With every comic book movie comes legions of comic book fans who grumble that the costume doesn’t look at all like the one on the page. Birds of Prey has received plenty of that criticism — not only are the central members of the all-female Gotham team very different from the comics, the movie revolves around Harley Quinn, a longtime Batman villain who has never been associated with the Birds of Prey on the page. But “the desire was to create characters that worked for the screen,” producer Sue Kroll said.
At a Birds of Prey junket in London, Kroll addressed the creative liberties that the film, directed by Cathy Yan, took with comic book characters like Black Canary, Cassandra Cain, Huntress, and Renee Montoya. While the characters on film bear some resemblance to their comic book counterparts, others — especially Cassandra, a future Batgirl who in the comics is introduced as an assassin — are wildly different. But the characters were whatever the script, as written by Christina Hodson, needed them to be, Kroll said:
“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.”
Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) are known as longtime members of the Birds of Prey and are probably the least changed from their comic book versions, as is Rosie Perez‘s Renee Montoya who, like the comic book character, is the first major LGBT character in the DC universe. But for actors like Chris Messina — who plays one of the film’s villains, the scarred serial killer Victor Zsaz — the chance to play a lesser-known rogue gave him more opportunity to add his own creative spin.
“Zsaz is low in the canon of villains. And so I felt very responsible to kind of giving them a voice and the script was beautifully written and had from the very first audition I had, I remember just kind of settling on, ‘I’m going to set you free, I’m going to set you free,’” Messina said. “And that became kind of the essence of what I wanted to do with him this, this this psychopath, that he wants to exterminate society. And I’ve watched over and over again, I’ve watched Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, which is an awful villain, and the extermination. So that was like in my own little world of wanting to take over even maybe one day, you know, killing Roman and being the Master of the Universe.”
Ella Jay Basco, who plays the streetwise urchin Cassandra Cain who gets taken under Harley Quinn’s wing, also had the chance to put her own interpretation on the character, which she credited to both the comics as well as the Natalie Portman character in The Professional.
“The comic books were definitely one of the main resources as well as the script and I think I can meld the two together,” Basco said. “There isn’t much of Cassandra Cain otherwise in the industry, that I really also be her also vulnerable, kind of scrappy kid and I took actually took some inspiration off of The Professional with Natalie Portman. And that was something that I really used while trying to figure out her character.”
But Kroll knows that inevitably, “people are always going to be upset.” But Birds of Prey keeps the spirit of the characters while also giving audiences something “completely new,” she said. And for hardcore fans of the Birds of Prey, there may be hint at the team that you recognize at some point in the movie.
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