Margot Robbie for Stellar only.
Margot Robbie for Stellar only.

Margot Robbie: ‘There’s more to discuss than my looks’

SO there will be no description of what she's wearing; no roll call of the labels in which she's clad. And there will be no discussion of how her hair is styled, no hyperbole about all the ways in which the southern California sun streaming through a nearby window might be reflecting off her blue eyes. And that's how Robbie prefers it.

"I actually really enjoy talking about looks when they relate to the characters I play," she tells.

"Hair, make-up and costume are huge aspects, and hair and make-up artists, as well as stylists, have a talent that is fascinating to watch and appreciate. And I don't hate every so often doing a piece in a beauty magazine about the looks I've done on red carpets. That stuff is interesting.

Margot Robbie is still taking Hollywood by storm. Picture: Art Streiber
Margot Robbie is still taking Hollywood by storm. Picture: Art Streiber

"I just don't like 'looks' being the focus when there are so many other things to discuss. It's a wasted opportunity to me. Sometimes I sit down, someone asks a certain question - not even necessarily looks-related - and I am thinking to myself, 'I've worked with so many interesting people. Don't you want to hear a story about [Martin] Scorsese?' If I was in their shoes, I'd be asking something different."

This affirms what many of Robbie's co-stars and collaborators have often said about her over the years: she is deeply inquisitive, keen to engage and almost painfully curious about every aspect of the filmmaking process.

Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is Tarantino's ninth film, and it remains shrouded in mystery - those who saw its world premiere screening at Cannes in May were asked to keep plot revelations to themselves.

It is also, perhaps, the most anticipated big-screen release of 2019, boasting the first-ever feature film pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, who play a fading TV star and his longtime stunt double, respectively.

Robbie at Cannes Film Festival with (from left) Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio. Picture: Getty
Robbie at Cannes Film Festival with (from left) Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio. Picture: Getty

And because it is set in Los Angeles circa 1969, during the final days of Hollywood's golden age, there is huge speculation about how avowed movie buff Tarantino captures the moment.

"I feel like I'm as excited as everyone else [for its release]," says Robbie, recalling the day she and her co-stars sat down for their first table read.

"I can't tell you how surreal it was, looking around and being like, 'Oh my gosh … there's Leo. And Brad. And there's Dakota Fanning.' So many people I never dreamt I'd get to work with, let alone in an ensemble. There is wild anticipation around it."

Robbie does not profess a flashbulb memory of her first time seeing a Tarantino film.

"I think it was," she says. "Or maybe even. Dogs. I just remember thinking, 'I'm way too young to be watching this,' but also adoring it. I couldn't articulate why at that age. But I've never stopped loving his movies - he never disappoints."

The same held true when Robbie reported for duty. Last month, fellow Australian actor Damon Herriman - who appears as cult leader Charles Manson in the film - told Stellar that Tarantino conducts an "egoless" set.

"I couldn't agree more," says Robbie.

"There is no hierarchy. It felt like family or old friends. It doesn't matter if it's a PA or a script Adviser he's worked with since the beginning, Quentin laughs and jokes and hangs out with everyone the same. You can make mistakes and try things, and you're not going to get in trouble, which is really fun."

Robbie portraying Sharon Tate in Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood. Picture: Sony
Robbie portraying Sharon Tate in Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood. Picture: Sony

A light atmosphere was no doubt crucial given the harrowing real-life truth about the character Robbie plays in the film: late actor Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant when she was stabbed to death by four of Manson's followers in a grisly mass murder in August 1969. Tarantino has observed his leading lady's resemblance to Tate, noting how "she can convey Sharon's innocence and purity".

Robbie's view is that "you can't really replicate someone aesthetically, nor do I ever want to replicate a persona. I kind of need the freedom to disassociate the real-life person from the character in order to be able to act. For me, it was about conveying her spirit in a way that felt authentic. And that kind of moves beyond the aesthetic".

Besides, she notes with a self-deprecating laugh, "To try and put that kind of pressure on yourself or the hair and make-up department is ultimately probably not that helpful."

Robbie and Tarantino ensured they had the final nod of approval from Debra Tate, Sharon's younger sister, before filming. "I spent a bit of time with her," says Robbie.

"She was generous to give me that time. And knowing that Quentin had her blessing made all the difference."

If one of Tate's legacies is her physical beauty, another is that she remains inexorably linked to the brutal manner in which her life was cut short. Robbie is keen to change that.

"Before this, any time I heard the name Sharon Tate, I immediately thought of her death," says Robbie.

"I didn't think about her life. And then it became all I thought about: how to inject this character with as much life and heartbeat as I possibly could. I wanted to bring the best parts of myself forward, and convey all of the characteristics that people mentioned when they talked about her - being angelic, or generous, or kind, or wonderful. It feels so derivative to associate someone who lived so much life with such a gruesome and horrible end."

Robbie with Director Quentin Tarantino on the set of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Picture: Sony
Robbie with Director Quentin Tarantino on the set of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Picture: Sony

Robbie did something similar with dark comedy about disgraced US figure skater Tonya Harding which she produced and also starred in, in that it aimed to reconsider a public figure's footnote in history.

"Exactly," she enthuses.

"[Sharon] had so much ahead of her. I often wonder the role she would have done next because she really was at the crest, finding her groove as an actor."

Tate's unfulfilled potential is at glaring odds with all that Robbie has achieved since arriving in Hollywood nearly a decade ago.

Back home in Australia, she was a two-time Logie nominee with 327 episodes of Neighbours to her credit, but in tension-soaked audition waiting rooms or agents' lush corner offices all over town, she was a nobody.

