_Margot Robbie, everything she touches turns to gold
She made a name for herself playing Leo DiCaprio's embattled wife in The Wolf of Wall Street and as the civilised girlfriend of Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan.Confirmation of her talent came with I, Tonya, the rollercoaster life story of Tonya Harding, the fallen figure skating champion of the 80s and 90s who was the first American woman to complete a triple axel at a major competition. Her role as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood enhanced her reputation further. Since then, this remarkable Australian has been riding the box-office wave with astonishing ease and undeniable talent. It's as if everything this stunning blonde touches turns to gold! Between two shoots, Ms Robbie looks back on her beginnings, her career, and reveals how she managed to avoid being swallowed up by the celebrity machine. This girl has clearly kept a cool head!
How did you fall into the world of cinema?
I have always been fascinated by the movies. Once I graduated from high school, my parents forced me to study law. They wanted me to become a lawyer! I was very capable and I think I could have worked wonders in a courtroom. But I couldn't see myself pursuing a career in law. So I dropped everything and had just one goal: to travel. The ultimate goal of my journey was to unpack my bags in Hollywood and stay there. But to do that you had to earn a living. I worked in a surf shop for two years. I then worked as a babysitter and making sandwiches for Subway. What else? Oh yes, I worked in a grocery shop, then a pharmacy. Then I was a waitress and a cleaner. But don't think that I came to the United States without any artistic training. I learnt the business from coaches for two years. I had to get rid of my Australian accent, Crocodile Dundee-style. In short, there was a lot going on! (laughs)
Was there one film above all others that made you want to perform in front of a camera?
I would love to say: Hiroshima mon amour, In the Realm of the Senses or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that's not the case! The first film that got me interested in this business was George of the Jungle with Brendan Fraser. Don't ask me why but I loved that film. My parents didn't see it coming. When I started expressing this desire to perform, they thought it would be a hobby. Something that wouldn't last. As time went on, they realised that I was super-determined and that there was no way I would be twiddling my thumbs in Hollywood.
I think the day they really knew I had become a professional actress was when I showed them a huge poster of me on a skyscraper in Times Square in New York. They were very proud. On the other hand, that was also the moment they realised that I wouldn't be going to university. It took them a long time to get past that and to understand that people could make a living from this business. You know, I come from a very modest background. Where I come from, every penny counts. We didn't spend money without thinking about it first. To give you an example, when we went to the cinema, the first thing my mother would say was how expensive the tickets were. So we choose the films very carefully. As if it were a real investment. To save money she even made popcorn at home, which we took into the theatre. We just couldn't afford to buy popcorn there. Admittedly, it was overpriced!
It's often said that Hollywood is a sham. So what misconceptions do people typically have about you?That I spend all my time lying on a yacht and spend my nights in the most stylish and exclusive parts of the world. I wish that were true! I will tell you the reality of MY experience as an actress. Most of the time I have to stay in my studio trailer reading my script and learning my lines. I also spend a lot of time sitting in a car park while make-up artists and hairdressers come to get me ready to perform for the cameras. There's nothing glamorous about it, you know! There's a big misconception about acting. Many people imagine that we get out of bed all glamorous and beautiful. Oh, if only that were true! One day I met a fan who asked me if I had staff working for me at home. When I told her that I cleaned the floors, polished the cutlery and did my own washing, she didn't believe me!
Even today I’m portrayed as a blonde with a pretty smile. The implication being there’s nothing going on in her head! I think that misconception will be around for a while longer.
Are you aware of the image you project?I'm not an image, I'm a person. In answer to your first question, I feel that I'm a very lucky actress. It was the media that labelled me a 'star'. Not me. The result is that people's perception is distorted. No, I should point out that I don't eat bucketfuls of caviar every day! I'm not being disingenuous when I tell you that I do my shopping at the supermarket or that I take the bins out myself. I'm a simple girl. There is a tendency to focus on form more than substance. I am aware that appearance is crucial in Hollywood. But I also tried not to be pigeonholed. You know, in my profession there is a tendency to ‘categorise’ actresses. The blonde, the tall one, the sporty one, the smart one, the funny one, etc. We mustn't allow ourselves to get pinned. I sincerely hope it was acting skills and not my physical appearance that caught the eye of the producers. On the other hand, I'm not a fool! (laughs)
What advice would you give to teenagers who dream of doing the same job as you?
