Cast: Ewan McGregor, Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messina, Matthew Willig, Greice Santo, Derek Wilson
Director: Cathy Yan
Genre: Action, Adventure
Running Time: 109 minutes
Synopsis: You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? "Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham's most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya's paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
Birds Of Prey
Release Date: 6th of February, 2020
"Quick history lesson: The Joker and I? We broke up…
For the first time, I'm all on my lonesome.
But I wasn't the only dame in Gotham looking for emancipation.
This is our story. And I'm telling it, so I'll start where I f*ckin' want." ~Harley
It's open season on Harley Quinn when her always unpredictable life spirals even more out of control following a particularly explosive break-up with her one true love, Mr. J. For the first time, she's unprotected and on the run…with every thug in Gotham running after her, starting at the very top with crime lord Roman Sionis. But with an unexpected assist from three very unlikely sources"Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya"Harley and her newly contrived cadre just might survive this insanely wild, potentially (probably) deadly day.
Margot Robbie, who reprises the role as well as produces the film, says, "The most exciting thing for an actor is to have choices with your character, and you can really do anything when you're playing Harley Quinn. With some roles, you can react one or two ways; with Harley, it's more like 20, and every one of them makes sense for the character. That is really liberating and creatively stimulating."
For that reason, among others, even while she was still filming her first turn as the fanfavorite anti-heroine in "Suicide Squad," she recalls, "I knew that I definitely wasn't ready to stop playing her, that there was still so much yet to be discovered and explored on screen."
That uncharted territory led Robbie to delve into options for Harley that included surrounding her with a girl gang, namely the popular DC team up Birds of Prey. "I wanted to see what Harley would be like without someone to take care of her. And it's always been a part of my own life to have a group of girlfriends that do everything together. We're a very mixed bag of personalities," she smiles, "but everyone loves each other despite being pretty different. That's what drew me to developing a story for Harley with the Birds of Prey, to find a group that's unique, but who complement each other, especially in their fighting styles. Together, they make up all the pieces of the puzzle."
To help draft the players and create the world of the film, Robbie reached out to screenwriter Christina Hodson, who relates, "Margot and I fell in love over early morning pizza and mimosas in the summer of 2015. She told me of her dream of doing a Harley Quinn/girl gang movie and I was 100 percent in. We really saw eye to eye on the tone, on keeping it fun, and on doing something boldly different in the superhero movie space. We both love those movies, but we wanted to try something a little different, something non-linear, action-packed but also with a lot of humor."
"Christina and I got along the moment we met and we're going to be friends forever," Robbie adds. "She's a genius. I had a lot of ideas that didn't fit together yet, like this relationship or that tableau from the comics, this character here, that storyline there. She found a way to weave it all in and turn it into something that reflected Harley's personality and was in Harley's authentic voice."
For the origin story that would pair Harley Quinn with a new collection of characters, they drew inspiration from various comics, such as the New 52 series, when Harley is out on her own and no longer with The Joker. That circumstance appealed to them as a logical starting off point because, in order to be the lead in her own film, shouldn't she also be the star of her own life? For Black Canary, they opted for Dinah Lance, daughter of the original, same-name Super Hero with the killer cry, but who still hesitates to hit that high note. They liked the version of police detective Renee Montoya who could be a little too tough and sometimes get in her own way, and felt that Huntress, with her tragic backstory, made for an ideal enigmatic loner averse to social interaction. All of whom made for the most unlikely grouping of wholly reluctant individuals, so who better to match with the infamous criminal girlfriend known for standing by her man…after her man has kicked her to the curb?
Once they had their onscreen team locked in, Robbie teamed with producers Bryan Unkeless and Sue Kroll and the trio, collectively, found their director in rising star Cathy Yan, a discovery out of Sundance.
"I couldn't have asked for a more supportive creative team, they were amazing," says Yan. "I know it was a very personal journey of many years for Margot, so I felt very honored to be a part of that. And she was so actively involved as both a star and a producer, which was pretty amazing."
The director also felt connected to the world of Harley and the Birds. "Growing up, I loved Gotham," she relates. "When I read Christina's script, I appreciated how she transformed it and the spirit of her storytelling, as well as the style and attitude of the characters. They are these badass fighters, plus Harley is over the top, drops F-bombs and makes terrible decisions; her imperfections make her both relatable and also just really fun, and it was all there on the page."
Kroll recalls, "Margot loves playing Harley and devoting the time and energy to figuring out all her quirks. She and Christina had captured every dimension of the character, so when Cathy laid out her ideas for the film"the characters, the environments, the context"she really created a sense of place that allowed us to understand what she saw and felt, and how in line it was with our vision." Kroll says that Yan provided a comprehensive viewpoint that aligned with theirs from start to finish. "Even her ideas for the music, which is incredibly integral to this film, were undeniable."
