The Big Picture
- Fans will be surprised by the number of people it takes to make a 22-minute episode of an animated series like Harley Quinn.
- The show pushes the boundaries of sex and violence in the DC universe, with DC’s support and love for the series.
- Season 4 introduces new villains, expands the show’s locations beyond Gotham, and explores Harley’s journey to becoming a hero.
With all the various iterations of DC characters currently gracing both the big and the small screens, one. standout has been Max’s adult animated series Harley Quinn. Starring Kaley Cuoco as Harley Quinn, the series follows the fan-favorite character as she causes chaos in Gotham City, finds a sense of identity, and falls in love with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell).
In this interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub at San Diego Comic-Con, Harley Quinn supervising producers Cecilia Aranovich Hamilton and Ian Hamilton talked about the upcoming season including the new lineup of villains, Harley’s new look in Season 4, and pushing the boundaries of sex and violence in DC.
STEVE WEINTRAUB: First of all, thank you so much for coming in, and congrats for being part of Comic-Con this year. I’m so curious, what do you think fans would be surprised to learn about what it’s like behind the scenes of making this series?
CECILIA ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, I think it’s, you know, making an animation cartoon is such a group effort. You know, I think everybody is surprised the amount of people that it takes to make a cartoon. You know, we have like so many departments, and our job as supervising producers, you know, we kind of like oversee like every aspect of production. But it’s really it really does take a village. So I think the fans will be surprised, you know, to see the amount of people that it takes to like, come up with one 22-minute episode.
IAN HAMILTON: Yeah. I also think it’s just how many dedicated DC fans are on the production because there’s so many people on all parts of the process who love these comic books, love the movies, love the show, who chime in and be like, “Oh, well, Superman shouldn’t do that because of this”, or “Batman once did this.” And that really, really helps you flesh out how deep Harley Quinn’s universe go just for people who can pull on that wealth of knowledge.
One of the things that the show does is it like flips the script on expectations, You don’t think certain things are going to happen yet they do. So I’m curious, is there a lot of resistance above when you’re trying to do things, or do you have a lot of creative freedom to just sort of like throw it to the wind and say, we’re going to do this?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, I think we always start from the point, you know, this is a story you want to tell and this is how far we want to push it, you know? And, we put it that way. And then obviously, sometimes we have to make compromises. You know, sometimes we take it a little far.
I like how you say “a little.”
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Yes, But I mean, in general, I think, you know, for example, DC, they love the show over there, and they know that the show has been very successful from Season 1. And I think they understand that, the show is successful because the humor lies in putting these characters that everybody knows and loves and in very, very extreme, strange circumstances, in these places where they usually don’t go.
Of course, there’s limits, you know, like sometimes DC is more precious with some characters than others. Like, for example, Batman, or Superman, with those characters, you have to be a little bit more careful. But again, you know, we always try to push for the laugh and the comedy, you know, and it’s a back and forth. We go too far, and they said, “you can’t do that.” We’ll take it back a little bit.
Sure. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna switch to something else, which is I know that Season 4, the trailer just dropped, and you’re here for Season 4, but I also know how long it takes to do animation. So just have to ask, you know, are you working on Season 5 at all or are you waiting for this to come out to see what they’re going to say?
HAMILTON: Yeah, I think we’ve just been focused on finishing up this season and making sure it’s as strong as it can be, so that we can get another season because we really want the fans to love what we do here. So I think the main focus is just been, let’s finish this, let’s get it out and make it as strong as possible so that everyone this resonates with everybody at home who watches it.
What can you tease about these upcoming episodes that are literally about to drop?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, I think the fans are going to are going to be excited to see, like all the new locations that we take them this season. We kind of expand out of Gotham, and we go to we have an episode in Vegas, where Clayface has his new show. So he’s in total diva mode. We also have we also go to the moon.
I’m sure the poster kind of tipped that a little bit. But Lex has a giant villain convention on the moon. So that’s a reason for the rocket. And we’re also going to go to Italy with Bane to follow the saga of the pasta maker.
A-plus.So when you are developing these ideas and fleshing out what you want to do during the season, how do those ideas get refined in terms of because I’m sure you come up with 100 things and then it’s ultimately, well, what can we do or what do we want to do?
