One balmy afternoon on a suburban Toronto airfield in mid 2015, a key scene from Suicide Squad is being shot. Extremely buff men dressed as soldiers run back and forth holding weights over their heads, keeping in shape between set-ups. Every now and then, a small aircraft takes off from the nearby runway, the noise drowning all conversation and dialogue out and making you wonder how they'll fix it in post. A five minute walk away, craft services is set up in a disused hangar, with so many extras dressed as soldiers ambling around, chatting, eating, laughing and taking calls you'd think you were in the middle of the world's most relaxed invasion.
Back on set, Harley Quinn – Our Margot Robbie – delightfully strips off to don her iconic red sequinned hot pants and ‘Daddy’s Lil Monster’ baseball top. The scene calls for those gruff military personnel to stop and stare, but the assembled reporters visiting the set watching it all on video – and probably the rest of the location staff on the set – do exactly the same.
But anyone thinking this film is merely another example of superhero sexism would be sorely mistaken. The blockbuster, which tells the story of a gang of bad guys assembled, avengers style, to do the government’s dirty work – is not only one of the year’s most anticipated movies, but also decidedly female-driven. Alongside Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Viola Davis and newcomer Karen Fukuhara all star. So central is Robbie to the film, Warner Bros has just commissioned a spin-off film starring the cheeky, ever-so-slightly-deranged Quinn.
In fact, this might be the first comic blockbuster that speaks to us just as much as the men. To Robbie, it's a major step in the right direction. "I wouldn't even pigeon-hole [sexism] just to comic movies, a lot of movies are sexist," she says. "A lot of the time in scripts I love the male character and I'm not that excited about the female character. This project is probably the strongest example of me picking up the script and thinking 'I literally want the female character... that is the best character'.”
Delevingne has also seen roles for women get better, a trend she hopes Suicide Squad only furthers. "There are many kickass roles," she says of the movie, "It's a cast of very driven characters as strong as the males.”
It's an exciting time for the British model-turned-actress. After the success of 2015's Paper Towns, Suicide Squad might be the film to launch her into the acting big leagues, and she’s following it with roles in this year’s Tulip Fever alongside Alicia Vikander.
But she's not leaving modeling behind any time soon. "Why can't everyone just do what they want to do?" the 23-year-old bemoans. "Stop being put in a box… I prefer to live in the moment, and not worry about what's going to happen in the future, or what happened in the past."
And then there’s the particularly resonance of the film’s title. At a time when the word 'squad' has come to mean a group of celebrity friends all supporting each others' careers, Suicide Squad might be coming along at the perfect time to tap into the zeitgeist. On set, Robbie famously tattooed her co-stars with identikit logos of the word ‘SKWAD’, and the crew – which also includes Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman and Will Smith – have been seen catching up outside of work, heading to music festivals and industry parties together.
“It was an immensely amazing bonding experience,” Delevingne says. “Honestly, by the end, none of us could leave set because we all just wanted to stay together."