A shortened version of this interview appeared as part of Den of Geek magazine’s The Suicide Squad cover feature.
Margot Robbie is not only a breakout star of the DC Extended Universe, but broader Hollywood. The Australian actress moves seamlessly between the blockbuster superhero franchise world and Academy Award-nominated indies like I, Tonya, while also taking greater creative control behind the scenes through her film and TV production company LuckyChap Entertainment. As Robbie prepares for the August release of DC’s R-rated war movie epic The Suicide Squad, Den of Geek talks to the actress about working with director James Gunn, what it’s like to film with pyrotechnics, and why she’s still having fun playing charismatically chaotic antihero Harley Quinn.
Den of Geek: You’ve said before in interviews that you have to like the character to be able to play them. What do you like about Harley Quinn?
Margot Robbie: It’s been so fun and so interesting to play her in three different iterations, under a different director each time, because I really find that people gravitate towards different characteristics of her. And there is so much to her, and there’s a lot of great fun qualities, and there’s a lot of bad qualities that are also very fascinating to play with.
It’s interesting, depending on who’s writing her or who’s directing her. People want to explore different aspects of the character, which is great for me because I want to explore every aspect of her. The three different movies—Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and now The Suicide Squad—have been their own adventures, kind of like when you pick up a comic book. Depending on who your author is, it’s a different adventure.
There has been an interesting progression from when she was in a relationship with Mr. J in the first film, to newly being broken up and trying to be OK on her own and finding herself in Birds of Prey and now in The Suicide Squad. She’s single and ready to mingle and exploring love in different places. That side was particularly fun in this movie.
I often think of Harley as being like a kid on a playground, where if she’s the only kid on a playground, she’s not going to have that much fun, but if you just throw in a ton of other kids, it’s going to be mayhem. And so she’s always the most fun when surrounded by a whole new group of people. In this movie, there’s a huge ensemble cast, and that just means so many different characters for her to interact with, which was so, so fun for me.
I think the things I love about playing her is exactly that: that you see a very different side to her, depending on who she’s with at the time and who she’s interacting with. And she’s just psychotic and fun and cheeky and morally ambiguous, and I get to do and say all of the things that I would never get to do and say in real life.
For the first Suicide Squad film, you drew character inspiration from Harley in Batman: The Animated Series, and Karen Hill from Goodfellas. Did you use those as well? Or were there different touchstones for this film?
Because James is such a comic book lover, this iteration of Harley was the closest to the Suicide Squad comics. I’ve actually been craving some of those iterations of Harley I’d read and loved so much, so I was keen for someone to explore that.
I feel like I’ve known her for so long now that she’s gone a bit beyond touchstones and she’s pretty fully formed in my mind. And now it’s just about exploring, like I said, different iterations of the comics and their storylines a little closer.
What is Harley’s aesthetic in The Suicide Squad?
For her, she’s going into work. This is mission mode, so she puts on her mission outfit. Then the movie takes an unexpected turn, and she gets put into another outfit [the red dress seen in the trailer], not of her choosing. But happily for us and audience members, it’s very much in the Harley color palette, being such a vibrant red color and the black boots. Everything was kind of crafted within her traditional color palette from the comics.
But yeah, very different aesthetic to Birds of Prey, because she’s in a very different mindset. She’s in mission mode here. Whereas in Birds of Prey, she was an absolute mess. She didn’t know what she was doing with her life and I think trying to overcompensate that she’s feeling OK with what she wore, which meant she was wearing a ton of different things all at once in Birds of Prey, which I loved.
Were the costumes comfortable?
They were pretty comfy. To be honest, being in flat shoes for a lot of this film was … that was a new thing. To do Harley fight scenes in boots, like combat boots, was a dream. It’s really hard to do months and months of stunts in high heels. So yeah, that definitely contributes to the comfort factor.
You’ve learned some very impressive skills, not only in this franchise, but in other roles you’ve had. Was there anything new you learned for this movie?
We had a lot of pretty intense fights. We shot one big, long Harley fight sequence. We shot it in a couple of days, which was kind of insane and really, really fun. I’m trying to think if there’s anything that was specifically new. This might sound weird, but I did a lot more kicking in her fight choreography than I’d done before. And also, I think you see in the … Oh, God, it’s hard. I don’t know what you see in the trailer, so I don’t want to give something away, but I have a different weapon that I’m wielding in the film a lot more.
I’ve seen a bazooka, a spear and a gun.
Yeah. So the spear was definitely … that’s kind of a new, fun weapon. I mean, interestingly enough, when it comes to fight choreography and stunt training, you’re not actually learning anything too different from a baseball bat to a spear to a mallet. You kind of are doing a similar sort of training process, and then you just swap out the weapon and make some slight adjustments. But yeah, there was a new weapon, and that was very fun.
The movie uses a lot of pyrotechnics. What was it like to film those scenes?
As you can tell from the trailer, there’s just a lot of huge stunts and a lot of pyrotechnics … and it was absolutely phenomenal to witness firsthand and to be running through all that. I had things literally blowing up a foot away from me. I had this specific course to run on the beach and real explosions going off everywhere. My adrenaline was through the roof, and it was just so much fun. I told James, “Guys always get to do this in movies and girls never get to. I finally felt like I got to have my war moment just then, and it was so cool.”
Going off of that, every year during Oscar season, there’s discussion around possibly making a category for stunt performance. Is that something you have an opinion on?
I spend a lot of time stunt training and doing stunts in film. I love stunts and I know a lot of stunt performers. My brother’s a stunt performer, so I have just huge admiration and respect for the art form in itself and what they do and what they contribute to a film. So yeah, I do feel like it deserves a little more recognition. It’s a bit above my pay grade to say what the Oscars do or do not do, but it would be awesome.
I think in the 1960s there was a stuntman who won an Oscar. I’m going to look this up…
Can you talk about what James Gunn brought to this world and story?
I can’t think of another director that can execute so perfectly at such a large scale. This film was humongous…I don’t know how else to explain it, but the fact that he can orchestrate something that big and still have such a specific tone and his specific kind of DNA through it, it’s pretty amazing.
It doesn’t become some big homogenized mess of big explosions. There are so many massive action beats [and] they pack an emotional punch at the same time….It’s an entirely different skillset to orchestrate something that big and still have it feel emotional and grounded and surprising. I can’t think of someone who does it as good as he does at that scale.
By the way, I was Googling while I was waffling on, too. The stuntman was Yakima Canutt. Brilliant, brilliant name. Yakima Canutt was a stunt performer and he got the Academy honorary award for achievement for the stunt man in 1967. To be honest, I just love his name.
It’s a great name.
The Suicide Squad opens on Aug. 6 in theaters and HBO Max. We’ll have more from our interview with Margot Robbie soon!
Check out more on The Suicide Squad in the latest issue of Den of Geek!