HAMILTON: You know, we really try to give which we know what’s after you get through the script phase with the EPs and the showrunner, you really don’t want to pull your punches. So I think all of the rest of the process is like, how do we make this bigger? How do we make this the biggest and coolest possible version of this script?
You know, and luckily our production and the studio have been wonderful about not having us try to water anything down. So, I mean, most of it is making things larger, you know, like making the robot fight the craziest robot fight that you’ve ever seen, you know, or the making the high-speed chase as dynamic as possible. We really don’t try to pull back at all because our show, you know, rests on being as awesome as it can possibly be.
I don’t actually know if Season 4 is the same length as the other seasons. So my question is how many episodes of season four? And do you have a favorite and why?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: We have ten episodes for season four, and we’re going to see I think my favorite episodes is the episode where Ivy and Harley go to the future. We see in the clip inside the panel where they steal the time machine, and so we’re going to see them go to another time-space.
HAMILTON: Mm-hmm. I would say same. I love that. I am a huge, you know, general future Terminator guy. I love anything to do with the future. And it is a hilarious Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy episode.
Outside of Harley and Ivy. Do you have a favorite DC ship?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, you know, my favorite Disney show has always been Batman: The Animated Series. And I know this is an old one, but it’s always been my favorite.
HAMILTON: Um, I would say that my favorite is just anything to deal with the New Gods and Darkseid and Apocalypse.
One of the things is you guys did this great problematic Valentine’s Day special. Is there any talk of doing more stuff like that or extended episodes?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, at this time, not that I’m aware of. I would love to do it. The Valentine’s Day, a special was very fun and was almost like a movie, you know, like a very like, self-contained movie, you know? And it was kind of like a different format than a regular episode.
So you get a little bit more time, you know, to expand on the story and the characters. So the question I guess the answer is no, I haven’t really heard of anything and I don’t think anything is in the works yet, but I would love to do it.
One of the things about the show is I’m curious when you want to do are there any new characters that are introduced in Season 4 that we have not seen before?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Yeah, plenty. We have a lot of new characters coming this season. One of the main ones is Talia Al-Ghul, which everyone knows about Talia, and she’s going to come to Gotham as she is a very powerful businesswoman, and she’s going to become kind of like a role model for Ivy, who aspires to become a good CEO of the Legion of Doom.
And we have a lot of new villains as well. We have Snow Flame. Snow Flame is a DC character who gets his superpowers from a snorting cocaine. This is a real character, I didn’t make him up. And a lot of other fun ones. I mean, we have Weasle, we have a Bounce Boy and Doll Man in one of the fights inside the Vegas episode, we have Steppenwolf appearing in the convention, in the Evil Convention on the Moon.
And then besides that, you know, we’re going to see how like some of our existing characters kind of take new roles this season.
One of the things about the show is there’s so many people that talk about it online, and I’m just curious, how much are you looking at what people are saying and how much does that actually get incorporated into what you guys are doing in the writers’ room? Because I’ll give you, to put myself in this, on YouTube I’m either the best interviewer or the absolute worst. So there is a way that I try to moderate through the comments to find things that are meaningful. But I’m just curious if you do the same.
HAMILTON: I think a lot of times when you read the fans’ reaction, it’s overwhelmingly supportive. So when you pass trolls or whatever, chiming in, I think a lot of times it’s sort of like, “I don’t think the show was ever for you” type of deal, you know. But I would say usually when you’re reading them, they’re so supportive.
And I think it does help. You know, it’s the positive stuff that helps move the show because you see what people are loving. And then the next season, the writers and the showrunner and everyone else try to give them the things that they say that they want. You know, I think because the show is run by so many people who are DC fans, you know, and just fans of Harley Quinn in general, they really want to give the fans what they want because they’re fans too. So I think it’s the positive reactions that move this show and move the dial of what we can do further.
Is there something that you guys have put in the series that you still are surprised you got away with?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Lots of things. I mean, the you know, the violence in our show is so extreme. You know, there’s so much gore, it’s like so out there. You know, sometimes I feel like, man, this is too much. You know? But oddly enough, we never really have been censored that much on the violence. We get censored sometimes on the nudity and the sex.