Before leaving the soap and heading overseas, Robbie asked producers to kill off Donna Freedman, the character she played.

"Generally once I say I'm going to do something, I stick to it and don't turn back," admits Robbie.

"That was a part of asking Neighbours to kill Donna. It's hard and scary to go on to a new aspect of your career when you don't know what's going to pan out. You have so many moments thinking, 'Oh my gosh, have I made a terrible mistake?' I didn't want to have the option to listen to my doubt and go back."

Robbie says she found those first casting calls in LA “liberating”. Picture: Art Streiber
Robbie says she found those first casting calls in LA “liberating”. Picture: Art Streiber

Robbie says she found those first casting calls in LA "liberating… I remember walking into audition rooms early on with so much to prove, and it pushed me. I wanted people to sit up and stop looking at their papers or their phones and watch me. It was great. It gave me the motivation I needed".

In 2011, not long after leaving Australia, she nabbed a role as a flight attendant in, about air travel in the go-go early '60s - a part not unlike the kinds Tate landed.

Two years later, she broke out with a role as a gold-digging wife in Wolf Of Wall Street. It was only her second film role, but already she was playing in the big league: DiCaprio was her co-star and sparring partner; Scorsese her director.

Ironically, she says, "I found it much more difficult after I did Wolf because everyone expected a certain level. That's when I started feeling really nervous before auditions: 'Oh, gosh… what if I can't be what they want me to be?' Weirdly, it was easier when they expected nothing."

Post-#MeToo, Robbie has said she has no casting-couch horror stories to tell, but that the movement still prompted reflection on what she considered sexual harassment.

"The problem's not solved," she begins.

"And it won't be a quick fix. It's ongoing, and we have a long way to go - not just between the sexes, but races, classes … all of it. But it's such a better place now than it would have been 20 or 50 years ago.

"You hear stories about actors working [during Hollywood's golden age], stories about Marilyn Monroe… you're horrified and heartbroken. And then you watch their films and they're being overly sexualised or demeaned in a comedic way.

"I'm sure everyone thought it was endearing or funny at the time, but sometimes I do watch those films and feel extremely grateful that I get to have my time now."

Eager to make systemic changes from the ground up, Robbie co-founded the production company LuckyChap Entertainment alongside two industry friends in 2014.

One of them, British assistant director Tom Ackerley, would soon become her romantic partner, as well; the two married in the Byron Bay hinterland at the end of 2016.

Together, the duo and their fellow employees harness the company's machinery to achieve its guiding objective of telling stories with strong female characters.

“Before this, any time I heard the name Sharon Tate, I immediately thought of her death.” Picture: Sony
“Before this, any time I heard the name Sharon Tate, I immediately thought of her death.” Picture: Sony

And the sprawling list of productions it has on the boil - everything from a live-action Barbie film to Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn), a spin-off of 2016's Suicide Squad centred on Robbie's character, or Shakespeare Now, a 10 part series in development with the ABC that will be based on famous works by the Bard updated and told from female perspectives - fits the brief. Onscreen and off, Robbie wants to up-end how women are talked about, portrayed, treated and perceived.

Aside from swatting away discussions of her looks, Robbie is also taking a stand for women who are conventionally expected to share when and if they plan to fall pregnant.

"I'm so angry that there's this social contract," she told the British weekly Radio Times earlier this year.

"Don't presume."

So, Stellar wonders: have those questions finally stopped?

"I haven't thought about it," she replies.

"But I think you're right - I haven't been asked it as regularly."

And yet she's the first to concede that - like many of us - she's guilty of quizzing newly married loved ones of their reproductive plans.

"I honestly feel like a massive hypocrite," she says.

"I know I've said it to friends: 'Oh, wow… when are you guys thinking of the baby thing?' And I catch myself and think, 'Why does that come out of your mouth? Why is that your first reaction?' So, I'm not pointing any fingers. But it's good to check yourself."

Margot Robbie is our cover star for this Sunday’s Stellar.
Margot Robbie is our cover star for this Sunday’s Stellar.

For now, Robbie fills the family quotient by returning to Australia as often as she can. In May, she treated older sister Anya to a ride on The Ghan and a visit to Uluru, an experience she calls "so spectacular".

She also wants to shoot a production here "as soon as humanly possible".

Until then, as the most famous Queenslander on Hollywood's A-list, Gold Coast-born Robbie is happy to wave the flag for her beloved home state… and bear the brunt of a few good-natured ribs.

"I will say I didn't know we got poked fun at until I moved to Victoria and I was suddenly hearing all of these jokes. I was like, 'What? Was Australia laughing at us and I didn't realise?'"

She laughs.

"But I'm so fiercely proud of where I come from and talk about it endlessly to everyone overseas. Every time I come back, nothing has changed as far as me feeling like the same person I was when I lived there."

Even so, the chapter that began when she moved abroad is now reaching its zenith as Robbie co-headlines a movie with two of the most famous actors of the era, one of them her first leading man on the big screen. The circuitous nature of it all is not lost on her.

"I remember seeing Leo at an event," she tells, see tell me you're doing this film and we're getting to work together again.' I obviously had more scenes with him in, opportunity early on to watch someone at that level and see how they do it. It was so helpful.

"So, I feel I have come full circle working with Leo again; it's a lovely reminder of the journey I've had so far over in Hollywood. And not just him - there are so many people on this film who inspire me. They are unbelievable, and it's thrilling. It makes you want to keep going."

 

Once Upon A Time In … Hollywood is in cinemas from Thursday, August 15.

 

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