When she’s not on the red carpet, you’ll find Margot Robbie backpacking round the Philippines. The star of Suicide Squad tells Stylist why she just can’t sit still
Margot Robbie doesn’t notice the man at the hotel bar staring at her, his tongue practically hanging out of his head, cartoon style, throughout the hour we spend together. Her eyes never flicker uncomfortably, she doesn’t betray that itchy, crawling feeling you get when a stranger’s eyes are baring into you. I’m certain it’s not simply because she’s used to male attention. It would be unjust and offensive to suggest it. Rather I wonder if it’s because her head, and schedule, are so busy that she is utterly focused on the task in hand: our chat, and in a wider sense, navigating this life-dominating new world she’s inhabiting.
This fierce focus is one that has dominated Robbie’s career, ostensibly taking her from Australian soap actress to Hollywood’s biggest breakout star in a not oft repeated move. Because for every Isla Fisher or Melissa George, there are many who haven’t made it out of Ramsay Street. Combine this with acting prowess (including an excellent mastery of accents) and sheer, bloody likability and it’s clear to see why Robbie has become a thoroughly modern force to be reckoned with.
The freshly turned 26-year-old also has me charmed within approximately 30 seconds. Our interview is at 5pm on a Monday, and she orders a Hendrick’s and tonic, as she’s “drunk so much tea all day, I can’t drink any more”. And yes, she is beautiful, but unlike the gentleman at the bar, that’s not why I’m won over. She’s funny and shrewd; laid back in that stereotypical way we expect of Australians, but with a steely ambition simmering below the surface. It’s also heartening that, despite the Hollywood trappings, Robbie worries about the same things as other 26-year-olds: house prices, Brexit and missing out on fun.
Robbie grew up modestly on the Gold Coast in Australia, with her three siblings and physiotherapist mother until a move to Melbourne at 17. There she paired couch surfing and a job in Subway with coldcalling the producers of Neighbours until she eventually got the part of Donna Freedman – a one-off appearance that morphed into a three year stretch. A strategic move to LA and a role in Pan Am followed. But it was her voracious turn as the wife of a corrupt banker (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in the Martin Scorsese-directed The Wolf Of Wall Street in 2013, that blew everything out of the water. There are few actresses that could so sublimely torment DiCaprio with the line: “Mommy is just so sick and tired of wearing panties,” let alone one so juvenile in her career.
This summer things have shifted up another gear. Firstly in The Legend Of Tarzan as Jane to Alexander Skarsgård’s eponymous hero. And next, and this is the exciting one, is Suicide Squad alongside Will Smith, Jared Leto and Viola Davis. A comic book adaptation about imprisoned supervillains recruited to carry out black ops missions, Robbie plays Harley Quinn, a psychotherapist turned psychopath after falling in love with the Joker. It’s all dark anti-heroes rather than glossy buffed world savers and if rumours are to be believed – which Robbie nimbly dodges when I ask – she’ll also take centre stage in a spin off.
All this means she’s not spent much time at home: South London, where she rents with three others including her boyfriend Tom Ackerley, an assistant director she met filming Suite Française, and her pet rat, called Rat Rat. “The Northern line will always have a special place in my heart” she laughs, before admitting to a fondness for ‘legendary’ Clapham nightclub Infernos. Interestingly the roomies have recently become business partners, with the four of them setting up a production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, which is currently working on I, Tonya about ice-skater Tonya Harding, who Robbie will also play, and Terminal, a dystopian thriller.
With her star firmly in orbit, Stylist asked her what it means to be living the Hollywood dream…
Was the world of comic books something you were interested in growing up?
Not at all [laughs] just because I wasn’t exposed to them. Then at 24 I became a comic book nerd! People hand me comics to sign, and when it’s one I haven’t read I’m like, “Wait, where did you get that?” And try to remember so I can look it up online later.
What’s the appeal?
They are really smart and can convey so much in one little frame plus the DC comics are really, really dark sometimes.
Are you a natural reader?
No, my attention span is not so good. But if I love a book I will read it repeatedly – the Harry Potter series, I have read probably 30 times.