Robbie concurs, "Cathy's ability to give each character in an ensemble his or her moment on the screen was one of the main reasons I loved her film 'Dead Pigs,' but also why I felt she was the right person to direct this film. When she came in, it was clear she understood the story and the characters and had so many wonderful additional thoughts. Sue and Bryan and I just looked at each other and knew it just felt right."
When the film opens, Harley Quinn is unceremoniously dumped by The Joker and, as she tells the audience (peppered with perhaps a few little white lies), she's finally living her best life, which includes a new best friend: a hyena she names Bruce for, well…that other Gotham guy. At the same time, she comes across several other women, each going about her day in her own way: solving mass murders, committing mass murders, or performing at a club patronized by mass murderers and their friends. Respectively, they are GCPD detective Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez; Huntress, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead; and Black Canary, played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell.
"I love action movies. If you want to put me in a movie about a bunch of girls kicking ass, I'm in," says Perez.
Winstead agrees, noting, "I loved that this was a story about strong women trying to find their independence, and by coming together they find it within themselves and within one another."
And Smollett-Bell, who would have double duty acting and singing in the film, loved the collaborative aspect of the Birds and Harley. "Between the characters teaming up and Harley's kind of humor, I felt like we were doing something a little different," she says. "I could really see myself in Black Canary and in this crazy, Harley world."
To unite the women in a common cause, the film is infused with non-stop, edge-of-yourseat action as it pits them each against two very uncommon villains"mob boss Roman Sionis, aka the Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, and his henchman Victor Zsasz, played by Chris Messina"in order to save one young girl, Cassandra Cain. Cass is a sticky-fingered street urchin who picks the wrong pocket, and she is played by newcomer Ella Jay Basco.
For the look and feel of the film, the filmmakers and the design teams, led by production designer K.K. Barrett and costume designer Erin Benach, drew visual inspiration from Quinn herself, incorporating certain motifs into a very Harleyized version of Gotham City.
Unkeless offers, "The story takes place in the mean streets of Gotham"not the Manhattan-inspired version, but the outer boroughs where the seedy underbelly thrives. It's all about attitude, told through the lens of Harley Quinn and all that entails: her crass perspective, her impolite exuberance, and her madcap, acerbic, subversive energy that is always unpredictable. Put all of that together with this eclectic group of really powerful women who are pushed to their limits and have to form an alliance"albeit a loose one"not only to do what's right, but just to survive the day."
That's right, it all takes place over about 24 hours. Just another day in the life of one Harley Quinn.
Hey, you're that singer no one listens to!
You're the asshole no one likes.
Margot Robbie was eager to step back into the role of the endearingly daring ne'er-dowell Harley Quinn. This time around, Harley is the recently liberated girlfriend of The Joker and presently wanted dead by every other lowlife in Gotham City. Her closest ties now are to her newly acquired roomie, a hyena.
"At the beginning of the movie," Robbie offers, "Harley and Mr. J break up. Though she'll tell you it was her choice and that she's handling it really well, you can see that it very much wasn't, which is the classic unreliable narrator aspect of her that Christina Hodson and I so enjoyed playing with."
"Harley is a million opposing things at once," Hodson adds, "but mostly she's about having fun, so that was the tone we went for in our storytelling"to just exploit that and see what would happen if a character delighted in not following any rules and didn't do anything that was expected. With Harley as our storyteller, she'll lie, she'll exaggerate, she'll change facts to suit her needs, and she's scatterbrained at times, so things will go forward and backward. I loved writing with her at the wheel, so to speak, because she allows you to say things you shouldn't say and she'll do things she shouldn't do, in a way she shouldn't do them."
Yan observes, "I think Harley's become such an iconic DC character because her complexity is so fascinating. At the heart of who she is lies the former Dr. Harleen Quinzel, but in her heart she's all Harley Quinn. Is she good, is she bad? She's funny, but she's also got a dark side, is both vulnerable and strong, and she does terrible things, but has a heart of gold. That duality is even epitomized by the pink and blue in her hair"she can't even choose a color, right?"
Without Mr. J's protection, Harley opts to strike a bargain for her safety with mob boss Roman Sionis by agreeing to retrieve an encrypted diamond from a slippery young pickpocket named Cass. But Harley being Harley, sticking to any deal she makes is less than likely.
Not so with Robbie, who, Yan says, couldn't be more committed. "Margot is so devoted to her work. She went full throttle both as an actor and a producer on this project, and she was totally unafraid, ready to do anything. She's also a great improviser, quick-witted, and understands Harley better than anyone."
In researching Harley via the vast DC canon, Robbie came across Huntress and found herself immediately drawn to the character and her history. "I love a good revenge tale," Robbie says, "and Huntress's actions are entirely motivated by revenge."
