist-turned-psychiatry-patient known as Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. “It’s a standalone movie,” said Kroll. “It’s not connected to Suicide Squad. It’s not a sequel. It’s not a continuation of that story.” Instead, the film touches on Harley’s break up with the Joker.
“This is about her emancipation,” Kroll continued. “She and the Joker have broken up and her personal journey and discovery with these women. It’s not related at all. Don’t try to apply linear logic to how the two go because they don’t.”
2. The film will be entirely Harley’s point of view
Don’t expect a Deadpool kind of fourth wall breaking. The film is all in Harley Quinn’s perspective. “This is an origin story about the Birds of Prey told uniquely through Harley Quinn’s point of view,” said Kroll. “She’s the narrator of the film, so, of course, because she’s so kooky and irreverent and nuts, her perspective allows for very distinct and unique kinds of stories that we’re telling.”
So, are we expecting this film to be completely nuts since it’s told through Harley’s eyes? Not exactly. “The story is seen through her prism — her lens,” said Unkeless. “That allowed us to make a lot of bold choices — narratively and tonally. It was important to us to have the pushed boundaries in this movie. In the movie, we’re inspired by the overall worldview of Harley Quinn, which is so fun and insane and absurd and subversive and kind of untouchable. It’s definitely what was driving us when we were developing this.”
3. Fans will see multiple layers to Harley
This movie is all about Harley and her breakup with the Joker, but also her finding her own voice with the Birds of Prey. Fans will see the kooky and crazy that they are used to, but will also see the vulnerability of the character.
“I think there is such a duality in Harley Quinn,” said Yan. “Even in just the blue and the pink, Dr. Harley vs Harley Quinn, and both sides of her is there and she is still very much the smart doctor that she once was. She’s so capable of armchair diagnosing anyone. We say that’s part of her superpower, but then she could be so easily manipulated and has really low self-esteem and has all the issues that Joker really brought out in her. So, this is a great opportunity to explore the woman behind Harley Quinn and explore that duality and dive deeper into her psyche for sure.”
Robbie is excited to share this other side to Harley.
“I was so excited to play her from the 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,” Robbie shared. “There was such limited segments onscreen that really showcased Harley’s personality in the first Suicide Squad, so it’s been amazing on this film because I just have more screen time. I think what is 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 as opposed to Suicide Squad, there was a box to choose from. She wore her mission outfit. Now, what does she wear when she gets drunk at night. How does she deal with a hangover? You get to see these other sides to Harley — a more personal side.”
4. Harley is the antihero.
In DC lore, Harley is known as a criminal working with the Joker, but in this film, Harley is trying to find herself after her break up with the Joker. “I think antihero is an easy way to classify,” said Robbie. “I don’t think she’s evil but I don’t think she’s good either. I think she’s a baddie with her own set of rules that she follows. Her moral compass points a very different way than everyone else’s, but she does have a moral compass. She does have a feeling of what is right or wrong. It’s just that she places her priorities in a very different order to some other people.”
Of course, Harley finds herself getting into trouble trying to save Cassandra Cain from some bad guys. Roman Sionis aka Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, is a supervillain who takes on Harley and the Birds of Prey. Still, Harley is still not the hero in this story. “I think this movie lives more in the grey area where some people can do villainous things but not be completely made of that,” said Unkeless. “There’s a lot of ways to understand them and get a little bit of a perspective. We tried to, for each of our characters, specifically the women characters, we are finding it really interesting and unique transitionary times in their lives. There is that word — Emancipation. They are emancipating themselves from something, whether it is the circumstances that they are working with or whether it is some sort of patriatrical system or other things like emotional relationship. Whatever it may be, because of the vulnerability that comes from that, people act in sometimes good or sometimes bad ways. Hopefully a little more morally nuanced.”
5. The villains will have their own backstories revealed
Previous DC films tend to have their villains one-dimensional with their mission to destroy the world. Roman and his gang won’t be like that. Instead, expect to see more layers from the villains.
“It’s so easy to fall into the familiar tropes and she [screenwriter Christina Hodson] refused over and over again to settle for that,” said Unkeless. “You have to respect a lot. So, we inspired to make them distinct. Then, you bring the actors that we brought and it was important for us that they were unexpected in their villainous behavior that a part of them is very charming and likeable. We didn’t go for the traditional heavy [villains]. You look at Ewan’s career in particular and how much variety of performances he’s given and how much depth he has and how he brings that humanity to your villain. Plus, he’s created a really distinct character that is sometimes larger than life and sometimes relatable.”