Are you more visual then?
I have a really vivid imagination, I have the weirdest dreams every single night. I have written them down a few times and frightened myself so I stopped. I literally ripped out the piece of paper because I thought, ‘Someone might put me in a mental asylum if they read this.’
Harley is a comic book heroine – which we haven’t seen much of previously. Is that important?
Totally! And it’s not just comic book films, it’s all films. I think the industry has recognised that half the ticket sales are female moviegoers, so you need to provide. It is important to have characters like Harley; it is super important to be flawed, no-one is perfect. It’s a bold thing to tackle and I am glad we did it.
I’m from the generation that religiously watched Home And Away, then Neighbours and then had our tea. As a soap alumna, what was your experience?
I didn’t watch much TV, I watched movies all the time. I joined the show to play a guest role, I didn’t even know that you could do acting as a job. When I got there [Neighbours] I talked to people saying, “So you have been here for 17 years and you don’t have another job?” I thought, ‘Wow, you bought a house and supported your family. I could do this for a job. That is amazing.’
Tina Fey says she loves working with soap actors because they “make a choice and don’t overthink it”. Is there truth in that?
Oh for sure, I love it too. When you are working with someone who is actively thinking ahead, I want to know that too because it means we’ll have a 40 minute break and what could I get done in a 40 minute break? A lot of actors don’t work that way and I think that is good but they will chat with the director and there are 200 people waiting and then they have just wasted $30,000 to have a conversation but everyone is so scared of ruining the creative process…
Is money something you are sensitive to?
Yeah, when I see something like ‘half price drinks’ I am like, ‘Brilliant we should get twice as many then’.
I noticed when the waiter came over, you didn’t order prosecco because it’s only sold by the bottle. You don’t like waste?
I grew up in a family where you can’t leave food on your plate so that would make me anxious.
So is it nice now that you can help out your family financially?
It’s literally the best part of the job, 1,000%. But it’s also a really weird position. Someone who has been in the industry longer than me explained it. They said, “It’s like giving out medicine and too much is not going to help, you could end up killing someone by overdosing them, you need to give them enough to achieve what they need at that moment.” I asked, “But how do you know?” There is no perfect way of doing it, it is just something to be aware of.
Not long after leaving Neighbours you got The Wolf Of Wall Street. That’s like if I had graduated from university and went straight into being Anna Wintour...
That is a wonderful analogy. It was like diving in headfirst, it was thoroughly overwhelming.
When you do something so huge so early in your career, is there ever any fear of what you then work towards?
I know, I remember thinking, ‘What could I possibly do after this?’ But you just keep going. What are you going to do? Stop altogether? Drop the mic? I thought, ‘I will never enjoy a character as much as this one,’ and then you play another character and I’m like, ‘I love this character’.
As a film fan, what is the best thing you have seen recently?
I have been in Budapest [filming Terminal] so I haven’t seen a movie in three months. Usually I like going to the movies about twice a week and yet I haven’t seen something in so long, it is really depressing.
Is that something that you can rectify anytime soon?
I can’t even get half an hour to make phone calls at the moment so not right now, but hopefully at some point it will mellow out. I think in August…
How does it feel to have so much of your life mapped out?
It’s actually weirdly comforting because [as an actor] most of the time you don’t know what you are going to be doing the next week. But it changes so quickly. You promise someone you’re going to come to their wedding or whatever it is and inevitably you never can. There are so many times when you have to let people down. It is really hard to make your friends who aren’t in the industry understand, if I had the power I would [be there] but I literally don’t get a say in it. I am not allowed to pick my nail polish colour let alone tell you if in four months’ time I will be in Australia, it’s really hard.
Are you able to spend much time with your mum?
Nowhere near enough, I get snippets of a phone call. But I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t want to. And there are times when I draw the line. In 10 years I don’t want to look back and think I missed anything important, so if that means getting on a plane and flying for two days to spend 18 hours at home I’d rather do that. Like my mum’s 60th and my friend’s wedding in a couple of months, I’ll fly back for one day and fly all the way back after. I got it written into my contract because if you just ask for the days off they say, “Well we’ll lose $50,000 if you do that,” and obviously you don’t want to be the d*ck who’s like, “Sure, I don’t care if you lose $50,000”.