Huntress's real name is Helena Bertinelli, and she was once the daughter of one of the richest mafia dons in Gotham. That is, before he and the rest of the family tree were killed by rivals. Now grown up, the traumatic event has driven her to be single-minded about avenging her family. That, and being raised by assassins, has also made her a resilient fighter who doesn't give up.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead took on the role of the enigmatic killer, deadly accurate with a crossbow and accustomed to being on her own, having lived so long with one mission in mind. "Huntress is definitely one of those great comic book characters who's born out of pain. She witnessed her family being murdered in front of her eyes when she was a child and has trained her entire life to be an assassin, basically, with the very focused goal of tracking down these men who killed her family and systematically annihilating them. Now she's a killing machine on a manhunt. Fitting in with society or being social has never been on her radar and she's not particularly interested in making friends. That's not really part of her strategy," the actress says.
"When she ends up running into all these other women in the film, she's not really interested in joining a girl gang or working as a team," Winstead continues. "But she realizes that the situation that they're in sort of requires her to step up and do that. So, begrudgingly, she does, which I think it opens up all these other windows into who she is in a really interesting way. That was some of the most fun for me"getting to figure out how that would manifest or come out in her personality."
Unlike her onscreen counterpart, Winstead enjoyed the on-set camaraderie and observing the dual-focus of co-star Robbie. "Margot was amazing, she really had her hand in everything on this movie," she notes. "At the same time, she managed to keep such a clear head, which was so impressive. She was always cool as a cucumber.
"And Cathy was fantastic, so poised and confident with such a reverence for the material," Winstead adds. "We had such a great time."
Reciprocating, Yan says, "We discussed at length what a woman who grew up in Sicily with assassins, who never went to school or made friends and missed out on important, normal life experiences, would be like. Mary was really able to bring a level of depth, but also humor, to the role of Huntress as she goes from complete outsider to part of this team."
Another integral member of the Birds"and the only one with an actual avian appellation" is Black Canary. Known by most as Dinah Lance, the mysterious siren is Sionis's favorite lounge singer at his club Black Mask by night, and (thanks to Harley) his driver by day. Still sorting out her strengths from her superpowers, one thing's for sure: this songbird's got a killer voice, her signature "canary cry," and as such is the only one among the group with a real superpower.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who portrays her, offers, "She's very much the Dinah Lance that we love from the comics. What I really wanted to capture was the essence of that character, and one of the things that I love about Dinah is her heart. She's all heart. She's all compassion. She's also this amazing martial artist and expert street fighter; however, when we meet her in the film, she hasn't yet become this powerful Black Canary that we know her to be, she hasn't really owned her strength or power.
"She's at this point in her life in which she wants nothing to do with cleaning up Gotham," the actress continues. "She doesn't care to be a vigilante, she just wants to keep her head down and do her job as a nightclub singer."
Like Helena Bertinelli, Dinah Lance has a bit of a heartbreaking tale to tell. "She lost her mother to the work of being a crime fighter, which has made her kind of jaded and feeling like, 'Well, what the hell does Gotham offer me? They killed my mother, so why would I care about cleaning it up?' Still, it's actually against Dinah's nature to be that way, so for me, it was very interesting to explore this idea of a woman who is so powerful, yet she's in her own way; she's so strong and yet she chooses to not use her powers."
All of the character's vocals, both musically and "metahumanly," were done by SmollettBell. "It was a lot of fun to embrace the vocal demands of Black Canary"the singing and the canary cry," she relates. "It definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone and was a little intimidating to do because I have such respect for singers, but it was fun. And singing 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World?' How ironic, right?" she grins.
"Jurnee is a beautiful singer and her cover of 'Man's World' in the movie is wonderful," says Yan. "But it was an especially fun exercise working with her to figure out the canary cry, and how to make it unique to her in bringing it to the big screen for the first time."
In fact, Smollett-Bell's supersonic sound was derived from not only the depictions found in the comics, but from her own first introduction to Black Canary in a video game. "I was first introduced to her in the 'Injustice 2' game, and so, in my mind, that was always her cry," she says.
Perhaps the most unexpected Bird to join the flock is also the smartest detective in the Gotham City Police Department. Although Renee Montoya is well aware of Harley Quinn's reputation in the crime world, their paths have yet to cross. But Renee is, unsurprisingly, the first to deduce that mobster Roman Sionis is consolidating his interests. Unfortunately, she's the last cop the GCPD higher-ups will listen to. Her intense approach on the job often gets in her way and, by virtue of being a female, she garners little if any respect from her peers. Nevertheless, she'll do whatever it takes to take him down"even fight alongside one of Gotham's most wanted psychos.
Rosie Perez, who has portrayed a wide variety of New York City archetypes throughout her career, embraced the hardened"but not hard-hearted"Gotham cop. She also appreciated being able to bring something fresh to the role, offering, "When I did my research on Renee Montoya in the comic books, I learned she's much younger than I am. She's also very angry about wanting to make the world a better place, but always being second-guessed. What I had to do was not to try to act younger, but to bring the wisdom and the maturity that I have to the character."
"Rosie is just iconic," says Yan. "She was awesome to work with and brought so much grit and such a grounded quality to Renee. The character is so strong, and Rosie is innately just as strong, and she gave Renee the perfect do-not-f*ck-with-me attitude and tenacity that she needed."
