“I am the first to applaud other young women who make their mark in film”
– MARGOT ROBBIE
Margot Robbie delights in throwing herself into her performances. She once smacked Leonardo DiCaprio in the face while auditioning for The Wolf of Wall Street; she revelled in her character Harley Quinn’s wicked behaviour on the set of Suicide Squad, and she got so overwrought while shooting a scene in I, Tonya, the biopic about notorious American figure skater Tonya Harding, that she stormed off the set screaming at co-star Sebastian Stan. “I forgot I was acting and nothing makes me more exhilarated than when I genuinely forget where I am,” Robbie later recalled of the incident.
Her film, Mary Queen of Scots, resulted in no such extreme moments, other however, than the look the the talented Aussie adopted for her role as Queen Elizabeth I. Robbie dons white makeup and a red wig as part of the process of becoming one of England’s most illustrious and longest reigning monarchs whose epic battle with Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), the Catholic pretender to the throne, was a pivotal moment in British history. Robbie confesses to having had doubts about taking on a role that was previously inhabited by one of her screen idols, Cate Blanchett in the 1998 film, Elizabeth.
“I was terrified about playing a character that has been played by some of the greatest actresses in history, including Cate Blanchett, who is my absolute acting idol,” Robbie says. “I was also worried about playing a queen and I thought it would probably be better if they hired another actress who came from a theatre school background and had done a lot of Shakespeare. But in the end it was the kind of challenge that I decided I should take on.”
Based on John Guy’s 2004 biography of Mary Stuart, the film explores the 16th century power struggle that ensued when a newly-widowed Mary returned to Scotland hoping to reclaim her throne from her cousin, Elizabeth, who was ruling both England and Scotland. While each monarch contended with the manipulative tactics of their respective court advisors, in the end Mary was outmatched by her fearsome cousin.
Mary Queen of Scots also co-stars David Tennant (Broadchurch), Gemma Chan, Guy Pearce, and Joe Alwyn.
A native of Queensland, Australia, Robbie first gained attention in the popular Oz series Neighbours, followed by her breakout Hollywood role in The Wolf of Wall Street. She married English assistant director Tom Ackerly in December, 2016, and earlier this year they moved into a $3 million mansion in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. She recently completed work on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in which she stars as Sharon Tate.
Together with her husband, Robbie also heads up her own production company, Lucky Chap, which produced I, Tonya, a film shot on a bare bones $11 million budget and went on to earn $53 million at the global box office. Not only did Robbie earn a multi-million dollar profit on her first venture as a producer, but the movie also garnered her a best actress Oscar nomination for her critically-acclaimed performance.
Margot, you adopted a fairly extreme look to play Elizabeth. Was that at all daunting or disorienting?
Margot Robbie: It wasn’t really about going for the shock factor or ‘how can we look as crazy as possible’. The look was really born out of the fact that Elizabeth I had had smallpox really badly, which left 60 percent of people permanently disfigured, and her face was left badly pockmarked. So we see her in pale makeup and with a receding hairline.
But the heavy makeup and the corsets and the feeling of claustrophobia and physical restraint played into the whole emotional journey. That image she created for herself and the sense of being trapped in the prosthetics, which also affected my facial expressions, helped me understand why she behaved the way she did and why she closed herself off to the world of Mary.
What was your perspective on Elizabeth and Mary and their epic battle for power?
MR: What was interesting to me was how these two young women were both ruling empires but also had to contend with their own fears and doubts and their entourage of advisors. Their conflict was very much intensified by those male advisors who were determined to keep them apart and pit them against each other. Had they not been subject to that kind of manipulation I think they might have been able to reach a compromise. But instead they were both being pushed into taking a much harder line with each other.
“I’m the kind of person who, if you tell me that something is impossible, I’m going to do everything in my power to prove you wrong and make it happen”
– MARGOT ROBBIE
There is a very momentous confrontation scene between them which also happens to be the only scene between you and Saoirse Ronan in the entire film?
MR: Josie (director Rourke) deliberately kept us separate during the shoot so that we never met in hair and makeup until our characters actually do in that scene. We had seen each other as ourselves during rehearsal but never in costume as our characters.
They kept us on separate sides of the set between takes and it wasn’t until the moment that we literally confront each other for the first time that we saw each other. It felt like a punch in the gut and it just floored me and I fell apart, completely. It was my last day of shooting and I was obsessing about Mary the entire film and there she was looking young and radiant and she was holding her hand out and knowing that I wasn’t going to take her hand. It just killed me…It was an incredibly strange and emotional experience.
