What makes a good villain? In the case of the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, that’s been one question fans have been particularly interested in. Traditionally, the film’s antagonist Black Mask has been more likely to face off with Batman than with Harley Quinn. But when we sat down with Ewan McGregor and writer Christina Hodson at a recent event for the upcoming film, they explained why the classic DC villain is such a perfect foil for Harley. It turns out that his struggle might not actually be that different from the roster of heroines he’s trying to take down.

In the mind of McGregor, who’s making his first foray into superhero films with Birds of Prey, the anger inside Roman Sidonis has molded the man into something terrible. “It’s just like his entitlement, his spoiledness, his need for revenge on his family for disowning him, I think that drives him,” McGregor said. “It’s probably the fact that his father kicked him out for being a prick and being useless with business and unreliable. That feeling is fueling his venom all the time, and he lives with this great hatred that consumes him.”

A comic book panel shows Black Mask

DC Comics

As for what makes him such a fitting foil for Harley, McGregor had an intriguing take: “I think that he’s an absolute control freak. He’s insane when he’s not in control. We only see him in his club, in his car, in his apartment. I feel like we only see him there because he has to be somewhere that he controls. Harley comes into that world and she’s uncontrollable, and it drives him mad and he hates it.”

McGregor continued, “It plays into the overall misogyny and the exploration of misogyny because he puts up with her because she’s Joker’s girlfriend, right? He’s all powerful and so frightening, but as soon as he realizes that her man’s out of the picture he thinks he can take her down, and that makes him a true misogynist I think. She’s trying to find her freedom, she’s trying to find her voice and find her power as a woman who’s no longer relying on or getting that power from her partner anymore.”

Warner Bros.

Birds of Prey writer Christina Hodson explained how her everyday experiences of misogyny made it easy for her to write Black Mask and the wider themes of toxic masculinity that come into play in the film. “Ewan’s very kind and has said some lovely things about the script and the way it deals with misogyny, but honestly, I think most of that just came naturally,” she said. “There’s the overt, blatant stuff that you obviously get, but there’s also the subtle everyday stuff that’s more in the fabric of our society. That’s the stuff that really just comes naturally.”

Despite the fact that the female-fronted R-rated superhero movie has some important stuff to say, Hodson doesn’t think its exploration of emancipation and freedom is confined solely to its heroines. “Beyond all of that, though, beyond the male and the female thing, what I really think is fun is that this is a story about emancipation for all of these characters,” she said. “Thematically that’s the thing that they’re all looking for. Roman is looking for it from his family, from his parents, fighting to have that freedom to do his own thing and to run the town. So thematically that’s something that runs through all of these characters.”

Birds of Prey hits screens on Feb 7.

Featured Image: Warner Bros