Perez says that Renee "has one thing on her mind: justice. But she has to put aside her prejudices, her judgments, in order to come together with the others for the greater good, which, in this story, is defeating a powerful villain and also protecting a child."
One of the actress's choice moments in the film comes when Renee realises what she's gotten herself into. "Harley says to the three of them, 'Who's in?' and Renee says, 'With you?'" she laughs. "My character is used to relying on herself because she's been disregarded by her colleagues for so long, but luckily she is smart enough to know that she'd rather have this psycho on her team who's going to go way beyond the call of duty to kick some ass, than anyone less, let's say, committed. Plus, she looks around and sees that they also have Black Canary and Huntress, so she thinks maybe they have a shot. I think it's a great statement for women and girls to see, because we're always told to lean in, but just yourself, you know?
No one ever says lean in as a team. But we do." Perez also hopes her appearance in the film will inspire "women of a certain age to go out there, get back in the gym, and kick some ass! It's not over, you know!"
If Renee Montoya has become toughened by the job, Cassandra Cain, at age 12, has learned to tough it out on the streets of Gotham. Cass, as she's known, is a smart-mouthed kid surviving on her own"thanks in part to her uncanny knack for pickpocketing. But when she nicks a priceless gem, she becomes a target for real trouble, and it'll take Harley and the full complement of Birds to save her.
In her feature film debut, newcomer Ella Jay Basco plays the fifth and final member of the group, who also serves as the catalyst to unite them. Basco remembers, "When I read the script, I just loved Cassandra Cain. She's a street girl without a family or a home, so she's both really misguided and super independent. She has had to fight to survive in this world, until she meets Harley Quinn." Basco also says that as soon as she learned she'd gotten the part, "I bought this big stack of Birds of Prey and Cassandra Cain comic books, and that definitely helped me understand who she is, but also develop the character as she is in the movie."
In fact, it was a particular storyline in a comic that initially inspired Robbie to include the Harley/Cass relationship that ultimately plays out on screen. "In my research, I read Harley Quinn: Behind Blue Eyes, and I knew I wanted to explore that mentor-mentee relationship," she recollects. "It told me a lot about who Harley was and what she was capable of. We didn't use the exact storyline from the series, but just understanding her and her connection to Cass in that way was enlightening."
Basco found Robbie and the entire cast, along with Yan, to be great mentors. "It was honestly so exciting to work with all of them, they're so inspiring," she says. "Every day was a full-on learning experience, and so much fun. Everybody was super nice; it was like one long dream." Due to the circumstances of the story, the young actress spent the bulk of her scenes alongside Robbie. "Margot was like a big sister to me, we had the best time with each other. She taught me so much about working with people on- and off-camera. It was amazing."
Yan admired the hard work that her youngest actress put in. "Ella was so impressive," she states. "This is her feature debut, so I can't imagine how she must have felt to show up to set and work with Margot Robbie every day, but she was a total champ, incredibly mature for her age. And she really understood Cass and brought a certain authenticity to her"a real kid, not a shiny, perfect version of a little girl."
He's after all of us now. Unless we all want to die, we're gonna have to work together."
THE BAD GUYS…
In the film, it's both Cassandra Cain and the very shiny object she acquires that set the story in motion. The diamond she lifts from one of Roman Sionis's men is more than a rock: encrypted with essential financial information, it could lead him to acquire all the power he desires and full control of Gotham's underworld. Roman wants it back and assures Harley that if she can retrieve it for him, he won't have her killed…exactly the kind of offer even Harley Quinn can't refuse.
Ewan McGregor portrays the mobster bent on cutting out (or up) the competition and consolidating the rest. He holds court in his own Gotham City nightclub, the Black Mask"where he serves as gentleman, judge and jury.
"I wanted to work with Margot, and then I saw Cathy Yan's movie 'Dead Pigs' and really liked it. It reminded me of 'Trainspotting'"something new and interesting, so I was excited to work with her as well," he says. "But mainly, I just liked the script. The dialogue was clever and very well-written, and I was happy to play the chief villain who's all about control and power and thinks he's so clever and wonderful. But of course, he's a horrible, despicable person."
Roman, too, has a backstory that aided the actor in comprehending his nefarious motivations. "It's important for an actor to understand the character," he says. "You can't play the 'bad guy' or the 'good guy,' you have to play the person and know what makes him tick. In Roman's case, he is an absolute narcissist, which makes him think he can charm anyone, and he has rage issues that come into play, so he loses his temper all over the place. Both were really fun to do."
"I love Roman," Yan states, "I think he's hilarious because Ewan was able to bring such charm and even comedy and vulnerability to the role. He really used the trust fund/party boy element that Christina wove into the script"coming from a great, blue-blooded Gotham dynasty that owns the Janus Corporation, Roman's the black sheep rather than the elite. And he gets unhinged when someone like Harley steals his thunder or his limelight. They both love being the center of attention and that makes them interesting foils for one another."