So, will we sympathize with Roman?
“You do find yourself in Ewan,” Kroll shared. “The character, Roman, is so complicated. It’s not black or white, and it makes it very enjoyable because we know the script and we know what is going to happen, even watching him perform, he does so many surprising things. He’s very well drawn. He’s unfamiliar. He’s certainly unfamiliar to me. He’s not a villain that is taught by villains in DC that people know about. What motivates him, his backstory, and how he deals with situations is always unexpected and surprising and you find yourself liking and hating him at the same time, which I think is very unique.”
6. The threat will be more contained
For many superhero films, the world or universe is at stake for the heroes. With BoP, the threat will definitely just be among our characters. Robbie’s initial pitch was to have the story remain at a mafia or gang level.
“It should all exist in a very small geographical vicinity and the stakes should feel very personal and very life-or-death, but not the life or death of thousands of people,” said Robbie. “Just the people we’ve spent onscreen with. It’s a far more contained version and it doesn’t take away from the stakes. It still feels really important. That was a huge part. I was tired of seeing billions of buildings falling down and all that stuff.”
7. Expect to see the Joker’s old hunting grounds, but not the Joker
There will be no appearance by the Joker. Harley and the Joker are over. But, you will see some remnants of their old life together, including one of Joker’s lair — the Fun House in Amusement Mile. We can’t reveal the scene that takes place there, but Harley does return to their old stomping grounds.
8. The film will show another side of Gotham
In the DC Universe, Gotham is seen as this dark and sketchy city surrounded by gothic buildings. It’s because Gotham’s history was told through Batman’s eyes. Production designer KK Barrett wanted to change that to reflect Harley’s idea of Gotham, which is more street gutter.
“She’s a bit more out in, not the burbs, but if this was Manhattan, then she might be from Queens,” said Barrett. “You could get a bit of it in her accent. There’s a lot of edgy worlds around the monolithic buildings that represent a downtown. I think our Gotham is set in the same city but I think we’re going to see a different side than what we’ve seen before.”
9. The movie is feminine, but it’s not forcing feminism
The creative team wanted it to be clear that the movie is not trying to push a message down the audiences’ throats. “What I think is interesting about this story is that it has very distinct feminine ideology and undertones, but it isn’t fully encompassed by it,” Unkeless explained. “It isn’t so much like an ‘all these women come together and ta-da! We’re putting them up on a pedestal.’ They found this girl-gang and it is more complicated than that, where they have their own interesting moral center.” Unkeless said the film is much more authentic when it comes to women relationships. “More than anything, it’s just going to be a ride,” he elaborated. “It doesn’t feel so potentially earnest or message oriented.”
10. The film will show the stages of a break up
A Harley Quinn film wouldn’t be a Harley Quinn film without some comedy and crazy behind it. Harley will be trying to figure out her life without the Joker. So, the audience could expect some crazy to come from Harley.
“She’s a total mess after the breakup,” Robbie described Harley’s state of mind. “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-breakup. Yeah, it’s pretty messy.”
11. The iconic Harley Quinn mallet will be shown
Yes, expect to see Harley’s giant mallet and it will be used in the best way.
12. Yan brings an indie vibe to the production
Robbie and Kroll praised Yan’s pitch for the film, which reflected what they wanted for their ‘girl-gang.’ “Cathy is awesome and smart,” said Quinn. “She’s just came in and blew our minds with her pitch for the film and our understanding of what she was going to bring to it. Automatically built with the ideas we were excited about.”
Yan emphasized her focus on character development and the story being plot driven rather than the special effects.
“We just are aiming to do this the old school way,” said Yan. “Everything in-camera and I think I focus on the characters and try to make it about the characters and their development and make sure everyone has an arc and that they are compelling and interesting and dynamic and complicated and that’s more important to me than just blowing the whole world up. That kind of indie sensibility and aesthetically too, I’m really excited by what we’re able to do — the sets that we build, the costumes, and working with KK Barrett and Erin Benach. They are incredible and inspiring and going to push the envelope on that and create a new aesthetic world that we haven’t really seen before for Gotham.”
