Birds of Prey: Choosing The Film’s (Male) Villains

We talked to Birds of Prey star/producer Margot Robbie and screenwriter Christina Hodson about casting men as villains.

DC’s latest comic book adaptation, the fantabulous Birds of Prey, centers a girl gang with a diverse cast of characters. But while it’s gaggle of protagonists are all women, the film’s two main villains—Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina)—are on the other end of the gender spectrum. Den of Geek chatted with the film’s producer and star Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) and screenwriter Christina Hodson about whether that was an intentional decision… 

Robbie, who famously came up with the idea for a Harley-driven spinoff while filming Suicide Squadand subsequently made it happen, said that the decision for the film’s two main villains to be men “happened organically.”

“It actually wasn’t a conscious choice to be like, ‘Let’s have them be male, and them be female,'” Robbie tells Den of Geek. “They were just the right characters.”

Robbie noted that there was a point in the development process when another villain, who happened to be a woman, was on the table. (We’ll leave you to speculate who that might have been, but our money is on Poison Ivy, who has a long and delightful history with the Harley Quinn character.)

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“It’s just how it developed, when we figured out who could be the best counterparts to this,” says Hodson. “I think people will take a bit what they will. That they represent the patriarchy [or] whatever. But truly, it started at character level and evolved from there.”

For Hodson, the decisions on who would be cast as the story’s villains was driven by the theme of emancipation—not just for the female protagonists in the film, but also for the male villains.

“You can see Zsasz so trapped in this incredibly unhealthy dynamic with Roman,” says Hodson. “Roman, himself, is hunting for this diamond, because it means, in some ways, and emancipation from his parents. And it was also fun to just have a street-level villain that fit with these women. We’ve only got one meta-human. We didn’t want some megalomaniacal, mustache-twirling, blow-up-the-world villain. I think both Chris and Ewan bring this delicious, visceral, very human villainy to the story.”

While the gender politics of the film’s woman protagonists-man antagonist setup may have been unintentional in its conception, it’s a reality of the finished story. McGregor’s Roman and Messina’s Zsasz are great movie villains for so many reasons, but, for a movie that is about (and has been partially marketed as) a reclaiming of the narrative from men, it feels necessary—whether it was intentional or not.

See our interview with Margot Robbie and Christina Hodson here…

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.