Harley Quinn, Hair Ties, and Breakfast Sandwiches: Screenwriter Christina Hodson on Birds of Prey

In theaters today, Birds of Prey puts fan-favorite DC Comics character Harley Quinn—who made her screen debut in Suicide Squad—on the big-screen for her first solo outing. Not that she’s alone. On her quest to find a very special diamond, defeat a mob boss (Ewan McGregor), and (most importantly) not be killed by all the Gotham baddies she’s ticked off over the years, Harley must team up with a quartet of Gotham’s finest heroes-to-be: Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), kid pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). What follows is girl power, kick-ass action, a few epic needle drops, and a very important breakfast sandwich, all hitting the big screen with the help of screenwriter and co-producer Christina Hodson (Bumblebee).

Congratulations on the film! It’s so fun. The hair tie bit [where Harley Quinn lends Black Canara a hair tie mid-fight] has stuck with me. Twitter’s excited about the hair tie bit.

My sister will be very pleased to hear that. Every time we go and see any kind of action movie, there’s always some beautiful woman running around with her hair blowing. And we always laugh at the fact that—neither of us would ever sit down to even eat a meal without tying up our hair! So how these women will go into battle with their hair down just makes no sense.

I know you’re not on Twitter. So you’re not seeing people get excited about that. And you’re not seeing the weird little manbabies complain about how the characters aren’t sexy enough because of their new costumes.

I’ve heard about some of that. But I’m pleased people are liking the hair tie thing! Thank you for telling me that. I do miss a lot, not being on social media.

It’s a tiny moment, but I feel like the hair tie thing reflects upon the overall movie. I don’t know if a man would come up with it. I mean, a lot of them wouldn’t. They haven’t.

I agree. It’s funny, my mum actually called me this morning, ’cause she saw it for the first time in London. And that was one of the few things that she picked out that she liked. She was like, “Men just don’t get it!”

And the thing about Ewan McGregor’s character being very sensitive to being laughed at⁠—that hit me as a very “oh, this was written by a woman” thing, too.

I totally agree. I think it’s a real trigger for a lot of men, but not a lot of people talk about it.

Do you feel like it was important that Harley Quinn’s first solo film be written by a woman?

I mean, it was important ’cause I wanted the job! [laughs] I think I’m the first and only person Margot spoke to about it way back when. She, as you know, is the one that came up with the idea for doing a Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey movie. And that was about four and a half years ago, while she was still shooting Suicide Squad. She pitched that to the studio. And then she and I met for a general very soon thereafter. And as soon she said, basically, those words to me—”Harley Quinn. Birds of Prey. R-rated.”—I was like “Yes, yes, yes.” So yes, I was in from the get-go.

Did she have an idea of what she wanted the story to be then?

No, we kind of took it from there. We both went away together and did a whole bunch of research. We went to the DC comics library, got a huge stack of comics, and then we both did a lot of reading. She obviously had already done a lot of research into Harley Quinn already. But we both did a deep dive on the Birds of Prey. And we would just text each other stuff that we loved. And then it was up to me to go away and come up with a weird and interesting way of getting into it. Because, obviously, it’s not a traditional team-up. Harley Quinn has never been a member of the Birds of Prey. So we knew we had to do something a little bit outside of the box.

That doing something out of the boxis that where the idea came from for the disjointed timeline structure for the first act?

Yeah. Honestly, that just felt right to me, because that’s who Harley is. From the very beginning, I wanted Harley to be the narrator of the movie. Even, I think, before I started using VO, I knew that I wanted it to be through her eyes one way or another. I wanted it to be the kind of story that only Harley could tell. Both Margot and I, our primary impulse was to do something that felt different. There are so many superhero movies out there, and we’re big fans of all of them. But we also were craving something that felt bold and risky and edgy and different. And Harley felt like such a natural way to do that, because as soon as you have Harley being your lens, you’re going to do something unusual and unexpected with the story. So that’s really where it came from.

That’s how her brain would work, skittering off down these different pathways…

Very much so. That that’s how we saw it. She’s intelligent and brilliant, but also kind of crazy and kooky. She’s a whole bunch of different things at once, and that makes her a fun storyteller.

Being a New Yorker, I love the bit with Harley craving the perfect bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.

I lived there for a few years, so I have my priorities!

I’m a ham, egg, and cheese girl, but I can respect where Harley’s coming from.

I’m a sucker for just two eggs on a roll.

That’s fair.

It felt right to go full hog [with Harley’s BEC order]. You’re really hung over, you need to go full calories.

Going back to where you said you wanted something bolder and more innovativewhat worked for me in that regard, maybe ironically, is that the stakes aren’t super high. A whole bunch of people want to kill Harley, and she wants not to die.