13. The fashion in the movie will be FANTABULOUS and reflect the comics as well
Costume designer Erin Benach confirmed that all the costumes were taken from the comic books, but given a “street-nafying” treatment.
“We’ve taken a lot of [Huntress’] elements like the parts where it crosses in the comic books,” said Benach. “You’ll see it in a lot of looks as well. You get the crosses. You get the silver. You get the hood. We’re taking it but doing our creative twist on it.”
Although fans may not see the iconic red and black checkered jumpsuit on Harley, there will be some elements of that in one of her outfits.
“So, even Harley’s outfit with the gold,” said Yan. “It’s not her black and red, but it’s checkered and diamond checkered. Everything we do is still sort of inspired by the comics.”
Here are some of the descriptions of characters Benach revealed:
- Harley likes to mix her fashions. For example, sweats and sequin, yes definitely. Glamour and comfort, always. Harley is the life of the party. She literally can dance anywhere into oblivion. She is unabashedly honest, present in the moment, and always ready to deal with any challenge coming her way. Never a stiletto or a constricting skirt to be found on this one. Harley is drawn to things that sparkle and shine. She’s also drawn to things that are cute like hyenas like her pet Bruce. Even when Harley looks like the world is crashing down on her and there’s no way she could beat the odds, she somehow looks aspirationally cool. It’s I don’t give an F vibe to the world around her that makes her lovable and magnetic. There’s a little piece in every woman who wants to be Harley for just a least a minute.
- Huntress is sports look. Think Supreme meet Louis Vuitton. She dresses for functionality always first, but her custom made high tech wear is unique only to her. We took her comic book character details like black, purple, and silver and her hooded silhouettes are throughout the movie.
- Canary is the ultimate city girl survivor. She’s a sultry singer by night, and by day, she is all business. You will eventually see what that all business looks like. She’s the kind of girl who innately knows how to pull a look together exemplifying that style can’t be bought, she just has it. We took a lot of cues from her comic book character as well. Her black fishnets and her color palette — yellow, black, and blue. She dresses to embody strength and soulfulness. Canary is that feeling of vintage meets modern with a fashion twist.
- Renee is our straight shooter. She’s trying to make a right from wrong in the world of Gotham. She’s playing by the rules until she can’t anymore. At her lowest point, she is literally dumped on by a bunch of garbage and stuff and forced to wear this sad t-shirt that was found in the Lost and Found of the police station. Poor Renee. For now.
- Cass is a rebel with a cause. She’s the enduring ethos of the punk subculture. She is a very vulnerable young girl with a tough tomboy shell. In that shell, she could hold a whole bunch of her stolen goods.
- Roman is always impeccable. Roman is dressed for every occasion whether that be out for the night or in for the evening. He’s beyond exclusive and has to have stuff that no one else can get their hands on. He has his finger on the pulse that is hip and in the moment in Gotham City. We get to see a lot of looks from him in this movie.
- Zsasz is our street urchin. Dark and slick. He is dressing not to be seen but his nocturnal fashion style is hard to miss.
14. Fans don’t need to worry about Canary’s look
There have been many fans voicing their opinion of Canary’s iconic outfit and Benach has thought about it already.
“We really did say her black fishnets are one of her key elements,” said Benach. “So we looked at that and thought how could we turn that into something that she would wear on a stage performing as a performer for real. What would a performer do? So, we tried to put it that way. Then, her other looks — her day look, we tried to do the same thing. We took her color palette — blue and black and yellow — and we did something there that is similar that we said what would a badass woman in a city that isn’t a stretchy suit that is keeping it in character.”
15. There will be Easter Eggs
How many exactly? “Exactly 31,” Yan joked. “Don’t quote me on that.”
The film does pay homage to the comic books. “I love the opportunity to create our own Gotham and world, but it does sit within the comics as well,” Yan explained. “Everything does pay homage to it.”
Robbie, who did a ton of research on her character, wanted some images from the comics reflected on the big screen. “There is an image in the comic I read where she is sitting, with Poison Ivy, watching cartoons and eating cereal,” said Robbie. “There are a couple of images from the comics that I’ve always liked really stuck and I spoke with Christina [Hodson] asking if we could inject this moment. There are a couple of key moments I’ve seen in images and that was one of them, her eating cereal and watching cartoons. We have a scene like that with Cass.”
Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn opens in theaters on February 7, 2020.