You know, we try to be like tasteful, like we don’t have really frontal nudity, but we don’t we don’t really get a lot of censorship. So I think we can we ultimately get away with a lot.
HAMILTON: And then sometimes the executive surprise you, you know, where they have given notes on sex stuff in the past. And then for Season 4, there’s a sex surrogacy sequence and there was a note for more sex to make this more outrageous. Like they really wanted us to swing for the fences of how crazy we can get. So I think if anything, you’re positively surprised at how much they know the fans want it to go to that place and they’re like, No, they should be like, Whoa, crazy.
Well, one of the things that I have to ask is like the popularity of different show, but the popularity of The Boys, which really pushes boundaries, You wonder if that has like a bleed-over effect where executives are maybe watching that and saying, well, we can do that, too. And Harley Quinn, is the show to do it.
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Definitely. And I think it helps like you feel like audiences are almost desensitized to like a lot of the violence and all the blood and guts exploding and people being ripped in half because they’ve seen it so much at this point, that you feel that it’s helping it make it a little bit more acceptable like across platforms.
What are some of the things you can tease about Harley this season that she’s doing that I think fans will be excited for?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Well, I think I think the exciting the exciting part about Harley this season is that she’s she’s learning how to become a hero. We saw her at the end of Season 3 being part of – or starting to be part of – the bat-family. And the fun thing with Harley is that she’s really bad at it at the beginning.
She’s not good at following rules. She falls on her face all the time. She breaks the rules and the Bat-family is not happy about it. So she really needs to, like, find a way to navigate this new role, and something that she doesn’t feel comfortable with because she’s never done it before.
HAMILTON: Oh, yeah. And I think something the fans are going to love is Harley gets this outfit change, she gets she’s part of the Bat family. So she gets her own bat outfit. You know, being at Comic-Con, I think it looks great. It’s super cool and fun when she gets it. So I’m hoping that in a year or two, we’ll be seeing that Harley is running around.
Yeah, I do enjoy actually, Comic-Con and I’ve seen so much cosplay of Harley. One of the things about animation is a lot of things can change when you’re making it and it can be refined, but I don’t actually know what it’s like for you guys. Can you be pretty far along and all of a sudden realize, wait, maybe this isn’t working the way we needed to, We need to redo this. And can you do that? How is it in the behind the scenes?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: Because there’s so many people involved in this process, you always get like curveballs. Sometimes. I mean, in pre-production, we start with the script and then we do boards, and then when the boards are finalized, we ship it to the studio overseas to get animated.
But before we ship, there’s always like last minute changes, like maybe WB feels like, this bit, the writing’s like not quite working or this action scene doesn’t quite work, when the character’s more involved and sometimes that comes late in the process. But it’s like everything, ike you try to do the best with the material that you have, and you make adjustments as you go.
HAMILTON: Yeah. And I think the largest thing that you end up changing is just the amazing work that all the voice talent brings to it, because they do so much improv sometimes. Like if you cut an episode short but J.B. Smooth is coming in, you know, he can just come up with all sorts of hilarious things as Frank the Plant, and you can try to accommodate that as best as you can or really all the characters just really sometimes they knock it out of the park.
They’re like, okay, now there’s an extra 12 seconds of hilarious Poison Ivy that we have to accommodate for the inside of the episode. And no matter where you are in the process, if the actors have come in and done something like truly hilarious, you’ll shift things around to make sure you keep that performance in the show.
Totally. We’re at Comic-Con, and I’ve been asking everyone, what do you collect? Like if you go on the convention floor, what are you shopping for?
ARANOVICH HAMILTON: I don’t know. I love figurines. I saw the Dragon Ball, and I was really excited about it. So I love the little statues and the figurines.
HAMILTON: I think, you know, we actually have overflow in our house right now. We have too many comic books, too many figurines, too many statues. But I love cells. I’m always in the market for a great animation cell or new comic books. I collect New Gods. Yeah, well, she told me not to collect comic books, so this might be news for her too. I collect New Gods comic books, and I’ve been looking for some keys around here. You know, I think that’s my big thing is comics.
Harley Quinn Season 4 drops on July 27. Check out the new trailer below: