Jurney Smollett-Bell as Black Canary in "Birds of Prey".
Picture: Supplied
Jurney Smollett-Bell as Black Canary in "Birds of Prey". Picture: Supplied

Jurnee Smollett-Bell glides into ‘Birds of Prey’ role

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Feb 7, 2020

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To Jurnee Smollett-Bell, landing the role of Dinah Lance/Black Canary in "Birds of Prey', was a long shot, at best.

Nevertheless, she sent through an audition tape and hoped for the best; after all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And she bagged the part in this star-studded spin-off of "Suicide Squad".

"Birds of Prey" is the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe.

In the movie, Smollett-Bell joins the do-gooder posse comprising Margot Robbie, as vigilante Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/Huntress, an orphaned daughter of a mafia crime boss, and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, a police detective building a case against the corrupt Sionis in Gotham City.

The cast in a scene from "Birds of Prey". Picture: Supplied

The villain is Roman Sionis/Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor. 

And the heroines team up to protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who finds herself in a spot of trouble after stealing a valuable diamond from the head of the Sionis.

On getting the part, a happy Smollett-Bell said: “Oh my goodness, I love this world of Gotham! I mean, obviously I’m such a fan of the DC Universe, but honestly, what drew me to it was it just felt fresh and different. It felt like they were showing a different side of Gotham. And I had never seen like an all-girl gang team-up from the comic book world on film before. 

"So, the opportunity to be a part of that new chapter, which feels like it’s a new chapter for DC in general, was just so incredibly exciting. I mean listen, there was no world in which I thought I’d ever get cast in something like this.”

When asked if her gravitation towards the DC Universe stemmed from the comic books, movies or video games, she said: “For me, it was mostly based on the movies and certain video games, like "Injustice 2". 

"That’s how I was first introduced to Black Canary. And I always loved her “canary cry” because whoever was playing against her would be so annoyed because it would come out of nowhere and they couldn’t do anything about it! She’s very unique in that she, among the birds, has the only superpower. She’s a metahuman.”

And the 33-year-old actress, who is the younger sister of Jussie Smollett (Jamal Lyon in "Empire"), put in lots of hours of research to ensure her portrayal lives up to expectations.

Actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Picture: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

She added: “The idea of Dinah Lance growing up under her mother, Dinah Drake, who is this vigilante who is trying to do good in cleaning up Gotham – I connected to that a lot. And so we pulled from that a lot in this origin story with Black Canary. What we wanted to explore was what is it like for a woman to be so powerful but be so reluctant to use her powers. When we meet Dinah in the film, she’s shut down from the world, and she wants nothing to do with cleaning up Gotham or serving or helping people out.

“Frankly, I think she feels like, ‘What have they done for me?’ Her heart’s been broken because she lost her mother to this (line of) work. And what’s interesting about Dinah is, even though on the surface it would seem as if she is most afraid of facing the same thing that her mother did and dying in the streets because of the work, really what she’s most afraid of is coming to terms with the fact that she’s actually capable of being greater than her mother.”

Interestingly, her character is a singer at the enemy’s nightclub. Aside from the internal battles and psychological demands of the role, there were physical ones, too. 

She admitted: “I ate a lot of food. I wanted to put on weight, particularly wanted to put on muscle, which I did. I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life. I ate a lot of protein. I lived on protein shakes. There was this one shake I would make that my trainer turned me onto, with peanut butter, pea protein, this bullet-proof coconut oil, which is awesome, banana and oatmeal. I would eat that several times a day, in between meals. I was eating like three meals and two snacks.”

On working with such a dynamic team of actors, she added: “Oh, I love them! I loved working with Chris (Messina, who plays Victor Zsasz, a deranged serial killer) and Ewan. They were so fun. They were hoots. It was a dream. I’d come to work every day pinching myself that I was a part of this project. This cast is so amazing. I mean, to walk on set and everyone was just pushing themselves beyond their limits physically.”

If this role proves one thing, it is that there is no limit to what Smollett-Bell can achieve. And it’s incredible to watch her switch gears and take her acting to a new level.

"Birds of Prey" is currently showing on the big screen. 

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