Robbie states, "Ewan was a great villain; he made some unexpected and brave choices with Roman. As Roman, he was able to shift from a toxic masculinity to playing up the narcissism by emphasizing how completely erratic and irrational Roman is. I love him as a villain because his reactions are just so disproportionate to the situation."
Unlike his prickly connections to Harley or Renee, Roman actually instills a sense of loyalty from Black Canary…at first. Smollett-Bell explains, "Dinah's relationship with Roman is complicated because he's helped her, he's given her a job that not only helps her survive, but lets her be seen, in a sense, which no one else in her world does. But I think she also sees herself in Cass, so when he unleashes all of Gotham on her, that's something Dinah can't ignore."
McGregor describes their connection from Roman's point-of-view as "his new possession. It could be construed that he wants her romantically or sexually, but he doesn't. He likes the way she sings, but he sees her as a canary in a cage. His cage."
While Roman may call all the shots, it's his right-hand henchman, Victor Zsasz, who fires the bullets"or, more likely than not, makes the cut. McGregor details, "Roman couldn't exist without Zsasz. Business-wise, he takes care of everything, certainly all the nasty stuff."
Especially handy with a switchblade, Zsasz is loyal to his boss and to the job"in fact, he probably enjoys his work a little too much. Chris Messina, who took on the role of the maniacal man behind the man, offers, "The script was fantastic; there was a lot to draw on, but since I'm not a big comic book guy, I didn't know much about him, so I went back and read all of the comics and origin stories about Zsasz…hence, my hair color," he notes, referring to Zsasz's close-cut, platinum locks. "In the books, he was often bald, so I'm glad we went with just the blond," he smiles.
Zsasz works for Roman, "but he has an agenda, too. His approach, I think, is simple," Messina surmises. "He looks at everybody as a zombie, and he's setting them free, putting them out of their misery." And Zsasz doesn't just practice his knife-work on his victims. "He's a cutter," Messina reveals, "so he has scars all over his own body"tally marks for all his kills."
Messina wanted to ensure authenticity for the role, thus, he says, "I worked with a friend who knows knives, and he taught me about them, their different uses. I tried to do some tricks with them, but I was never very good with that, so that won't be in the movie!"
THE BADASS STUNT TRAINING...
Training began well before a frame of film was shot. Robbie's role required a great deal of stunt work, with her fight style incorporating a good deal of gymnastics. The actress did much of the work herself but felt very fortunate to work with world-renowned stuntwoman Renae Moneymaker for Harley's more acrobatic moves. In addition, she worked with stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio and his team at 87Eleven Action Design, who handled training Winstead, Smollett-Bell and Perez, too.
"There is nobody better than Jonathan and 87Eleven at fight choreography and finding a way to make it intense and visceral, like you're right in there, right in the mix," Unkeless says.
"Added to that, Cathy wanted to encapsulate the fun and joy in it," Eusebio notes, "because it's Harley and the Birds, so the hardcore action had to provide for moments of levity."
The team started months in advance with certain drills in order to get the actors' body mechanics ready for choreography. "When we train actors, it's important they look like they've been doing this their whole lives, and tailor the fight style to each character's personality," he relates. "In the comics, Black Canary is a martial artist, but in the film she's not exactly a superhero yet, so we went with taekwondo and kickboxing, really using her legs. Jurnee came in nearly every day for a few hours and trained her butt off.
"Rosie plays a cop," he continues, "and she likes boxing, so we used a boxing base for her workouts. And because Huntress is a trained assassin, we taught Mary Elizabeth a bit of judo, jujitsu and karate"very efficient and brutal, which is a reflection of the character, a vigilante." Inspired by an issue of The New 52 comic book, the action-heavy feature includes scenes with Harley Quinn in a roller derby match on a banked"or elevated"track, and also racing through Gotham. Though Robbie is proficient on skates thanks to her turn as ice skater Tonya Harding, she nevertheless had two skate doubles. All three were tasked with making the skating look less technically refined and more down-and-dirty, like Harley.
"It wasn't as painful as ice skating, but it was hard," Robbie admits. "We were fortunate enough to work with real roller derby teams so it would look as authentic as possible."
The majority of the athletes came from Angel City Derby, Los Angeles's premier Flat Track roller derby league (and the #6-ranked Flat Track team in the world) and the LA Derby Dolls, Los Angeles's premier all-female Banked Track roller derby league.
Robbie adds, "Learning more about the roller derby community and the idea behind it was so fitting for our film, because it's a lot of women coming together who feel like they're different, who maybe don't fit in in a traditional way, but they've found this sport that they all love. The sense of community and friendship is so strong, and they're tough as hell. It stood for everything we were doing in the film, so I was grateful to have them be a part of it."
For the skating as well as all the physical elements required, Robbie comments, "The 87Eleven team approached their work by talking with us about the story and characters, and how to meld the movements together so that there was never just action for the sake of action but woven through the story or character beats. So, the training became even more vital." And there was a lot of it, she says. "We were having a good time, but we were absolutely knackered."
