Birds of Prey: Ewan McGregor On Why Black Mask Is A Great Villain For Harley Quinn
A brutal anti-hero needs a brutal villain.
The early reactions to Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn are in, and things are looking way, way up for the future of the DCEU. (Our Birds of Prey review is also now live and is very positive.) But with Harley and her infamous aesthetic obviously taking center stage, it's certainly easy to forget that not only is the Clown Queen of Crime technically not the villain of this story, she and the rest of the Birds are going to be facing off against a slightly lesser-known (but incredibly dangerous) foe: Roman Sionis, AKA Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor.
Sionis is an interesting pull for a big-screen villain, not only because his own comic book history is a topsy-turvy, bizarre thing in and of itself (seriously, the guy hops back and forth between zealous cult leader to run-of-the-mill gangster every other week) but because his relationship on the page with characters like Harley is virtually nonexistent. Sure, Black Mask has had his fair share of run-ins and team-ups with Gotham's many, many costumed villains, and he's definitely interacted with people like The Joker--and by association, Harley, before--but there's no real precedent for Harley and Sionis throwing down in any meaningful way. This means that, by pitting the two against each other so directly, Birds of Prey will be blazing a brand-new path in Gotham. So what is it about Sionis that makes him work as an antagonist for Harley, specifically? And why is their fight so compelling? GameSpot caught up with Ewan McGregor in Los Angeles to get a closer look at the method behind the madness.
"He has to be in absolute control," McGregor explained. "He's insane when he's not in control. We only see him in his club, in his car, in his apartment--or at the end when he's running around. But really I feel like we only ever see him in places he controls. And then Harley comes into this world and she's uncontrollable. It drives him mad. He hates it."
He continued: "It plays into the exploration of misogyny in the film. He's only ever put up with Harley because she was Joker's girlfriend. So that was the only reason he ever put up with her, because [Joker] was all-powerful. But as soon as [Roman] realizes that Harley's man is out of the picture, she becomes a problem. That makes him a true misogynist. Harley is trying to find her freedom--the emancipation of Harley Quinn, right? She's trying to find her voice. She's not getting her power from her partner anymore."
A misogynist take on Black Mask isn't necessarily a new invention for the film. Back in the early 2000s, Sionis became infamous in the pantheon of Batman's rogues for brutalizing and eventually murdering Stephanie Brown, who had taken over the mantle of Robin at the time during an event storyline called War Games. The story, revolving around a series of events inadvertently set in motion by Brown and landed Sionis in the top seat of Gotham's criminal underworld, garnered criticism not only for the explicit and violent nature of Stephanie's assault but for the way it also seemed to cut her tenure as Robin off at the knees. All told, Brown held on to the title for less than nine issues.
Eventually, her death was revealed to be a carefully constructed fake, set up by the Bat Family's doctor, Leslie Thompkins, to spirit Stephanie away into the superheroic version of witness protection thanks to Black Mask's reign of terror and vendetta against her. When she was eventually "resurrected," she took over the mantle of Batgirl from Cassandra Cain.
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While Stephanie won't be appearing in Birds of Prey (as far as we know), Cass Cain certainly will--and though the movie doesn't seem to be adapting War Games in any direct way, it's safe to say that this incarnation of Black Mask will be taking some serious cues from his most famous comic book story.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn hits theaters on February 6.