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Birds of Prey, the new Margot Robbie movie, was released in February. It is the spin-off to the 2016 film Suicide Squad, where the actress appeared as Harley Quinn for the first time. If you're already a fan of this movie and Quinn's character, let’s find out the main struggles and sacrifices that Margot Robbie went through to become the DC supervillain we adore.
Robbie went through a lot of struggles to become Harley Quinn. She read tons of comic books, studied psychology, found a voice for her character, and got into her best shape ever. What was the most hateful thing that Margot Robbie had to do on set?
How did she learn to hold her breath underwater for five minutes? And what was so annoying about the Joker that made Margot crave Harley Quinn’s break up with him? We’re ready to tell you all the details!
Can you imagine Margot Robbie wearing the full jester outfit for the entire movie? Of course, she would still rock it, but Harley Quinn’s updated “hot” image has become iconic! Well, the comic books suggested different looks that the actress could try on, including a corset with mini-shorts. But her style had to be grounded to reality, to have gritty street character. And it wasn’t made from scratch.
Robbie’s badass style was based on young Debbie Harry’s image: “barely there” shorts which look more like underwear, grunge spiked belt, torn t-shirt, and heels. Actually, stiletto gym shoes were not the initial wardrobe choice for Harley Quinn. Margot tried wearing Docs and flat shoes, but after the first camera tests, it was clear that the character needed more height to look better.
And of course, not any pair of heels would be suitable. So when Robbie saw the Adidas ones, she knew they were sick enough to fit perfectly into her costume. She calls them “the worst idea ever”, as she had to wear them all the time:
“...anytime anyone on set complains like, "This is really hard; I'm getting tired," I'm like, "Everything you're doing, I'm doing in stilettos, OK? I'm doing as much as you. All these stairs we're walking up, I'm doing it in heels."
Robbie also named her gold bangles with spikes among the things she hated, as she kept stabbing herself.
Margot confessed that the visual part of transformation into Harley Quinn was both: the most favorite and the most hated thing. She loved having her skin completely white and covered in tattoos, and the wig was amazing, but it took her three hours every day to look like that on set.
And considering all those rain and fight scenes, every extra layer of clothes and makeup made it more complicated to act. Still, all that hair and makeup was a very important step to start feeling like her character and even behave differently.
Though the animated Harley Quinn had a really high pitched voice, it wasn’t something that would fit well into a David Ayer film. With lots of serious, dark scenes to make, the character demanded a different tone, a more realistic one:
"She’s got a very high-pitched voice, which for the lighthearted stuff, the crazy stuff, works really well. But when it’s a pretty raw emotional scene, you lose the gravity when you’re speaking in such a high voice."
It took Robbie a while to find her own distinctive sound, and of course, she had some references to follow. Fortunately for the actress, Harley Quinn was a Brooklyn character, and Margo had already mastered the Brooklyn accent for her role of Naomi Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street. But the director did not see it that way.
So Margot found another inspiration - Lorraine Bracco aka Karen Hill from "Goodfellas." Her thick tone of New York's outer boroughs was the perfect model. So Robbie cut records of Bracco’s scenes and listened to her voice every day before heading to set.
"My spectrum goes from Lorraine Bracco to animated Harley, and it’s just a roller coaster between those two throughout the film," Robbie concluded.
Being fully committed to her role, the actress started training 6 months prior to the filming, and her workout routine was intense as hell! Robbie wanted to do most of her stunts by herself, and to look good in those tight booty shorts, so she accepted her own fitness challenge.
According to her trainer, Andie Hecker, Margot focused a lot on abs with the Pilates reformer and tons of cardio, including running, swimming, and trampoline jumping. The actress trained two to three hours a day for a full-body toning: all the possible types of planks, leg lifts, lower reps etc.
Apart from the classic workout routine, Robbie started doing gymnastics, boxing, and gun training. The actress shared that she mastered the technical side of how to do something, but the lack of actual physical strength did not allow her to put those new skills into action for quite a long time.
Can you imagine Harley Quinn holding a revolver with shakey hands? Well, it was one of Robbie’s struggles, because her muscles were too sore after all the training she went through. And she just had to look convincing and scary.
The thing she enjoyed most in her physical preparation was underwater breathing. Margot was trained to hold her breath up to five minutes, and now she calls this skill her “new party trick”.
