Fifteen years ago, Michelle Steilen booked a one-way ticket from Pennsylvania to California carrying only a backpack, seeking perfect weather and an active lifestyle on skates.
Back then, Steilen would have never imagined that their love for roller skating would take them onto a Hollywood set as a skate stunt double for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the DC Comics film “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).”
“Birds of Prey” is Harley Quinn’s first solo film. It’s a movie about her finding her own identity after the “mutual” break up with the Joker. It also happens to involve quite a bit of roller skating.
Steilen remembers the call they received when first being asked to be a part of the film. Known by the skate name of Estro Jen, Steilen is a professional roller skater who wears many hats, most notably, as the creator and founder of Moxi Roller Skates which started on Long Beach’s Fourth Street Retro Row.
That and a fondness for a bit of roller skating stunt work bordering on the ridiculous, precipitated the call that went something like this: “Hey, you’re Estro Jen right? We just spoke to a producer of a roller derby workout video that you were the host of and asked her who in all the roller skaters in the world would she suggest that we could attach to the back of a car. She said YOU right away, and that you even do that for fun?”
Skitching is “skate-hitching,” in which a roller skater hitches a ride holding on to the back of a car. You’ll see a quick clip of Steilen doing it at about the 1:06 mark in the “Birds of Prey” trailer above. And yes, as it looks, it’s dangerous. And, yes, as the workout director said, it’s one of Michelle Steilen’s favorite skate activities.
“It’s true I really do, I love to skitch!” Steilen said.
And just like that, Steilen was called onto the set as the roller skate expert which involved anything from helping Margot Robbie learn to skate—Steilen says Robbie didn’t need a lot of help—to collaborating with the stunt team on fight scenes.
“I was hired right from the beginning so I was training on how to be a Harley Quinn,” Steilen said. “I was swinging a mallet a thousand times a day and learning how to kick, punch, block and dodge bullets on skates.”
Without spoiling any of the movie, Steilen’s skate stunts make their big-screen debut in the fight scenes on the spinning carousel and the skitching scene. Steilen shared the skate spotlight with Renae Moneymaker and Jocelyn Kay who performed all other stunts for Harley Quinn on skates.
“All of my stunts were natural. I wasn’t connected to cables or wires or moving platforms,” Steilen said. “At one point, which didn’t make the cut, I was backflipping out of a ramp that was fastened to a spinning carousel, which was pretty freaking difficult, since the floor was spinning and elevated.”
Another behind-the-scenes moments that stood out to Steilen was that they often saw director Cathy Yan whirling around on yellow Moxi Roller Skates while directing, something Steilin called “awesome.”
With an almost all-female crew on the set, Steilen worked alongside women stunt doubles who shared that what they were experiencing on this action movie set was quite unique. Working in the male-dominated action movie industry, stunt doubles said they were generally used to being the only women on the stunt team. Steilen watched as stunt women would light up every time they gathered together for a scene.
“It was almost like the first time I went to a roller derby practice and looked around to realize I was surrounded by a majority of women. I remember I had that same look on my face that these stunt women did,” Steilen said.
Speaking of roller derby, at the beginning of the film, Harley Quinn takes a moment to share about her days in roller derby. In the scene, Harley plays derby with a vengeance, knocking girls out while skating upon none other than Long Beach local Mimi Masher’s famous banked roller derby track.
For the roller derby scenes, Steilen said the filmmakers hired a derby consultant, Rachel Johnston, and actual derby girls from the Angel City Derby team which Steilen founded in 2006, to not only make the film more authentic but have it resonate within the derby community.
“It makes me feel really awesome that Warner Brothers and the movie industry see value in people who are actual real-life participants, like real competitive roller derby skaters and would rather put their buck on them, rather than teach someone who doesn’t know how to do it,” Steilen said.
“The past 15 years have been insane, from opening up the first Moxi Skate Shop in the back of Lil Devils [Boutique] in 2008, to seeing the growth of our brand, it’s been this inch-by-inch process and now I’m a part of a movie made by skaters for skaters, and it’s been such an incredible experience,” Steilen said. “Long Beach and California have treated me so well, I really feel like I’m living the American dream.”
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