I meet lots of young girls and I tell them there's no point in going faster than the music, skipping steps. I think that every stage of life shapes you and it's important not to rush anything. When you are 12 years old, for example, you shouldn't try to grow up at all costs to look like someone else, especially an actress. This business can bring you great rewards, great satisfaction, but you mustn't forget that before you break through, you have to overcome rejection. You go to a lot of auditions hoping to get a role and most of the time they don't pick you. It makes you start to doubt your talent, your ability. It's only those who don't throw in the towel that break through eventually. That's not only true of the film industry.
What are the downsides of stardom?
For a while there was a drone that would hover over my house. I couldn't figure out why. Until a friend explained to me that it was the paparazzi. I would also like people to understand that making a film is not at all glamorous. You spend most of your time waiting in your trailer for someone to come and get you to do your make-up, hair and finally perform your role. You’ve got the script in one hand and a latte in the other. Fortunately, during the loooooong wait, there's also WhatsApp or Skype to call my family in Australia!
A few years ago you starred in Goodbye Christopher Robin, a film about the relationship between the writer Alan Alexander Milne and his son who inspired the Winnie the Pooh books. You once said that school and books had been a great intellectual playground for you...It’s true. I know that many young people today say to themselves: "What is the point of going to school? What is the point of learning if at the end of our studies we won't find a job?” It’s nonsense to think like that. Education is a means of social advancement! It's the key to understanding the complex world around us and to better comprehend it. I often see teenagers spending a lot of time online. Why not, if you can sort through the mess, you can learn a lot. But nothing can replace a book. Teenagers often reject reading because they associate it with something adults like doing or something that school forces them to do. That's not smart. Above all, it's deepening the well of ignorance. A book teaches you to build character and expand your vocabulary. When you master a language, when you are at ease with words, I can assure you that doors open more easily...
Interview of Margot Robbie by Blush Dream magazine
How would you define celebrity?
All I know is that when it hits you the first time, it's like riding the wave of a tsunami. Some people manage to keep their balance throughout their lives. Others lose it and end up disappearing under the waves forever. You need to have inner strength and know how to follow the bubbles that will take you back to the surface. But few people in Hollywood manage to float. In any case, if a psychic had predicted ten years ago that I would one day arrive on the crest of the wave, I wouldn't have paid him for his consultation. Maybe I’d have even called him a liar!
How does your family view your fame?
I don't think it affects them in a negative way. My family has always supported me. They are all delighted that I have succeeded in this business where, as you know, there are very few chosen ones!
They call you a feminist...
I've always thought that women have a muscle that men haven't always been able to use properly; it's the muscle between our ears called the brain! You know, that spongy thing that allows you, in theory, to coordinate your movement and think!
It is said that Queen Elizabeth I, whom you portrayed so brilliantly in Mary Queens of Scots, I would say royally, would have powdered her face excessively with toxic products to hide her imperfections.
Yes, that almost clownish whiteness of her face was due to ceruse. It was a form of powdered lead! The women of that period also had reasons to show white skin. The aim was to keep a youthful and virginal appearance. It was the sought after look among women. It was essential that they gave the impression that they had never worked outdoors. Working outdoors was synonymous with poverty or the lower classes. It's also worth mentioning that ceruse was a very expensive cosmetic product that only the aristocracy could afford!
Looking back, can you tell us a bit about your transformation?At first, we all had the image in our heads of this pallid queen, with her flamboyant wigs, her crazy dresses, a big lump on her nose, then we went further in our research and discovered the effects of smallpox. The disease was wreaking havoc at that time. 60% of those who had smallpox had permanent scarring, especially on their faces. I needed 3 to 4 hours of make-up to look like Elizabeth I! At first I was worried about taking on the role of this remarkable woman. Especially as the last person to play Elizabeth was the actress I admire most in the world, Cate Blanchett (editor's note: in 1998 in the biopic Elizabeth: The Golden Age, by Shekhar Kapur). Thankfully, Josie explained that she wanted me to play her simply as a young woman. As soon as I stopped thinking of Elizabeth as an imposing queen and approached her as a woman first, I was able to understand her. I naively assumed that she had a very easy life, whereas Elisabeth's childhood was highly traumatic. And of course that didn't stop when she came to power.
And wasn't it hard having your body corseted?
I swore to myself that I would never take a role where I had to wear a corset. I hate that. It's so restrictive. But the choreographer Wayne McGregor, with whom I had already worked on The Legend of Tarzan, made me change my mind. He told me to use it as a protective cage, as a kind of armour. He also explained to me that a corset can help you keep your distance, that it gives you stature, itself symbolic of many things. He taught me how to play it.
Interview by Frank Rousseau,
our US correspondent