Oh sh*t, is that a hyena in a bathtub?
I named him Bruce, after that hunky Wayne guy.
Not that Bruce.
"Harley's got two hyenas in the comics, and they're her babies, Bud and Lou," Robbie remarks. "We just have one, and he's Bruce."
The actress/producer says that she can't quite recall when Bruce made his way into the screenplay. "I can't even remember what Christina and I were thinking at the time, but we certainly weren't thinking about the logistics of it! Fast-forward a few years, when we're in pre-production, and it was suddenly the biggest conundrum we had. How do we shoot scenes with a hyena?
"We consulted an expert"a man who actually has a trained hyena in California"and it was confirmed that they are incredibly dangerous and, we learned, if a hyena touches anything, he considers it to be his," she continues. "'Will he sit on a couch?' we asked. 'Yes, but then it's his couch, and he'll eat it"and likely you"if someone tries to take it away from him.' It would be like having a massive, deadly diva on set!"
Though most of the film's stunts and action sequences were captured practically, the filmmakers determined a real hyena was not the way to go, and cast, as Robbie describes it, "a big, big, big dog for Harley to interact with." They then turned it into Harley's loveable pet hyena Bruce via VFX during post production.
It's time for Gotham to meet the new Harley Quinn.
COSTUMES: NEW LIFE / NEW LOOK
Since the film is a story told by Harley Quinn about Harley and several other badass women, and with Harley being anything but traditional, the filmmakers wanted to take the costumes in a direction that truly reflected her personality, as well as the tastes and needs of the Birds. Working with costume designer Erin Benach, each actor among the cast was instrumental in defining her or his costumes with an eye toward style, comfort and high-octane action.
Benach and Robbie naturally began with Harley who, as evident in the title, is evolving, altering her look to reflect her new sense of independence. But taking charge doesn't preclude her from making rash decisions. As Robbie states, "Initially, Harley's not dealing with things very well and cuts her hair whilst very drunk. Hence, the uneven bangs and jagged pigtails, which I really enjoyed."
For Harley's unusual wardrobe, Benach worked with Robbie and Yan to design and build 13 different costumes. As with the script and performances, everything began with the source material.
"We read the comic books in order to know where to start from, and I thought it was so interesting to see the evolution there," Benach relates. "But this was also an opportunity to take that to a place she hasn't been before and into our world, which was very 'street.' That was one of the first conversations I had with Cathy and Margot, because I wanted them to know I wasn't interested in creating a bunch of purely sexy looks, but designs these women could feel great in.
"Of course Margot had played this character before, so that's always nice," she continues. "She was able to talk about her prior experience, what she took away from the character, and help fill in the full story. And Margot is a producer, too, so she was able to talk about the ethos of the movie we were making. She was great at collaborating and then giving us our space to be creative."
According to Robbie, "Everything Harley does is totally impractical. She will wear something that is just not appropriate for her situation, like a big jacket with fabric flowing off of it in a fight scene, or roller skates to fight on a moving platform. None of it makes sense, which is so Harley; she'll bring a baseball bat to a gunfight because to her, it seems like the most fun option. Erin did a phenomenal job of interpreting Harley's every need and then incorporating her every whim."
Benach says that in this incarnation of Harley Quinn, "she loves to mix her fashions: sweat pants and sequins, absolutely. Glamour and comfort, always. Harley is the life of the party. She is unabashedly honest, present in the moment and always ready to deal with any challenge coming her way. Never a stiletto or a skirt to be found, because we always wanted our Harley to be able to move and kick and run, and so all of her shoes and all of her outfits were actually highly functional, despite what it may look like on screen. We built everything to stretch and all of her shoes had really sturdy heels. I approached all of the designs for her by coming from a place of what Margot, Cathy and I thought a woman would feel strong in, whether that was a combination of the functionality, feeling fashionable, and so on. And Harley is very distracted by anything sparkly and also has the ability to steal anything she wants, which meant we were unlimited in what we could do."
The designer found that even when Harley's world is crashing down around her, she still somehow looks "aspirationally cool. It's her 'I don't give a hoot' vibe that makes her lovable and magnetic. And there's a little part of every woman, I think, that wants to feel like that, at least for a minute."
Perhaps the best example of this, Benach feels, was a piece Harley wears early in the story. "The caution tape jacket was obviously fun and sparkly, but also caution tape sort of having this idea of, 'Don't f*ck with me, you know. I am Harley Quinn, I'll kick your butt.'"
While Harley is nursing her broken heart, she does what any woman might, from having a wild night on the town to solo bonding with her sofa. "I designed the pink onesie with crying hearts for Harley because she is so sad after her breakup with The Joker," Benach says, "but also because she has a real inner child as part of her core character. We played into that childlike side of her with that piece, including adding a hoodie with little ears."
