PLEASE NOTE: This interview was originally posted on September 25, 2009 on the former Batman site Brother-Eye.net and has been moved here.
Upon winning an award for her role on Days of Our Lives, Arleen Sorkin joked in her acceptance speech, "What I lack in talent, I made up for in accessories."
Yet the actress certainly has proven her talent to the Batman fans, with no accessories necessary, in providing the iconic voice of Harley Quinn. Recently, Ben Yip met with Arleen Sorkin to discuss her connection to the character, her experiences on the show, and her work outside of the Batman world.
THE ORIGIN OF HARLEY
Unlike many of the comic-based characters in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn was created for the show and was partially inspired by the actress who played her.
While fans may be familiar with Harley's origin from the Eisner award-winning comic Mad Love, the real-life origin of the character is arguably just as compelling. Who would've guessed that a fantasy scene in a soap opera would give birth to a Batman villainess?
Arleen recalls, "I went in and pitched to the producers [of Days of Our Lives] that we should do a fantasy. After I saw The Princess Bride, I thought it'd be really cute if all the characters got to play characters from that story. I had wonderful bosses - Shelley Curtis and Al Rabin - who thought that would be fun and the actors had a blast dressing up."
Arleen's character, Calliope Jones, was considered to be the comic relief of the show and one of the writers appropriately decided that she would be dressed up as a court jester in the scene. The late costume designer Lee Smith made the jester outfit for Arleen, who admits, "I still have it!"
By happenstance, her friend and Batman writer Paul Dini was ill at home and caught the scene on television. Seeing Arleen in the jester outfit inspired him and he soon created Harley Quinn for the episode, "Joker's Favor".
Arleen admitted, though, that she didn't know that Harley would have such an active recurring role in the series. Indeed, no one could have predicted that the character would grow to become so popular that she would play a bigger role in later episodes and eventually cross over into the comic book canon.
HER STORY CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CHARACTER
Arleen's jester scene on Days of Our Lives was not the only time she inspired Paul Dini. When working on the show, Duet, she played the character of Geneva, a woman with a criminal past. One day, she pitched the following story idea for her character: Geneva would go shopping and pay for dresses, but forget to get the security tags off. Once she walked out the door, the alarm would go off, making the security guards believe that she was stealing something she actually bought.
When the scene was not used on Duet, Arleen shared the idea to Paul Dini, who incorporated it in the episode, "Harley's Holiday". Sure enough, in the teleplay, a reformed Harley pays for a pink dress, but forgets to let the cashier take off the security tags. This pivotal scene causes Harley to don her jester outfit once again and turn back to a life of crime.
Another idea came when Arleen and Paul encountered the 1992 riots in L.A. "Paul and I were driving back from a recording session. It was a little scary. To try to keep things light, I sang to him in the car, 'Say That We're Sweethearts Again' [from the film Meet The People]. And so Paul got that song and put it on the show!"
Fans will remember the song from the episode "Harlequinade", in which Harley sings a hilarious musical number to distract gangsters from seeing Batman and Robin. While the song was, obviously, not written for the show, the lyrics perfectly match the abusive relationship between Joker and Harley. Arleen certainly enjoyed the chance to sing it for the episode. "I can't tell you how thrilling that was to be able to sing a song that I think is so brilliant and funny and to be able to sing it as Harley Quinn."
WHY SHE THINKS HARLEY STAYS WITH JOKER
Given that the Joker is such a murderous psychopath, one wonders why Harley stays with someone who abuses her and could, potentially, kill her!
In the book Batman: Animated, Arleen shared her thoughts, stating, "Everyone else sees the Joker laugh, only Harley has ever seen him cry. It's the only reason she stays with him."
To add to that, Arleen said, "Harleen, having once been a therapist, has touched onto his vulnerability. She knows who he is underneath. That's what keeps her there."
HER EXPERIENCES ON THE SHOW
Having worked with the likes of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Diane Pershing, and several other talented voice actors, Arleen has nothing but praise for her co-stars:
"There were many times that I was so mesmerized by, say, the work of Mark Hamill that I would forget to pick up my cue! It's something incredible to me because they morph into all these different people at the drop of a dime! If you're an actor, there's nothing better than to just use your voice and create a character. If you just really love to act, it fulfills everything."
ON BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
Arleen's latest performance as Harley Quinn was in the new video game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was written by Paul Dini and reunited her with co-stars Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Commenting on the show's graphics, Arleen said, "It's quite remarkable the way the characters look really three-dimensional."
The new game presents a much darker version of the Batman universe than the one in the 1992 cartoon. Yet despite Harley's chilling, yet sexy costume redesign, Arleen felt that she didn't need to make adjustments since Paul had kept her character true to the original version. "She seemed very much like the Harley that I know."
HER TRIBUTE TO COLLECTORS
You can view Arleen's Harley Quinn collection on her website, ComeSeeMyStuff.com . The site also features photographs of the members' various collections for all to view and admire. [edit: Arleen's collection is here - Paul]
Arleen's website - www.comeseemystuff.com
Arleen developed an interest in collectors during her time on Days of Our Lives, where people would collect paraphernalia from the soap. "I enjoy, on weekends, going to estate sales, and it would always make me sad thinking- here are these people in their entire lives who've collected really tiny, say, frogs, from all over the world. And then at the end of their lives, it gets thrown in a box- we're picking them out and buying them individually and the whole collection is not honored. I always felt people who took the time to collect anything should be honored."
Her father, the late Irving Sorkin, was also a collector of stories that he thought would make great movies. "He had the most incredible book collection and treatments that he wrote up for each one. It really was his dream. Finally, in his eighties, he saw one of his movies get made. Then he died when he was eighty-eight. Now what happens to all these scripts and all these books? They all just get thrown into a box and forgotten? I wanted to have a place to honor them and keep them alive."
Aside from her work on Days of Our Lives and Batman: The Animated Series, Arleen Sorkin is also a screenwriter, having written comedies like Picture Perfect, starring Jennifer Aniston, in 1997.
She believes her acting experience has been nothing but helpful to her writing career, stating, "As I writer, I can play anything. I can play men, I can play old people, I can play children. When I’m writing, it's very much like acting, except I get to play all the parts. They're not that far away from each other."
HER NEXT PROJECTS
Arleen is currently producing a documentary on Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, as well as producing a comedy inspired by her experiences on soap operas called Dead Broke. Arleen describes, "It's about a soap opera actress who is so in debt that she fakes her own death. Beth Cochran wrote the script and it's really good." She and producing partner Lauren Versel are currently looking to cast the lead roles.
As for Harley Quinn's future, who knows what else Paul Dini and his fellow Batman writers have in store for her? The character currently co-stars in Dini's Gotham City Sirens, with Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and The Riddler.
Whether she stays with the sirens or returns to the arms of her puddin', one thing is for certain: comic book fans of today and tomorrow will forever associate Harley Quinn with Arleen Sorkin's voice
Arleen spoke to our very own Ben Yip in July 2011 to tell us how happy she was that Tara Strong was taking over the role of Harley - you can read the story here