Kaley Cuoco discusses her unique, animated take on Harley Quinn
It’s almost too perfect: After years of starring on The Big Bang Theory, the megahit CBS sitcom that showed viewers all over America what the inside of a comic book store looks like, Kaley Cuoco has gone on to portray one of the most popular comic book characters in the world: Harley Quinn.
“That is pretty cool, right? What would the guys think? Penny turned into exactly who they wanted her to be,” Cuoco tells EW with a laugh. “Big Bang was an unforgettable 12 years, I’ll owe my entire career to that show and getting me out there. It’s set in my heart.”
Animation is obviously distinct from live-action comedy, since the actors are hidden behind animated characters. This is especially true of a character like Harley Quinn, who has previously been portrayed by Arleen Sorkin (on Batman: The Animated Series) and Margot Robbie (in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey) with a ridiculously over-the-top cartoon voice. So when Cuoco took on the lead role for DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series, she wanted to make it her own.
“There have been so many Harley Quinns, and obviously with Suicide Squad Margot was playing her so incredibly well and so specific, that I didn’t want her to sound like anybody else,” Cuoco says. “They initially wanted me to do a strong Boston accent, but I told [co-showrunners] Justin [Halpern] and Patrick [Schumacker], ‘my voice is a little recognizable, and I think it’s gonna be silly if we pretend it’s anything other than Kaley playing this role.’ So it really just became mostly me screaming. It’s a lot of me, and I’ve kinda turned it into my own thing. The show is unique, it’s not Suicide Squad, it’s so different and obviously so insane, that we’re able to make it exactly what we wanted.”
Harley Quinn does begin in a similar place as Birds of Prey, i.e. the title character’s breakup with the Joker (Alan Tudyk). But the comparisons don’t last long. Instead of the movie’s girl gang, this Harley surrounds herself with an even more eclectic squad: the irascible Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), the shapeshifter and wannabe actor Clayface (Tudyk), the strong and gentle computer hacker King Shark (Ron Funches), and Harley’s best friend, the person always telling her to move past Joker and make a life for herself, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell).
Harley Quinn also has a uniquely deranged sense of humor that makes it even more incredible that this show airs on DC’s proprietary streaming service. The literal opening moments involve a disguised Joker giving a toast on a yacht to rich people he and Harley are about to rob: “My fellow whites! Let’s raise a glass to this pyramid of money, built upon our favorite pasttime: F—–g the poor!”
“From the minute I opened the first script and it starts like that, I fell on the floor laughing,” Cuoco says. “You know exactly what the show is gonna be from the first moment, it’s so politically incorrect and crazy. But what I love about these writers have written some heart in it, including the possible maybe-relationship between Harley and Ivy…? Who saw that coming?”
It’s been more than 25 years since Harley was first created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for Batman: The Animated Series. In that time, she has become easily one of the most popular female superhero/supervillain characters of all. She’s not a traditional empowerment figure like Wonder Woman, but maybe that’s the point.
“I think she actually represents more of the women out there than we think,” Cuoco says. ”Getting away from a bad relationship and having your friends around you to make you feel powerful and believe in yourself, that’s like feminism at its core. That’s what I love about her: She kicks ass, she loves her friends, she does bad things but for what she thinks are right reasons, she’s strong, she’s quirky, she’s fun (let’s not forget how fun she is), and absolutely adorable. She gets away with things that no one else does. She brings that charm that’s really hard to get away with, and then we allow her to go through these crazy things and make these crazy decisions, because we fall in love with her.”
All 13 episodes of Harley Quinn season 1 are currently streaming on DC Universe, but there’s more where that came from. The show is already on tap for another 13-episode season, and Cuoco would be fine with even more: “We want to do the show for a long time. We all thought this would just be a fun little thing, but it’s kinda blown up. We’re really proud of that and we intend to keep this wild version of Harley going for a long time. I’m loving playing her, and as long as they keep letting us, we’re in.”