They also created a fun and highly functional one-piece overall-style jumpsuit of alternately shiny and matte gold in her signature diamond pattern, which Robbie wears for the climactic action scenes"with a neon pink bandeau tank top underneath.
Thanks to Harley's danger-prone lifestyle, her life wouldn't be complete without a cache of weapons to suit her every spontaneous need. Only one of her original mallets from "Suicide Squad" was put into service on this film. Instead, the property department created mallets that were roughly 30 percent smaller to facilitate the extensive action and stunts. They made one heavyweight hero mallet, along with three lightweight rubber versions for use during filming, all covered with Harley's colorful drawings.
Colorful could not be used to describe Huntress, however. "Think Supreme meets Louis Vuitton; think dressing for functionality first," Benach states. "Everything for her is custom-made and high tech, and we dove deeply into her comic book character, using her color scheme of purple, silver and black. We kept her hooded silhouettes, a cape, and other variations that are all very, very Huntress."
Her look would not be complete without her constant companion, the crossbow. The props team created six"three heroes and, for safety's sake, three rubber versions to use when filming stunts.
Benach thought of Black Canary as the "ultimate survivor, the kind of woman who innately knows how to put a look together just by walking into a vintage clothing store, spending seven dollars, and walking out looking great, or even making something for herself."
The iconic look with which the character is associated in the canon inspired Benach, but she didn't want to duplicate it. "We took her key components"the fishnets, black leather, yellow, blue and black color palette"and sort of blew it out to create a dress for her. And by day she wears a sort of business suit-inspired attire that's also blue and gold."
Black Canary was not only armed with her signature cry"in fact, she's the only character in the film to use Harley's traditional embellished baseball bat.
GCPD detective Renee Montoya, Benach says, "is all business, so we designed for her what a police detective would wear"dark slacks, dark button-down shirts." However, the designer says, "There's a real low point for Renee in the movie when, after an 'accident,' she has nothing to put on but items she finds in the police station lost and found: a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt that reads 'I shaved my balls for this?' across the front. Though Renee is definitely not amused, we hope audiences will be when they see it," she grins.
The final female to outfit was 12-year-old Cassandra Cain. "Cass is our little street urchin, a tomboy, a rebel with a cause: herself," Benach offers. "She is sneaky and loves to stuff all sorts of stolen goods away on her person, so we gave her a big, puffy red jacket, as well as beat up Air Jordans, which, you can presume, she also stole."
Cass's character also required a very important prop: a cast for her "broken" wrist that made a "handy" receptacle for Cass's smaller pocket-picks. To decorate the plaster, the props department wrapped it in hot pink gauze and gave it to Basco, who drew all over it over the course of a weekend.
Benach created several looks for the ultra-vain Roman Sionis"the mobster from whom Cass stole the all-important diamond. "Roman is the ultimate in personal vanity," Benach observes. "He's impeccable, dresses for every occasion, and cares about what he wears. He dresses for inside his home and for going out, for appearing at his club and at killing sprees. We used a color palette for him that always read very well in interior night lighting, like his club, that would really reflect light well"his teal velvet jacket, for example, which looks really rich on camera."
Many of Roman's costumes and props also had his initials or a mask insignia embroidered or printed on them somewhere: inside a jacket lapel, on his leather gloves, the family crest on a ring. Even his pajamas were emblazoned with his own face.
For Roman's henchman Victor Zsasz, Benach says, "Because Zsasz is one of Roman's men, he also had to be somewhat stylish, but he's a little more street, a little high-end punk, and a bit…scarier. After all, he is a killer."
"Erin Benach is probably the coolest woman alive," Unkeless raves. "She brings a hipness, a real contemporary spirit to her costumes. She certainly works within the world of the comic books for Harley and the Birds, but also brings some naturalism to it, that edge you see when you're going to the party where everybody's at least 25 percent cooler than you are. Erin let our characters live in that space and made it feel real."
Benach also created most of the accessories worn by the characters. Director Yan states, "Erin is an amazing designer. She just knows what people"women, especially"want to wear today. It was so fun getting to see her designs pay homage to the comics, but at the same time feel relevant, and it really contributed to the vision of the world we were creating as well."
We've gotta clean this city from the inside out.
LOCATIONS / PRODUCTION DESIGN
The action-packed "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" was shot in and around Los Angeles, California"primarily Downtown, Chinatown and surrounds"and on four soundstages on the Warner Bros. Studios lot.
Production designer K.K. Barrett reveals, "All of my design comes from the characters, their view of the world." For this film, that meant getting inside the charmingly erratic mind of Harley Quinn. "Harley moves through the world with humor and cunning, using things and disposing of them"like fast food wrapped up in a bright, appealing package, very spur-of-themoment. She's also our window into the other characters and their place in her world."
