On March 12, 2019, I visited the set of Birds of Prey on the Warner Bros Studio Lot in Los Angeles. While on set, a group of journalists had the opportunity to sit down with Harley Quinn herself, Margot Robbie, to talk about the making of this new DC movie. She’s not only the star of the film, but a producer, and we talked about everything from the comic book inspirations, the evolution of Harley Quinn, the choice of characters, and much more.

Note: this interview was conducted as a roundtable with other assembled journalists.

You’re wearing so many hats with this, what was it about this story that really made you guys want to make this the Harley Quinn movie?

Well, I first actually pitched the notion when we were actually still shooting Suicide Squad, cause I kept saying like, ‘Oh, Harley does so much better when she has people to play with.’ I 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 just want it to be like a girl gang for Harley to be a part of. And then obviously I’d been reading a ton of the comics, anything involving Harley, and one of the separate line of comics is the Birds of Prey, which I started reading. And Harley’s not a traditional member of the Birds of Prey, but it was a fun kind of girl gang to kind of dip in and out of, I suppose.

We saw that Harley is going to have a hyena in this one, you talked about going into comics – so with the hyena and everything else, were there other things from the comics that you dove into that you wanted to make sure you brought into this one?

Yeah, there was a couple of like specific images I suppose that always stuck with me from the comics. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say… Can I mention skates?… Her in a roller derby for example, I was just like, ‘Ah!’ There’s a couple of visuals I was like, ‘If we could just incorporate this in some way, that’d be great.’ And yeah, her babies, her pet hyenas, definitely, and B.B. of course. I just love how she has such an eclectic group of friends, or loved ones, which I wanted to incorporate.

Can you talk about how this movie is a little bit of an emancipation for your character, to kind of break away.

Yeah. Yeah. So it’s always a question of what’s… something I explored a lot in Suicide Squad, the first film, was Harley’s co-dependence with The Joker, and obviously he has a huge influence on her. But obviously she was very much in a relationship with him when we first saw Harley on screen in Suicide Squad. I did want to explore what is the version of Harley out of a relationship, and whether she’s out of relationship on her own accord or his, of he kind of kicked her to the curb. 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, cause I think she has multiple.

Speaking of freedom, but albeit from a different angle, the language that we’ve been hearing is a bit more adult than we’ve been hearing in these films. I’m curious about kind of the openness of that and letting Harley really just go buck wild.

I did feel like I had to censor myself a lot, obviously to suit a PG rating, and a lot of the characters that exist in the DC world, to be honest, are quite dark. And a lot of them, Huntress for example, have serious childhood trauma, have serious mental illnesses like Harley. But I felt like sometimes you can’t really go as deep with those things if you have to censor yourself. And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be liberating if we didn’t have to worry about that?’ and really go for it, and then later in the edit kind of find where the tone of movie lies.

When it came to of putting your girl gang together, you’ve got a couple of the Birds of Prey members, but you’ve also picked from like some of the other cool characters. What was it that drew you to like Cas or Renee Montoya, and when it came to like story-wise and building your team?

Yeah, it’s an eclectic group, which I love – that everyone has a distinct and different personality, and is coming from a different angle, I suppose. You got Renee, whose set of morals… her moral compass points a very different way to Harley’s and Canary’s. Everyone’s kind of got their own rule of ethics that they abide by, and they kind of conflict with each other, which I think is always interesting in an ensemble. It really started with Huntress. I just loved Huntress, and with my initial pitch on the story, I said I wanted to keep it quite contained, get no bigger, and no world ending stakes. Like the stakes were as big as perhaps mafia level or gang level. That’s when I started reading a lot of Huntress comics, obviously coming from a mafia family, and found her story. Plus, I always gravitate… well, not always, but I do often gravitate towards a revenge story because it is so straight forward, but you are so clearly motivated. So I find myself getting on board with that mindset quite quickly. And then after Huntress it kind of fleshed out from there – which other members kind of counterbalance her revenge story, and Harley’s version of what’s right and wrong. You kinda needed a more moral character like Renee Montoya – we needed a cop in there. Canary obviously is so crucial to the Birds of Prey, we really wanted to introduce her as well. And then Cas, Christina, the writer, and I actually spoke about a lot of our favorite films, and wanted to pay homage to a few things, but, Leon The Professional was one of them, and we just loved that relationship – the, mentor and mentee, a very unexpected friendship there. We kind of found ourselves gravitating towards that as well.

Are you Leon in that situation?

I am.

Can you talk about bringing Cathy [Yan] on as the director for this film and what she’s bringing to it for this particular venture with her and her new pals?

Yeah, Cathy, I don’t know if you guys have talked to her or met her yet, she’s awesome. I actually saw Cathy’s film Dead Pigs, which is an ensemble – I don’t think it’s been released yet so I don’t know if everyone’s seen it – it’s an ensemble cast as well. 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, so that obviously put her on our radar to begin with, but we explored so many different directors. I’d said I really wanted it to be a female director if that’s how it kind of comes together, but of course, I don’t think you should ever force that either. At the end of the day, it’s whoever is the best person for the job and we met with directors both male and female, and Cathy gave the best pitch. She came in, she understood the piece, she elevated the ideas that we’d been working on and kind of took them to a place and that’s what you need a director to do, to take what you have and elevate it to another level and she did that. 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 was perfect! She’s perfect for it! So yeah it was really exciting, that initial conversation. 

We heard this was an origin story, so can you talk about how this is Harley’s origin story? Maybe what is making this team come together?

It’s an origin story for the Birds of Prey and how this version of the group might come together – in its initial stages, of course – in the future it could be built out into the more traditional groupings, perhaps, or different versions. People come in and out of the Birds of Prey. Harley is the narrator of the story, a very unreliable, erratic narrator, which is fun but it also gives the audience an opportunity to be inside her brain sometimes and see the world through her eyes at times, but really, it’s about…I guess you’ll wait and see how well she does or does not get along with the Birds of Prey in the end. But ultimately, I think she is not a traditional member of the Birds of Prey.

I thought it was very interesting, the first teaser trailer that I saw. I feel like male gaze versus female gaze is something that’s very hard to define and yet you know it when you see it, and I’m very interested in the female gaze that you’re bringing to this perspective of Harley Quinn with this very female empowered cast and crew.

Yeah, I guess I kind of think of it like when you’re getting dressed and you’re either dressing for guys or you’re dressing for girls. Like, you either want guys to think you look good, or you want your girlfriends to wish they had your outfit sort of thing. Like, it’s very two different things, and I think…For me, 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 this version, where she’s clearly not with the Joker and it is erratic and it’s different, but also the world in general, and therefore everyone else’s kind of looks for the film was created by women. We got female director, writer, producer – one male producer. He’s a feminist, so I’ll take it. We let him in – and 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 bathrobe 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.

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Birds of Prey opens on February 7, 2020.

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