Have you ever had those kinds of situations in your own life where you have to confront someone and deal with serious differences?
MR: I am so bad with conflict and I avoid it at all costs. I try to defuse tensions so quickly because I never want anything to escalate to the level of actual conflict. But when I need to address issues…I pick up the phone and call people.
You run your own production company LuckyChap with your husband Tom Ackerly. So do you ever worry about the dangers of working with a spouse and getting into conflicts which have nothing to do with your relationship?
MR: I’ve been told my many people in showbiz that it’s usually a pretty bad idea to work with loved ones and close friends. But I don’t see it that way at all. I think it’s a huge advantage for me to be able to work with Tom because we love each other and know each other so well that we enjoy being able to develop and work on projects together and overcome all the challenges that you face in getting a movie like I, Tonya made and do that together.
Several of my long-time friends also work with me at our company and one of my best friends is my set assistant and so we get to spend a lot of time together and it’s nice to have a close friend around you when you’re working especially on very long days when you’re not always feeling the best.
Did you have any arguments while you were producing I, Tonya together?
MR: It was a struggle to get the financing but it was always a sense that we were in it together and we worked really well getting the film made….We wound up making I, Tonya instead of going on our honeymoon. But we both believed in this project and we were committed to pursuing our dream of doing the film. But as soon as the film was over we made up for it and it was great!
You began your career with the popular Australian TV series Neighbors. But you left when you were only 20 to make your way in Hollywood and follow the path of many other fellow Aussie actors?
MR: I basically had only three options back then. Either I would have waited until the producers at some point got rid of my character from the series, or I would have played the role forever and led a comfortable life in Australia. And the third option was to quit and see if I could make it in America which offered me more chances than Australia. Of course I could have failed, but I was willing to risk it.
” I forgot I was acting and nothing makes me more exhilarated than when I genuinely forget where I am”
– MARGOT ROBBIE
Was it always your ambition to one day make it in Hollywood?
MR: Yes. What’s funny is that when I started acting my family thought it was a hobby. It took them a few years to realise that being an actress is a profession, and only when they came to visit me in New York, and I showed them the giant poster of The Wolf of Wall Street in Times Square, that they became convinced that I was never going to go to university. (Laughs).
You’ve been playing a lot of intense characters lately, particularly in Suicide Squad, then in I, Tonya, and now again in Mary Queen of Scots. Where do you get that strength from?
MR: My mum has been a great example for me. She was a single mother raising my brothers, my sister and I by herself and we didn’t make life easy for her. We were always fighting and my mum had to be a very strong woman to hold things together. She’s an amazing woman.
What was it like growing up on a farm in Queensland (Australia)?
MR: It was perfect for kids. My siblings and I went boar hunting and surfing and I grew up learning more about agriculture and animal husbandry than you could imagine. It was not the kind of upbringing that you could ever have expected would lead anyone into acting.
Your image is that of a very pleasant and easygoing individual. But are you also very driven to succeed?
MR: I’m the kind of person who, if you tell me that something is impossible, I’m going to do everything in my power to prove you wrong and make it happen. Even when the idea of a girl from the Gold Coast making it in Hollywood seemed like a wild dream, that made me want to succeed a thousand times more.
Do you remember the first film you ever saw?
MR: I wish I could tell you that it was 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was actually George of the Jungle (1997) with Brendan Fraser, and I still love that movie. I also remember eating the popcorn my mother had made at home to save money; we took it with us to the movie theatre.
You’ve been married for nearly two years. Despite your busy schedule and the responsibility of running your own production company, do you have any plans to start a family?
MR: I’m always getting asked that question and my standard answer is that getting married doesn’t necessarily mean having a baby right after the ceremony. (Laughs.) And even though our company does have a lot of projects in the works, I don’t intend to be the lead actress in all of our productions. My goal is to collaborate with many talented women of my generation and as a matter of policy our production company is 50 percent women and 50 percent men.
Women are often seen as competing against each other for the best roles and the best jobs and I think that’s ridiculous and absolutely not true. I would like to prove that a group of girls of the same generation can work together and accomplish great things. I am the first to applaud other young women who make their mark in film.
Apparently you’ve just adopted another rescue dog?
MR: (Smiles) Yeah, we just got a new rescue pit bull pup, Belle, who’s growing at an alarming rate and going to be the size of a horse.
“We wound up making I, Tonya instead of going on our honeymoon. We both believed in this project and were committed to pursuing our dream of doing the film”
– MARGOT ROBBIE