Are you a good negotiator?
Fortunately I don’t have to negotiate that kind of thing, my attorney does. I am too much of a pushover.
Does it feel like something you should get better at?
I am getting better at saying no to things. Maybe it’s just part of getting older?
Perhaps but equally some people are able to separate saying no, with worrying about what people think of them…
Oh my god yes, even a stranger… I won’t sleep that night, worrying ‘I think they thought I meant that and I didn’t’. It stresses me out.
What’s your go-to news site to stay informed?
TheSkimm. You get an email every day with an overview of everything that is happening in the world. It is so, so good
How are you feeling about Brexit and the aftermath?
I am so bummed. That was really shocking. The repercussions are massive. It sucks but it is such a good wake-up call to everyone about what is going on in the political climate and to vote. For a while I was like, ‘Should I buy a house [in the UK]?’ And now I am like, ‘Nope, probably not!’ I love London no matter what. London is its own thing, it’s not all of England. But it sucks.
It’s a big year for sports. Will you be watching the Olympics?
Yeah! I find pole vaulting fascinating, because it is one of those things I have never done and I don’t understand the physics. But my favourite sport to watch is ice hockey, I support the [New York] Rangers. I discovered it by watching The Mighty Ducks – we didn’t have ice hockey on the Gold Coast so I played field hockey at school and then when I moved to LA I could finally play it. My insurance [company] won’t let me play now.
Australia, LA, London… travelling seems to be a real Australian state of mind.
They love it! Literally anywhere you go in the world, half the hostel will be Australian, I’m like, ‘Is there anyone left in Australia?’ I have always loved travelling but I didn’t have the opportunity to do it when I was younger. Fortunately, I had friends who would go on a nice holiday and invite me because they knew I hadn’t really got to travel much. I don’t know if they knew what they were doing for me: it’s life-changing going overseas. I picked Italian at school because that meant I could do an exchange trip for two months when I was 16.
Can you remember the first trip that opened your eyes to the world?
South America with my boyfriend at the time and his family. Machu Picchu looked like one of the levels in Mario. I was so mind boggled that somewhere in the world existed like that. I wanted to go home and scream at everyone, “You need to go see this!”
Would you like to repeat one of those big adventures now?
The trips I did when I was 19 are so different now that I am older. We were in the Philippines last year backpacking for a month, but even the activities like jumping off a waterfall I was like, ‘This is dangerous’! And I never thought about that ever – I would talk to anyone, get in any car, go anywhere. Now I am older I do stop and consider, ‘Is this a good idea?’
But you still favour backpacking…
I spend so much time in hotels and a nice hotel is the same in any country. But if you go backpacking and stay in houses that belong to the locals, and meet other travellers who have spent more time in that country and can tell you about some sort of secret walking path, that is when you really experience a country.
On the same note why do you still live with friends now you can afford not to?
I grew up in a very busy household so I find comfort in that. I hate quiet, I hate being on my own. I think I want it all the time because I am never, ever alone but all I need is five minutes and then I want to know what everyone is doing.
Are you worried you are missing out?
I have massive FOMO all the time and I hate not being productive. If I sit still for five minutes I can think of 35 things I should be doing. I write lists all the time so I always have the next thing in priority order of what I need to be accomplishing.
Have you always been a planner?
I hate the idea of wasting time, it petrifies me. Even on school holidays I would write everything I could accomplish that day: build a cubby, go for a swim, have lunch, make a birthday card… I envy friends who, when I ask, “What are you doing today,” say, “Oh, I am just going to chill”. I am like, “But chill doing what?” And they are like, “Nothing”. I am like, “I would love to do nothing. What is nothing?”
Do you think that helped you get your career to where it is now?
Yeah I’d probably be sitting on a beach somewhere going travelling, never coming back. I would probably be having a lovely life, just a different one.
Suicide Squad is in cinemas nationwide from August 5