The I, Tonya actress on the good, the bad and the ugly.
Margot Robbie just might be Australia’s favourite national sweetheart and the most famous of all Neighbours alumni (sorry Kylie). The actor-turned-producer has not slowed down since her breakthrough role opposite Leonardo Dicaprio in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Back then, Robbie burst into the public consciousness in the role of Naomi Lapaglia, the “hottest blonde ever”, uttering the immortal line: “Mommy is just so sick and tired of wearing panties”. Now, recently turned 27, fresh from her wedding in Australia’s Byron Bay, and with four films out this year, Robbie’s in her prime. It’s not been plain sailing, however.
Last July Vanity Fair published a piece by American journalist Rich Cohen. It was an interview with Robbie, their August cover star, accompanied by a shoot that looked to enhance already established parallels between the actress and Hollywood bombshells of yesteryear (white one-pieces, wide-brimmed hats and swimming pools all featured heavily). Cohen’s words were equally antiquated.
“She is 26 and beautiful, not in that otherworldly, catwalk way but in a minor knock-around key, a blue mood, a slow dance,” wrote Cohen. “She is tall but only with the help of certain shoes. She can be sexy and composed even while naked but only in character.”
Cohen’s dissection of Robbie’s looks and sinister guesses at how Robbie might appear in the nude, or in private, was not lost on the readership. The public outcry that ensued — the article was derided as “creepy” and “sexist” — serves as a strong indication of how well loved Robbie is by her public. While she remained largely schtum, her fan base happily protested for her (“don’t mess with the Aussies,” she later quipped).
(LEFT) T-shirt FIORUCCI, skirt LOEWE and tights TOM FORD
(RIGHT) Dress SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO and sunglasses MOSCHINO
Of course Robbie is fairytale-beautiful, but in Hollywood, beauty comes as standard; it’s everything else about Robbie that’s interesting. Until recently, the Gold Coast native was living in a flat share with her husband Tom Ackerley and school pals in Clapham. It was a stone’s throw away from her favourite party joint — the famously low-brow, sticky-carpeted club Infernos. She eats burgers, infamously slapped Leonardo DiCaprio in her The Wolf of Wall Street audition (ad lib) and uses her Instagram account to take the piss out of the relentless mob of paparazzi that trail her.
She doesn’t talk earnestly about juice cleanses in interviews and is open about just how much she fancies her husband, who she met on the set of 2013’s Suite Française, describing him to Vogue as “the best-looking guy in London”. It’s her ability to seemingly still manage to be “one of us” — free from the afflictions of pretentiousness and paranoia that so often nibble at the toes of those newly taken under the wing of big studios – that makes her the most beguiling actor currently working in Hollywood.
Ahead of time, I get a phone call. “Hey Nellie, it’s Margot.” I freeze – she’s totally side stepped the very formal dial-in code I’d been emailed from her team. After apologising profusely for it being a Sunday, she explains I’m one of many calls she’s making today in-between shooting Mary Queen of Scotshttps://www.wonderlandmagazine.com/2017/09/22/wonderland-autumn-17/, where she’s playing Elizabeth I to Saoirse Ronan’s Mary I. “I just got off the phone with my family in Oz,” she says.
“There’s always a time in the day when I can either be calling my husband back in America, my family in Australia or my friends here in London. The other day it was my 10-year school anniversary and all my mates in Oz FaceTimed me from me the party. It made me so nostalgic for school! I constantly check the world clock on my phone and think ‘OK, who’s awake right now? Who can I call?’”
Robbie is immensely proud of her physiotherapist mother. “It was an amazing childhood. She’s Superwoman. Now I’m older I think, ‘how did you raise four of us on your own whilst working six days a week?’” Refreshingly, Robbie’s childhood was more rough and tumble than jazz hands. “Acting wasn’t a dream someone living on the Gold Coast who didn’t know anyone in the film business toyed with.” But at 17, after a few indie film roles, Robbie auditioned for a part in Australia’s most watched soap opera, Neighbours. Two months later she was playing the fiery Donna Freedman. “I was like ‘I’m on Neighbours?’” she guffaws. “I’m gonna be on TV and someone’s going to pay me to do this?” Robbie pauses for a rare breath. “At 18, people would approach me and be all like, ‘you’re that chick from Neighbours, do you own six houses or something?’ In reality I was living in an absolute crack den of an apartment with a fridge and a mattress on the floor.”