That was also something that from the get go I knew I wanted to do. Because we’ve seen the world almost end so many times. For me, it’s funny, the stakes are both a lot lower, because it’s really street-level stuff. But they’re also higher, because you care about her soul. You go into a movie that has “Harley Quinn” in the title, and you know she’s not going to die. But my hope is that you really do fear for her soul a little bit in this movie. I want you to fear for Harley’s soul over the course of this journey: Is she going to make it out intact? The stakes are both lower and higher for me, in some ways.

There were so many little moments once the leads got together that were so great. The hair tie moment, or the moment with the old-school Harley Quinn outfit. Were there any of these little character moments that didn’t make it into the final cut?

I’m sure that would have been, but when you’ve seen a movie this many times, you lose track of what’s in it and what’s not. Honestly, that was one of the most fun bits: once you get them all together, and once you earn having them all in a room, just getting to play with all of those interactions and all of those dynamics. The cast is so awesome. And the chemistry between them is all so real. I loved everything they did and every take of every scene once they get together. So I’m sure there are some gems that hopefully will be on a DVD at some point.

What was the writing process for the script like? I know this is a very personal project for Margot, and she was very much involved with it.

Margot is the dreamiest creative partner you can think of. She was so wonderful. So supportive. It went through various stages. We did the research phase, she and I reading a lot of stuff. We also talked a lot about movies we love. She would come over to my house, and we would watch movies together. We would play on the white board. Then I would go away and come up with stuff. We went through a few different treatments before we got down to the script stage. She was really the most supportive, collaborative creative partner I could wish for.

What were the Christina Hodson-Margot Robbie movie nights?

I can’t give away secrets! But I will I tell you they went from very highbrow to very lowbrow. During production we watched a lot of Love Island together. Which is definitely not inspiration for the movie. It was just keeping us happy ’cause we love it so much.

I’m a Vanderpump Rules fan, so I understand the need there. Obviously Birds of Prey has a lot more to say than either of those shows, but they’re all really fun.

That was our hope: That people just have a blast watching it. If you go watching for the extra stuff, it’s all there. But you can also just have a fun ride.

One of the things that really stands out in this movie is its visual styleit’s very distinct. Is that something that you thought of when you were writing the script: How you wanted it to look? Does it look like how you pictured it in your head?

I mean, nothing ever looks like the way you think you when you write it. But it was incredibly fun seeing this world come to life. We put on the page from day one that we wanted it to feel like a Gotham you haven’t seen before. Gotham as you’ve seen it in the Burton movies and the Nolan movies, it’s often night. It’s often foggy. There’s often snow on the ground. From the get go I was like, “Let’s set it on the hottest day of the year. Let’s make it summer. Let’s make it sticky and bright and sunny.” The breakfast sandwich plays a big part of it. It was always meant to be daytime. Because that’s a side of the world we haven’t seen before. And likewise we’re seeing pieces of the city that we haven’t seen before. We’re seeing corner store bodegas. We’re seeing the inside of Harley’s apartment. Little details like that, which were super fun to put on the page, which [production designer] KK Barrett did an amazing job kind of bringing to life. I think in the description of Harley’s apartment, I listed five random things, like the Queen Elizabeth pillow and the photo of her with the nuns. And I can’t remember what else. But then he just populated this incredible, vibrant space that had all of that and then took it to the nth degree, which was so exciting to see.

It must have been so fun to actually sit down and see the movie for the first time.

It was! I can’t remember when that was. I was there everyday on set, so I was watching it get made as it was getting made. I can’t remember the actual first time I saw it. It’s such an iterative process. You’re kind of watching it all the way through.

Were there script things that were getting changed up on the day, or were you mostly there in your capacity as co-producer?

Mostly in my capacity as a co-producer. There wasn’t a whole lot of changing stuff. The actors did an amazing job of being incredibly playful without [straying] too much from the lines. That was one of the things that Ewan McGregor in particular did an amazing job of. And Chris Messina, actually. Those two guys, they would give such great variety of performance. Sometimes it’s tricky. If you’re changing the lines, you can change the meaning of a whole scene. But they would do this wonderful thing where they could bring such life and vitality and difference to their different takes without actually changing the nature of the scene. Which was amazing. It was really fun. And obviously, there were times when they’d come to me and be like, “I need another insult to give someone!” And I’d come up with insults on the fly, which was fun.

Are you trying them out on someone? “Oh my God, that stung.”

I did have one amazing whiteboard that was just covered in Harley and Cassandra Cain insults. Because the two of them don’t use your regular kind of insults. So I had a whole whiteboard of inventive swears.

Tell me a photo of that is going to end up on the DVD extras.

I really hope so. It’s definitely very hard-R rated.

How do you nail Harley Quinn’s voice?

Embarrassingly, it was not that hard. Harley feels like such a piece of me. It feels like a language I am very fluent in, and I think it comes from reading a huge amount of the comics, and also spending a lot of time with Margot. Harley and I are friends! She feels like a very natural piece of my brain now.

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