“I worked with this amazing free-diver, and he came in and I did four sessions with him. It’s all about lowering your metabolic rate…You kinda, like, meditate underwater. It’s what free-divers do, but it’s amazing.”
Being competitive and over-excited, Robbie tried to hold her breath longer than her stunt double. The actress really wanted to top her double’s five-and-a-half minutes, but she was advised against it. The complete opposite to that was the chemical scene, where Harley dives into a vat of chemicals to bleach her skin. Robbie calls it the most unpleasant thing she’s ever done in her entire life. As the actress shared:
“It was like this gluggy paint stuff that was so far in my ears and up my nose, and I was choking on it underwater, and I couldn't breathe, and I tried to open my eyes, and it would glaze over my eyeballs, and I could only see white. It was horrible.”
Though the role of Harley Quinn was not something Margot Robbie had to fight for, her transformation into the villain protagonist was not an easy one. To get Harley Quinn right and to embody every facet of her complex character, the Aussie actress did a lot of research.
Robbie landed the role just before Christmas, so for the festive season, she turned into a real comic book nerd. Margot had a massive stack on her reading list: Harley Quinn comics, Suicide Squad comics, as well as any other comics that incorporated Harley Quinn. According to the actress, at first, she did not plan to read them all, but eventually, she did.
The thing that worried Margot the most was Harley’s transformation from a psychologist into a psycho villain. How did her character end up in Arkham? Why did she want to be there? But this part of the story was not fully covered by the comics, and different books proposed different story plots. So her job was to pick whichever version she liked best and then stick to it.
In addition to that, Robbie dived into online forums to learn more about fans’ attitude to DC’s iconic character. The sole thought of her role was daunting, and the actress had moments of panic. She wanted to please, to become The Harley Quinn, to rock every scene, and she absolutely did it! Moreover, she did it so well, that now she has her own sequel, “Birds of Prey”. But we’ll get back to that later.
Although Margot studied everything she could find about her fascinating character, there was one thing she could not get on her own: the Joker obsession. “I just didn’t understand how she could be such a badass and then fall to pieces over some guy. I found that really frustrating.” - confessed the actress.
She struggled to get why fans loved that complete devotion to a guy that treated her so badly. But everything changed after the play titled “Fool for Love”, which Robbie read following the recommendation of her acting coach.
The play opened her eyes to extremely dysfunctional relationships and pushed her to learn more about codependency. As a result of her long research, Margot found sense in Harley’s behavior and felt empathy for her. Quinn was compared to Hannibal Lecter in terms of how she could get into someone’s head with the power of words and then leave the damage.
Contrary to Robbie’s natural non-conflict behavior, her character feeds off confrontation. The director encouraged her to learn to be really mean onset, while they rehearsed and improvised. So the actress had to notice her colleagues’ weak spots, get in there and make them squirm and feel self-conscious. She confessed to feeling awful, but that’s what the role demanded of her.
How did it feel to play alongside Jared Leto aka Joker? Robbie compared it to having front row seats to an incredible show. Her co-star was incredibly committed and he raised the bar all the time. Margot never knew what was on his mind and what would happen in the next moment and being a method actor, Leto didn’t do rehearsals.
So with all that unpredictability, the actress had to go with the flow, to catch and match the palpable energy on the set. To relate to Quinn’s psychologist's background, the actress learned the basics of different mental illnesses.
She had to crack the Joker, so she used MMPI tests which are used to determine what mental illness people might have. Robbie studied about 500 questions and learned to use them during their improvisations. What would catch Joker off guard? How would he react? There was a lot of trial and error, but that was one of the things that Margot enjoyed most.
Although Margot Robbie nailed playing Joker’s crazy girlfriend, she truly wanted to see Harley Quinn’s on-screen emancipation. Robbie saw her character as one who has strength to overcome her addiction, even in the face of Joker, and to have her own fascinating story. In Birds of Prey Harley Quinn breaks up from her psychotic paramour, and the actress finds this plot twist far more relatable.
The movie gives fans an opportunity to explore a different Harley, not the one from a toxic love story. What is she like as an individual? And what kind of Gotham will she take us into? Robbie not only starred in the movie but also co-produced it. Written, directed, and produced by women, Birds of Prey is aiming to be “less male gaze”, as mentioned by the Australian star.