Dress LOUIS VUITTON, shorts ALAIA and vintage shoes HELMUT LANG at ALRBIGHT
Robbie largely credits her family and friends’ avid support for her success. Sophia Kerr, Robbie’s PA, also happens to be her best friend, and Margot assures me that wherever she goes her soft toy rabbit goes too. “One of the rare moments I’d get alone with my mum as a kid was at bedtime, with my Winnie The Pooh and Tigger. She’d do all the voices, and I’d think it was the funniest thing ever.” Robbie explains that was partly what attracted her to her recent UK release, Goodbye Christopher Robin, a re-telling of how A.A. Milne was inspired by his own son when writing the Pooh stories. Robbie steps nicely into the satined shoes of Milne’s troubled and rather frivolous wife, Daphne, plummy accent included. “Daphne is not likeable, but she’s real.” Robbie levels. “I did lots of research into the women left at home during the two world wars and I read a line that went something like, ‘constant motion in the face of horror’, and that’s why I made her so frantic. Daphne isn’t a straight villain. She’s complex, and at times makes bad maternal choices, but I embraced the challenge of evoking some sort of empathy for her.”
Robbie’s upcoming turn as disgraced Olympian ice skater Tonya Harding may be the greatest step away from the likability that’s so often attributed to Robbie herself. The film, directed by Craig Gillespie, is the true story of Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, who infamously hired a hitman who made a failed attempt to break the legs of his wife’s biggest rival, Nancy Kerrigan in the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Nancy went on to win silver, and the shamed Harding came eighth. Snippets circulating online for I, Tonya suggest shades of Channing Tatum’s mould-breaking Foxcatcher, which saw him make the transition from jock to indie heavyweight. I, Tonya is set to be as potentially transformative for Robbie, proving once and for all that she’s bigger than the “girlfriend” role.
Robbie is also acting as a producer on the film, under Lucky Chap Entertainment, which she co-founded with her husband and friends Josey McNamara and the aforementioned Kerr. It makes her investment in the film both personal and financial; she even stalled her honeymoon to shoot. On set, “Tom and I were freezing our arses off, looking at each other like ‘oh my god, only a few weeks ago we were getting married in the Australian sunshine,’” she recalls.
So why put herself through it? “I read the script and thought it was sheer genius. I also presumed it was fiction. When I discovered it was a true story, I knew it was big.” Robbie’s voice lifts an octave: her excitement about this film is palpable. “We thought long and hard about striking the right tone for this film, and when Craig Gillespie was brought in as the director it just felt so right. There was no one better for the job.” While it’s understandable that Robbie, who was four at the time of the Tonya Harding scandal, wouldn’t recollect the bizarre news story, the frenzy that ensued will be something older generations will recall. Harding was followed day and night ahead of the games; her practice sessions at Clackamas Town Center, in Portland, were attended by thousands of spectators and packs of reporters and film crews. An old image of a glibly smiling Tonya and Nancy, side-by-side, even made the cover of TIME magazine, which ran with the scurrilous headline: “Ice Follies: The Strange Plot To Cripple Nancy Kerrigan.”
(LEFT) Top PRADA and skirt ROSIE ASSOULIN
(RIGHT) Dress and sleeves CALVIN KLEIN 2O5W39NYC and earring CARTIER
While Gillooly did time, Tonya pleaded guilty as a conspirator to the attack and served three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine. A poorly received autobiography was published in 2008, and later, the couple sold a sex tape to Penthouse. The story is as weird as it is tragic and engrossing, and it’s testament to Robbie’s increasing confidence as a producer to back such a left-field project. She tells me she’s not bothered if it’s a box office hit or not, and that her dedication to the role never wavered, despite the challenge of getting on to a cold, hard, ice rink every morning.
