The first question many moviegoers will have about Birds of Prey is, “How is it different from Suicide Squad?” (In short: Very different, in a good way.) The second is, “What does The Fantabulous Emancipation even mean?”
The new DC film follows the antiheroine Harley Quinn after she breaks up with the Joker and finds herself a bit directionless. As star and producer Margot Robbie explains in the latest installment of EW’s Around the Table series, the plot kicks off when “street kid Cassandra Cain picks the wrong pocket, and Gotham’s underbelly is turned upside down in the hunt for Roman Sionis’ diamond, and the Birds of Prey come together.” The movie’s lengthy subtitle, And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, actually began as a joke between Robbie and screenwriter Christina Hodson.
“We’d been developing the script for so long and people kept saying, ‘But what is it really about?’” Hodson recalls. “Finally I was like, I’m gonna put it on the goddamn cover page. And I used a ridiculous word — I didn’t even know ‘fantabulous’ was a real word until this.”
Ahead of the film’s Feb. 7 release, the Birds of Prey cast and crew gathered in Hollywood to dig into some breakfast sandwiches and answer our pressing questions about the making of the superhero story, which you can watch in the video below.
In the film, Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, and she’s joined by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya — the titular Birds of Prey. Newcomer Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain, the illegal keeper of the aforementioned diamond, who comes under the protection of the Birds. Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina round out the cast as the terrifying duo Roman Sionis and Victor Zsasz, who have a shared penchant for wreaking havoc on Gotham and peeling people’s faces off. But as they explain to EW, they didn’t set out to play villains, per se.
“The last thing I was thinking about was being the bad guy,” McGregor says. “Even though there were some horrible moments in the film — like this scene in the nightclub, I haven’t been able to watch it.”
“You were amazing in that,” Messina counters. “You were so wonderful and charming, and everyone wanted to follow you like the Pied Piper, and then you would turn and have that moment with the woman on the table and you could hear a pin drop. It was ferocious and terrifying.”
Birds of Prey viewers will quickly notice that the film makes a point to depict blatant violence against women, whether it’s Harley’s recounting of the Joker’s mistreatment of her, the nightclub scene that really has to be seen to be believed, or the havoc Victor and Roman wreak on their victims with obvious pleasure. For McGregor, tackling those themes was one of the most rewarding parts of the project.
“I’ve always loved the exploration of misogyny in this script,” he says. “The little moments that women have to deal with every day — I think a lot of blokes aren’t really aware of it yet. I was really proud to be part of that, as the head misogyn-er.”
If it wasn’t abundantly clear, this is a movie that earns its R-rating. There are more curse words than we could count, plus a scene that uses cocaine, er, quite creatively. EW wondered if that was out of any of the actors’ comfort zones (especially given that there’s a teen in their midst), but as you can see from our video, the cast had no problem with an occasional potty mouth. Basco found it liberating, personally: “My mom told me, ‘This script is an R-rating, and you’re not allowed to do any of this at home.‘”
Robbie, for her part, notes that it’s unusual for a film like this to be rated R.
“Especially when I pitched it, no one had done it yet,” she says of the rating. “Deadpool trailers hadn’t even come out yet. It was a difficult thing to try and push — Deadpool helped the argument a lot. That was the number-one thing, they were like, ‘No one will ever make an R-rated comic book movie.’ I was like, ‘Please?’”
Let Birds of Prey be a lesson that Hollywood should think twice before saying no to Margot Robbie.
— Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn releases candy-colored chaos in Birds of Prey: Review
— How the R-rated, women-powered Birds of Prey flips the bird — and the script — in high-flying style
— Megan Thee Stallion and Normani team up for first single off Birds of Prey soundtrack