Producer Sue Kroll has been with Birds of Prey from the very beginning. Since it was just an idea in star Margot Robbie‘s head while she was originating her breakout character Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Since director Cathy Yan came to Kroll and fellow producer Bryan Unkeless with a vision of a wild, bombastic, and unabashedly fun girl gang movie.
“There was something very raw about it, very visceral,” Kroll said of the sizzle reel that Yan showed to her and Unkeless. That visceral tone was maintained through the final product, which debuted in theaters this weekend to rave reviews, though not without its fair share of scrutiny and behind-the-scenes reworking along the way. Kroll spoke to /Film about the reshoots that Birds of Prey underwent, and how the film dealt with the burden of being a film made by women, starring women in the time of Me Too.
One of my favorite things about the movie were the small moments like the hair tie toss. It’s a moment that’s gone viral on Twitter. Do you have any those favorite moments that make it feel like very you just women made this movie and that this is something that you wouldn’t see from a male director?
That’s an interesting question. Because I always like when I think about the movie, and female point of view, and what is it that feels more female than male. Like the costumes. I think that they’re clearly designed by women, for women, I think it feels that way, as opposed to sort of the typical kind of superhero costumes. But I think even Harley and Cass, their kind of back and forth. I like her warming up to her in the apartment, her feeling that kind of tenderness. Black Canary, when she has her scene with Cass. I think there are things and situations like that, even detective Renee Montoya when she’s talking to Cass in the police station, that feel a little bit more gentle, and a little bit more insightful. Potentially, I think, because it’s about a female ensemble, and even the way they come together at the at the end of the movie, but I think that there, it’s really just about a sensibility that kind of governs the way the story is told. I think the moment you pointed out with the hair tie, though, that’s perfect. So who would have thought of that? That’s something even on the day watching it being shot that you knew the people would remember. I also remember it was very important to Cathy, that moment. So yeah, I think it’s a lot of it is about the dialogue and the way things are handled.
Like the complexity of different female relationships — because you don’t usually get so many different female characters interacting, and not always on a positive note, either. Because Harley isn’t very well liked by any of the team members.
It’s true. And, you know, she’s selfish. It’s interesting, even at the end of the movie, even when they come together ? man, that camaraderie — she reverts to Harley and leaves, but with kind of gleeful abandon, it’s not anything nasty. So I think that all the women are able to retain sort of their personalities and still evolve and they’re very distinct on their own and then different when they all come together. It’s one thing I think that the movie achieves and Christina [Hodson]’s script really achieved well. It’s like, very distinct kinds of personalities. And like you said complexity. I mean, everybody has a backstory. Everybody’s trying to figure out who they are in the world, struggling with one thing or another. And I think you actually see and feel that. While it’s not on the surface, there is a lot of emotion to it to their performances and to their history. There’s a certain kind of poignancy and certainly look at Cassandra Cain or even Huntress — what it must that be like to be to just want to wreak revenge for your whole adult life until you do it? I think it’s it does a very good job of exploring all those layers.
This is very much Harley’s movie. It’s told from her point of view. So working all the other characters in there, how did you make sure that they got their due?
Well, look, it’s all an evolutionary process. At first it starts out on the page, but it takes on a different kind of life when you’re actually shooting it. There were things that were done that was supplemented — you’re always trying to balance that story. And it was very important. Obviously, the story’s being told through Harley’s perspective and her point of view. But we did want to make sure that each of these other characters that all the women had had their time in the movie and that you understood who they were in the context of this world, and how they related to one another. So it’s just always about going back and forth and achieving that balance. There’s a lot of conversation about it, too. Did we achieve the objective that we set out to do? Was the more that could be done with a character? So it’s just part of that organic process of making the movie.
There is some, I guess, criticism from the comic book community about how the characters were really changed from the comic book counterparts. Was it ever going to be like comic book adaptation? Or were you just going to take inspiration and put the Cathy and everyone else’s own spin on these characters?
It’s the latter. I think everybody’s always concerned about being very respectful and mindful of the source material. Nobody wants to upset the fan base. The fans have very important, and their devotion and passion obviously, has propelled all these films. But I think that also the desire was to create characters that worked for the screen. This was, initially Christina Hodson’s vision and she was working very closely with Margot. And you want to be able to introduce aspects of the characters that are familiar that fans will love, but also create some kind of dimension around them. And tell the best version of the story that you can. And that was really the intention. It wasn’t deliberate in one way or the other, except that to tell the best possible version of the story for a movie experience.
I think it worked out.