“Sarah Kawahara, who actually choreographed for Nancy Kerrigan, was training me. Before that point I thought I wasn’t too bad at ice skating — I used to play ice hockey. I soon realised that I’d just been running on ice, and now there was no padding. My alarm would go off at 5.30am and I’d want to cry. Sometimes after sessions I’d get back into the car and weep.”
The 80s costumes provided some relief, however. “Turns out mom jeans and scrunchies are very comfy”, she says, and also a noticeable key change in wardrobe for Robbie. “When I was playing Naomi in The Wolf of Wolf Street it was so high-tempo sexy. I was acutely aware that the line in the screenplay was ‘the hottest blonde ever,’” she sighs. “I’m clearly not the hottest blonde ever.” Robbie turns serious for a moment. “I was just terrified that people would see the movie and think ‘eugh! She’s not that great.’ For I, Tonya, the worse I looked the happier people were. Ironically Tonya wasn’t unattractive, she’s just been marred with that story. Like Daphne, Tonya, right or wrong, is human.”
Following her role as the much-vilified Tonya Harding, 2018 will also be the year we see Robbie transformed into a rather gruesome-looking Elizabeth I. The Tudors this is not; behind-the-scenes photos of Robbie in full Elizabethan garb suggest the costume department has been briefed to take a much more authentic stance for Mary Queen of Scots than other blockbuster historical dramas. Robbie’s ginger curly wig reveals a massively receding hairline and a balding scalp. She also sports a prosthetic, lumpy nose. For those who can only think of Margot’s talent and versatility as a pendulum that swings between the minxy Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street and the off-balance sexpot that is her Harley Quinn in the box office smash, Suicide Squad, next year looks to be the year of Robbie’s reckoning.
Shirt THE ROW, coat CHANEL and shorts ALAIA
We talk at length about how focus is too often placed on the way Robbie’s characters look. “It frustrates me when I work so hard to build the characters, creating childhood experiences for them that affect the way they react as an adult. All the reading, all the acting coaching, and then someone reviews the movie or interviews you and all they do is focus on the aesthetics. You think, ‘fuck you. You’ve totally discredited the work I did and it’s not fair.’”
Now 10 years into her career as an actor, I get the strong impression that the fine balance of privacy and normality is something Robbie is continually trying to strike. She famously banned phones from her wedding (“it was the best decision ever”) and still manages to enjoy “ciders in the park” despite lingering paparazzi. “Yesterday I went to see a friend in hospital. I catch the Tube by myself all the time, and yeah, maybe someone notices and they’ll take a picture when I’m not looking, and I see it online later and that feels odd, but I’d so much rather have that moment of ‘ugh’ and still have caught the Tube that day.”
Maybe it’s why Robbie’s enjoying the escapism of stepping into such unexpected roles. The anti-matriarch Daphne, the social pariah Tonya and the hook-nosed, pock-marked, Elizabeth I — her roles are becoming increasingly diverse. Perhaps it’s also part of the reason the actress is getting such a kick out of producing too. I ask her where she’d like to be in 10 years, and she doesn’t miss a beat: “directing and producing and living in a tree house.”
It’s easy to be entranced, as Cohen clearly was, by Robbie’s looks, but beneath the beauty it would seem Robbie is undergoing a deeper transformation – from an actor to a producer with serious artistic pursuits. She is the ultimate shapeshifter both on and off the screen. A Hollywood star, a producer, a real human, who goes home, sheds those skins, ties her hair up with a scrunchie and, like the rest of us, slips into sweats.
Taken from the Autumn 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.
Top YEEZY, tights TOM FORD and vintage shoes HELMUT LANG at ALBRIGHT
Bryce Scarlett at The Wall Group using Moroccannoil
Pati Durborff at Forward Artists for Laura Mercier
Alexandra Jachno at AIM Artists Agency using Chanel Le Vernis
Gia Copploa's Assistant
Gia Coppola's First Photography Assistant
Second Photography Assisant
Production and Entertainment Direction
Eugenia Gamero, Abigail Hazard and Jessica Gardener