Hollywood A-lister Margot Robbie: From toothpaste model to Oscar hot favourite!
F‘No one thought I would be an actress because where I grew up it wasn’t a job you could do – I never met anyone who had so much as made a cup of coffee on a film set.’
or much of her life, Margot Robbie has been addicted to fear: to the elecftric adrenaline that surges through her when she’s sure she can’t do something but forces herself to try regardless. ‘I love feeling terrified; I love it when I think I can’t pull it off this time,’ she says. It’s this compulsion that made her – then a 23-yearold unknown – unexpectedly slap Leonardo DiCaprio in the face during her screen test for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (it got her the job!). It’s also this refusal to stay within the limits of what might be expected from a ‘toothpaste model’ (her words) that led her to set up a production company with her now-husband and two best friends when she was 24, and to produce and star in I, Tonya. ‘People said, “That will never get made,”’ she says of her film about the controversial domestically abused US Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding. ‘It gets to me when people say that. So I was like, “Let’s give it a go.”’ I, Tonya was a critical success. Allison Janney won an Oscar for her portrayal of Harding’s ruthless, nicotine-addled mother and Margot was nominated for an Oscar (and a Golden Globe) for her interpretation of the DIY diamantéed Harding. The film was also a financial success, costing around £8 million to make and grossing £35m.
Not bad for its producer and lead actor…
I, Tonya was the second film Margot produced; the first was Terminal, which has only just had its theatre release. And it is to discuss Terminal that we are here, in London's Soho Hotel, eating chocolate biscuits and drinking Darjeeling tea.
‘I was drawn to how odd and dark the script was,' she says.
Terminal is indeed an odd film, a revenge-noir gangster flick visually inspired by films such as Brazil and Blade Runner. Margot sizzles as a pole-dancing, tea-serving hit woman for hire. It was written and directed by first-timer Vaughn Stein, a former assistant director and friend of Margot's husband, Tom Ackerley, also a former AD she first met on the set of 2013's Suite Française.
‘He [Vaughn] wanted to do it so badly, and no one would put the money behind him… So it was really nice to give him the chance to get his vision out there. At the same time we got the chance to learn how to produce.'
The film, which also stars Simon Pegg, was made over 27 relentless days and sleepless nights in Budapest. It cost £3m and Margot says it makes her ‘swell with pride'.
Margot grew up in the mountainous hinterland of Australia's Gold Coast. Her days were spent on the beach, making rope swings and plunging into mountain rock pools. ‘No one thought I would be an actress because where I grew up it wasn't a job you could do – I never met anyone who had so much as made a cup of coffee on a film set.' Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother, a physiotherapist, raised Margot and her three siblings single-handedly.
‘She is such a saint, she is amazing; I love her. She held it together and always put everyone else first.'
It was a chaotic, crowded and noisy childhood. ‘We weren't easy kids; we didn't make it easy for Mum.' Not least Margot herself, who was determined to assert her independence from a young age.
‘When I was five, I was watching my mum put spread on my sandwich for school and I was saying, “It's not going to the edges”, and she was like, “If I am not doing it right, do it yourself.” So I started making my own lunch from five years old. If I wanted something a certain way, I just did it myself. Mum says that sums me up.'
One of the first things Margot did once her career took off was to pay off her mother's mortgage.
At 17 she moved to Melbourne, and when she wasn't working in a Subway restaurant she was badgering the production team on local soap Neighbours. Her persistence paid off, and in 2008 she won the part of Donna Freedman, a role she played for two and a half years, but all the while she was seeing a dialect coach, perfecting her American accent so she could make the move to the US. Again, determination won out: Margot's second Hollywood film role was in The Wolf of Wall Street. While she doesn't regret any of the parts she's played, she is becom-
‘If I wanted something a certain way, I just did it myself. Mum says that sums me up.’
ing more aware of the social impact of the roles she chooses. ‘It’s a weird thing, having a profile,’ she says.
‘It’s hard because I would never have got to this position if I was trying to censor everything I did. I’d never have an impact on any one if I played perfect characters.’ She has some compelling roles coming up: as a pox-ridden Elizabeth I in Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of
Scots; and as Sharon Tate, the actress who was murdered by Charles Manson’s followers, in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in
Hollywood, with Brad Pitt and DiCaprio. These are substantial, high-profile roles that explore the power and vulnerability of women – ‘that seems to be the contradiction I am most attracted to,’ she says.
The films she is developing include Marion, a feminist retelling of the Robin Hood story; and Gotham
City Sirens, where she reprises her role as Harley Quinn, this time uniting a posse of DC Comics’ deranged heroines. ‘If I was going to play Harley again, I wanted it to be in the kind of movie I wanted to see. So it’s about a girl gang.’
Margot has been vocal in the #MeToo movement. Last year she gave a speech at a Hollywood event celebrating women and film. She prepared by asking female crew member friends about their experiences in the industry, creating a collective narrative more powerful than one person’s experience.
‘Of course I knew the problem existed. I just hadn’t viewed it as a problem we were allowed to be angry about. Because no one spoke about it; no one said, “I am not putting up with this any more.” It wasn’t called a problem, it was called a fact of life. That is such a terrible mindset. If we just accept things like sexual harassment as a fact of life, it doesn’t get fixed.’
This collective approach seems to come naturally to Margot.
‘I never do anything on my own. I don’t see the purpose of doing anything if I don’t do it with my friends. I go mental when I am on my own; my thoughts are so loud it drives me insane.’ On set, she says, she is always chatting to cast and crew. She made such good friends with the crew on the set of Suite Française that a group of them decided to rent together in Clapham, England, squeezing seven people into a four-bedroom flat.
‘Those were the best days of my life,’ she says. One of those flatmates was Tom Ackerley, who she married in 2016 in Australia, wearing her mother’s old wedding dress. ‘It was lovely, just chilled – you didn’t have to wear shoes.’ Her hen night, though, was ‘absolute carnage’. There were at least 45 women, including Margot’s gang of school friends, the ‘Heckers’.
‘There are 16 of us …we’ve been called that since we were at school.’ Her Neighbours friends were also invited, as was the British gang from her Clapham days: ‘They are a rowdy bunch, too, and the combination was explosive.’
Margot is a big fan of fancy dress, so her friends dressed her up for the surprise finale. ‘They hired a Harry Potter-themed stripper for me; he had all the Harry Potter phrases and innuendoes. I was so touched…They know me so well.’
Margot has been reading the Harry Potter books on a loop since she was eight. ‘I know what’s coming next when I turn the page. I can’t meditate and this is what I have to do to fall asleep. Vaughn told me if you have trouble sleeping, which I do, you should read something that you’re very familiar with to calm you. Reading Harry
Potter makes me happy and calms me. I read for about an hour or two every night. My husband hates it.’
What’s getting her most fired up right now is her desire to do theatre. ‘I didn’t go to drama school and I didn’t go to university. I just really want to do theatre. The idea of doing it absolutely terrifies me, and I love that.’
Determination has not traditionally been considered an attractive female trait. Women are told to be like the swan: graceful on the top, paddling like mad under the surface. Margot Robbie is exciting because she’s happy to own her determination, happy to let the world see both the beauty and the effort. ‘You can’t wait for it; you have to make it happen,’ she says, shaking my hand firmly. Terminal is available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
Above Margot in vixen mode in Terminal, which she co-produced. Opposite With her Brit husband and co-producer on Terminal, Tom Ackerley, at the Golden Globes earlier this year.