Yeah, I do too. And I know, people are alway going to be upset. I think sometimes when you have very faithful adaptations of anything, people are disappointed that maybe there’s nothing new. And if you stray too far people are upset about that. You have to try and find that balance. And I think for us, the win for us would be to create an exciting world that feels familiar and also unfamiliar at the same time, that’s populated with characters that people haven’t seen on film before. That we’re able to deliver on some of the things that people really want, but also give them things that are completely new.
I’m curious about the casting process, because Margot was on board from the beginning. But all these characters have the all actors have such great chemistry with each other. When everyone was cast, was there a process to make sure that they had that on screen chemistry or were screen tested?
We had everybody audition. So there were a lot of auditions and then there are what they call chemistry reading. So we would pair up certain characters with one another to see what that dynamic was, because there’s a certain kind of synergy and feeding off of one another that helps to create that kind of intimacy on set and among these women. So we did do all of that. And then ultimately, you have to hope that when everybody gets together, that that kind of connection is formed on set. Not everybody read with each other. But we got very lucky because everybody instantly got along. And there was just this really great dynamic and they all helped each other and worked together really, really well. And so we were very, very lucky. So we made some good choices. Great women.
At the end of the film, we see the actual Birds of Prey team form and Harley goes off on her own. Is there a possibility of seeing a Birds of Prey standalone film? What kind of sequel opportunities do you see from this?
Well look, we have to get through the release. This needs to be successful. But this is a big expansive world. So of course, anything’s possible, Yeah, I think people would love to see more stories. So we’ll see, but of course, it would be a very natural thing. But we haven’t talked about it at all, right now we’re focused on getting this movie open. One step at a time.
So I am curious about the changes that this movie went through. There were some reports about how they went through reshoots, which every blockbuster movie undergoes, that changed some of the plots and the ending. Can you go into any detail about those changes?
Well, I think the movie didn’t change that much. And reshoots are very common with every movie. Every movie budgets reshoots, at inception. Reshooting, it’s not something that comes up later. You always plan for that eventuality because even if something is perfect on the page, when the movie’s put together, you can see things in a different way in terms of potential gaps for story ideas that you want to elaborate on, things that aren’t as relevant. It’s just the norm, especially for a big budget action film. So the reshoots, I think it got overstated in the press just a little bit. We did, after we saw the movie and the studio saw the movie, the action was working really beautifully and we all decided that we wanted more of that. And so, we had Chad [Stahelski] brought on — we’ve been working with at 87Eleven, Jonathan Eusebio who designed the original stunts for the film’s funhouse [sequence] and so on. So it was very natural extension, it was all the same people. The same crew, same stunt people, same choreographers everything, but with additional work that that was being done for the reshoots.
So that happened, but that is again, it’s normal. And it’s a good thing. I mean, this is something where people look at the opportunity for the movie and thought well, let’s support it. Let’s put more money into it. Let’s put more action, let’s broaden the audience. That’s only a plus. Because those things weren’t in the movie, it was about adding elements to it. So I, as a person who’s worked on the studio side for over 20 years, that is vote of support and excitement for the movie. Yeah. So that was great. Now as far as the ending…?
I heard it had to do with the plot of the diamond and what was actually revealed to be in the diamond.
There are different things that were explored with this. The idea of was always that this diamond, contains secret for power and wealth. And that it was the ultimate object for Roman Sionis to go after. And again, it is just every movie goes through an evolutionary process when things are tweaked. That’s why there are research recruits, and, post production, all of that. So, there was nothing that was not typical of the process at all for Birds of Prey. It all happened so it was supposed to.
So, speaking of Roman Sionis, Black Mask, I think the relationship between him and Victor Zsasz is so fun and implied to be sort of romantic. But would you like from an official point of view say that like they have they are in a relationship? Or is it just going to be something that is going to be read in between the lines?
It’s interesting because it’s their sexuality, Roman’s sexuality, it’s never been story point in our movie ever. What they have, Roman and Zsasz have a very interesting dynamic with they feed off of one another, and they’re obviously having a lot of fun. But Roman’s motivation is about control and power. He’s narcissistic and nuts, he’s crazy. And Zsasz is his henchmen and these are decisions the to the made and how they want to play it. But I can tell you that it was never explicitly — their sexuality was never dealt with in our story.
Was that something that Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina came about on their own? Or was that something that they was discussed but not an official story?
You know, it wasn’t even a discussion. It just sort of it is the dynamic that evolved on screen with the way the two of them played off of one another.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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