Why Being Free From The Joker Was Important For Harley Quinn In Birds Of Prey, According To Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn

Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) will be the first time that the female-centric team from DC Comics will be featured on the big screen, but in case it wasn’t clear from the title, the relationship status of Harley Quinn and The Joker will also have a central role to play in the plot. While Harley is best known as the girlfriend of the Clown Prince of Crime, this movie is partially built to address who she is as an individual apart from her psychotic paramour.

The new film, which will be told very much from Harley Quinn’s perspective, will begin with Mr. J breaking up with the titular villainess/anti-heroine, and that prominence comes from a significant place, as Harley’s independence from The Joker was a major driving force behind the ideas that star and producer Margot Robbie wanted to explore in the making of the project. She wanted audiences to have the opportunity to see Harley as an individual, and that has the effect of shaking up a lot of what we know about the character over the course of the movie.

Margot Robbie herself explained as much earlier this year when sitting down with journalists on a very special press day on the set of Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) while the blockbuster was still in production. Following her big debut in Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn will be put front and center for the first time in live-action with the new release, and given that opportunity, the Australian star wanted the character to be stripped of the relationship she is famously reliant on. Said Robbie,

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 if 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.

Harley Quinn was first created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series and on that show, where she was voiced by the great Arleen Sorkin, she primarily served as sidekick and romantic interest for The Joker. However, over time being a fan favorite earned her a bit more agency, and that evolution has very much continued in the comics (most notably in those written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti).

The audience views Harley Quinn through a particular lens when she’s paired with the Joker, but the perspective changes when she is independent. This is apparent not only in the way she behaves (though don’t get it twisted: she is all kinds of mentally disturbed regardless of her relationship status), but also in her style. There is a difference in the way Harley presents herself both with and away from Mr. J, and that aesthetic change is one of the elements of the character highlighted in Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn).

This was a subject that Margot Robbie addressed while discussing the concept of the “Male Gaze,” and in doing so also recognized how the making of Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) and the approach to her character is different than it was in the making of the David Ayer-directed Suicide Squad. The actress/producer explained,

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.

Continuing on the subject of Harley Quinn’s particular style in Birds of Prey, Margot Robbie emphasized that the look that the movie is going for is heightened, but still grounded in a reality that is ultimately familiar. There are boundaries that can be pushed because of the addled perspective from which the story is being told (Harley most definitely isn’t a reliable narrator in this tale), but a balance was struck working with costume designer Erin Benach:

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.

Clearly having Harley Quinn separated from her “Puddin” was territory that fascinated Margot Robbie and was material she wanted to explore with the character’s development in Birds Of Prey, but that aspect of the story isn’t her passion alone. Getting to see this particular side of the villain protagonist was also essential in the mind of director Cathy Yan, who noted during our on-set interview that it was an element of her vision present in the pitch she made to land her job.

Discussing Harley’s independence Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn), Yan noted that there is a personal connection that she found with the material, while also recognizing that it’s a part of the story being told that very much fits in with the current zeitgeist. Said the filmmaker,

I very much have gone through that arc myself, and I've seen it with especially, I think, set against the backdrop of Me Too, and what has 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 or any of that. It really has a compelling narrative and theme to it that is very, very personal to me.

It won’t be long until fans have the chance to witness this particular story of freedom and exploration of it, as Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn), starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, and Ella Jay Basco is now just a couple months away from release – set to hit theaters on February 7th. Between now and then, be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for plenty more updates about the project, including more from our time on set.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.