That world, of course, is Gotham City, but intended to feel unlike it's been depicted before. Barrett says, "Cathy and I determined our version of Gotham would be more akin to New York City's outer boroughs"Queens, The Bronx and Brooklyn, for instance. Gritty and scrappy"a different level of Gotham that's more down on the street than up in the air. We're not up on the rooftops because that's more of a Batman viewpoint. Harley's view is down on the street, sometimes stepping off the curb into the gutter and bouncing back, so it's even a bit noisier. Cars are being repaired, people are getting mugged on the street corners, and everybody is living by their wits and, like Harley, reinventing who they are."
Because Harley is promptly booted out of her home, Barrett had the pleasure of creating one, noting, "In our story, she lands in a place above a Chinese restaurant, so there's a bit of décor left by previous tenants, and a bit of her own spontaneous dressing, spurred by her feeling down in the dumps. For example, there's a large target painted on the wall, which kind of reflects how she feels about her current status. And it appears that she's sleeping on the couch."
Barrett's other personal touches in the apartment include a pillow with Queen Elizabeth's portrait on it, loose bunches of dynamite, Chinese lanterns, and evidence of Harley's crazy diet: multiple boxes of ramen, cheese balls, cotton candy ice cream, Twizzlers, Marshmallow Fluff, Peeps, cookies, Cheez Whiz, sugary cereal, lollipops, Mike & Ike candy and candy necklaces. And a stuffed beaver wearing a pink tutu, on which property master Andy Siegal personally painted the toenails.
At the opposite end of the design spectrum are Roman Sionis's chic nightclub and apartment. Barrett included an unusual mix of elements in Roman's place, such as 24 acupuncture statues in two different sizes; a statue of Roman himself; several velvet upholstered chairs and fainting couches; and large red sculptures in the shape of old Victrola speakers. It was all intended to denote the character's insatiable desire to acquire things.
Barrett says, "Roman is a very vain person who cares about the way things look as much as he cares about the way he looks, and even how the people around him look. His aesthetic is intrinsic to the way he thinks and presents himself, which is not at all timid. He collects things" vanities, masks. Even his club is called the Black Mask. Many of the items in both the apartment and the club are metaphors for his personality and his behavior."
Kroll offers, "I love the dimension K.K. provided in his designs. Our Gotham is populated, culturally diverse, vibrant yet grounded, and a little bit dirty. The Black Mask club is my favorite set in the film. I love all the female iconography: the statues, the color palette, the textures. It's just sumptuous, and it suits Ewan's character, Roman, perfectly."
Perhaps Barrett's most elaborate"and certainly most expansive"set was the shuttered funhouse known as the Booby Trap, where an equally elaborate and critical action sequence takes place. The designer says he imagined it as "a fantastical place that clearly was built on the cusp of the 1960s or `70s, but was shut down maybe 15 or 20 years ago."
The exterior entrance to the funhouse features a graphic of a giant screaming woman made of Styrofoam and plaster, created in four separate pieces and installed by the art department and construction team over the course of one week.
Robbie says, "That set was incredible. We were so fortunate to have K.K. Barrett as our production designer. He is such a visionary. He can build out a seemingly absurd world in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. It's just an explosion of color and movement, and his design gives the scene fluidity, speaking to the fact that the Birds, when they fight together, are stronger."
Winstead agrees. "It was incredible, so colorful and surreal and just an absolute work of art"pop art. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, including the slide, which was pretty epic and really spoke to my inner child."
Speaking of the slide, while filming a stunt sequence with Huntress descending it inside the Booby Trap, cinematographer Matthew Libatique himself slid down with her, operating a mini Alexa camera to catch the action.
Yan was impressed by everyone's efforts on both sides of the camera. "The cast really gave it their all at all times," she says. "And the crew was incredible"from Matt's team to K.K., who's just a genius and who was constantly pushing me and everyone else to think outside the box with his beautiful designs. For me, the funhouse especially is unforgettable, and I hope audiences have as much fun with it as we did."
You made me wanna be a less terrible person!
MUSICAL NOTES & PARTING SHOTS
To interpret the themes and the uniquely Harley-esque nature of the film, Yan turned to composer Daniel Pemberton to create the score for "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)." She also combined an exciting range of popular songs from such artists as SOFI TUKKER, Doja Cat, WHIPPED CREAM featuring Baby Goth, Jucee Froot and Halsey, with classic hits like "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Barracuda," "Love Rollercoaster" and every girl's breakup anthem, "I Hate Myself For Loving You."
Yan states, "The tone of the movie is totally inspired by Harley Quinn and her irreverent humor, as well as her dark side and the incredible, childlike glee she has for the world around her. Christina had captured it all in the script and we made sure to continue it throughout all aspects of filming so that, hopefully, it will be part of the DNA of the movie. I hope that by immersing themselves in Harley's world, audiences will get to know her and her heart, but also just really enjoy themselves watching these amazing, kickass characters."
Robbie concurs, adding, "The film is a wild ride and a lot of fun"a taste of life from Harley's point-of-view that's unpredictable, out of order, funny, dangerous, heartwarming…a little bit of everything, like her."
Birds Of Prey
Release Date: 6th of February, 2020