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On the heels of a recent string of success, including receiving her second Academy Award nomination, Margot Robbie reprises one her favorite roles in Birds of Prey.

by Evan Jameson

Margot Robbie’s love of Harley Quinn is really only just beginning. A character enveloped in the fog of Suicide Squad has been unharnessed and allowed to break free into her own stratosphere of curious, eccentric, dangerous and downright sinister versions of rebellion, violence and evil ... and yet, at the heart of Birds of Prey, and going further into the future for the return of Suicide Squad, another (as yet untitled) Harley sequel, and the rumored Gotham City Sirens, we have plenty more to look forward to from a character who thrills, fascinates and terrifies in equal measure.
Robbie’s desire to step back to the dark side comes after a more conservative period of acting in which real-life and biopic characterization has been the priority.
As someone now as comfortable and determined behind the camera as she is in front of it, it makes it only right then that in reaffirming her strength as an actress (as well as a producer) she should enjoy breaking out into an hour-and-a-half of chaos, nihilism and pseudo-madness in what will surely be one of the biggest box office smashes of the year.
The 29-year-old Australian actress’s passion for work and pursuit of cinematic creativity shows little sign of slowing down. Already previously nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, Robbie has once again nabbed an Academy Award nod, this time as a Best Supporting Actress for her work in the film Bombshell. To boot, she also appeared in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster that garnered 10 Oscar nominations of its own, including the coveted Best Picture.
We had the chance to speak with Robbie about her kinship with Harley Quinn, the responsibility she feels as a female in Hollywood and why she’s motivated to do even bigger and better things in the near future.
You have said that you fell in love with the role of Harley Quinn. What was it that made that happen?
I love everything about Harley Quinn. Every comic she is in, she is endearing, she is funny and she is such a fun character for an actor to play because of her unpredictability. That gives you so much scope because she has an array of so many different reactions to anything that happens in a scene.
She could use violence against someone else, violence against something else—by smashing something up or breaking it—or she could be the total opposite of that and she could leap on the person there and give them a big kiss, because it’s all about what works for her and not for the other person.
As well as it being fun, the almost infinite possibilities makes it so easy to play a character like Harley and I can safely say that I have never had so much fun or enjoyment either when I am reading the comics about her or when I am playing her in a role on screen. I love her.
You seem to be carving a niche for yourself where you can comfortably fit into the role of someone so dangerously eccentric as Harley, yet at the same time drop right back to a stylish, immaculate character, such as Queen Elizabeth or even Sharon Tate.
All I am really doing it acting. It’s flattering that the effortlessness of portraying those characters is coming through, because that is really how it feels. Whether it’s someone toeing the line or someone going right out there on the farthest tip of acceptability, at the end of the day it’s a thrill and a pleasure to play these sorts of roles.
I like to think I put into each of them considerable personal investment and a good part of my own persona, but if you saw the characterization notes and the extent to which we take someone like Harley, work with who she already was then bring about new dimensions to her, you’d know that so much of the hard work is done by writers, producers and directors. I’ve really got the easy bit in all this, and that goes for all sorts of characters I’ve played.
What gave you the idea to pitch this movie as a stand-alone one?
When I was playing Harley in Suicide Squad, it was so fun and entertaining—even just for me immersing myself into the character—that I thought because she is only a part of the movie, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take her aside and showcase even just a few parts of her personality.
The fact that we see a lot more of what goes into Harley’s personality, and in giving her more screen time, makes us appreciate her as a character a lot more and what she brings to the [DC Universe] as a whole.
We see her in her element, in her comfort zone; we see where she lives and how she lives, what she likes to do when she is free of being assigned something to do. We see what clothes she chooses to wear for herself, instead of the limited options she is given from the box in Suicide Squad.
Also, the normal-ish things in her life—what she wears when she likes to go out and get drunk and the aftermath of that; how she deals with a hangover [laughs]. There are many personal things to Harley, she’s not too dissimilar to anyone else like that and it’s nice to have that window into her life.
There’s obviously also a very strong feminist vibe to the movie—would you agree?
I think we need to be careful not to just assume there is a feminist vibe to something just because it’s a movie that enriches all those elements of female empowerment. When it is the other way round and men are leading out all the very masculine ideals, we don’t go on about it reinforcing male and manly stereotypes in that way, so I think it pays to consider what the real point is. Is it just an action movie with an iconic female lead?
What I certainly do agree on is it’s not a bad thing to keep these forceful characters out there, and Harley obviously has a lot more coming up in which she can continue to evolve on screen well beyond what we have done so far.
You don’t just play Harley in this movie, but you also worked as a producer on the film. Did it make you proud to be a part of a project in that regard as well?
When I am an actor, it’s all about working with as many other great actors on a project, a movie, whatever I may be doing at that time. That’s what I love doing and what I live to do.
When you get the chance to be a producer—and especially on a movie like this—it means you are able to introduce talented women into characters and roles where you may not necessarily be familiar with them, before.
For a comic book movie to be made up of almost entirely all female actors, that’s rare. To be part of a team who is setting a new trend for that and paving the way for others to follow suit, that’s a real big responsibility and I would like to think that we have achieved it first-time around.
Do you see Harley as a hero, a villain, an antihero or something else?
I don’t really see Harley as someone who is truly evil, but then again she isn’t someone who is totally good, either. I think the thing with Harley is that she has completely different sets of rules and morals to many other people, so the things that she does that she thinks may be good, to other people may be quite bad—and usually they are.
It’s not that she isn’t aware of the difference between what is right and wrong, it’s more the case that they are just different to what some other people may think is right and wrong and there are certainly different levels of wrong.
Also, she has different priorities and things of importance to others and that’s why people may judge her to be bad or anti-good, depending on their own moral compass.
What would you like women who watch this movie to take away from it?
Well, when I first pitched this movie, it was based on the fact that every day in my life, I am almost always surrounded by a group of women. That can be anything from the fellow actors and crew members who I work with or people who are friends and family of mine; and it literally just occurred to me one day that I hadn’t really been a part of a group of women on screen.
I think what would make this film work especially well was if she was part of a group of girls and that would help her show us her personality as best as she possibly could. The group that she is with may not look like it would go together and work, at first glance.
They are from quite different backgrounds, they vary in age, one of the group is in the police and the other members are all anarchists. But the advantage they get from having that eclectic mix of women is that they can all offer something different at different times, and that’s a nice message for society in times where diversity is actually splitting people apart.
What do you mean?
Diversity is taken as a positive because we are celebrating the difference in cultures. What I think we need to be careful of is obsessing so much about the differences that we forgot to consider the likenesses that unite us.
How is this film different from the other DC movies which have gone before it?
This is like a narrative movie from the point of view of Harley Quinn and just like she is; it’s one of a kind and inimitable. There are so many of Harley’s own personal identifying qualities within the film itself, including the fun and violence, the humor and the darkness, the colourful side of things and the irreverent sides … the strange and the bizarre.
Everything which Harley has in her make-up—and by that I mean her DNA, not her face paints [laughs]—that is also used to put the film together and I think it’s something which represents her really well, represents her character and makes this film stand alone from the other DC movies.
And you’re staying busy with a bevy of other movies, including Peter Rabbit 2, Ruin, and down the line, more Harley projects, Barbie and others. Are you tired?
No time to be tired. I do feel incredibly motivated and completely inspired to do
something special over the next couple of years. I don’t think I can work at this pace indefinitely so there will certainly come a time when I have to slow down—just not yet.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 11 (February 2020).

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