The cover star of Oyster #108: The Origins Issue is Margot Robbie, an actor who needs little introduction for anyone who grew up on a nightly dose of Neighbours or caught a little film called The Wolf of Wall Street.
Writer Sarah Nicole Prickett sat down with Margot in LA to play a game of M.A.T.C.H. during which details about Margot’s mum, tea preference and versatile laugh emerged. Read the full story below.
The game of M.A.T.C.H. is simple. It’s an acronym for the various structures you might one day, depending on your fortune, call home: Mansion, Attic, Toilet, Church, House. You write the five letters at the top of a piece of paper. Below you write the names of five places, usually cities or countries, in which you might live; five people you might marry; five makes of cars you might drive. You play the game with a partner, who takes a pen or pencil and makes marks on the paper until you, with your eyes closed, say stop. If the number of marks you happen to stop at is six, your partner crosses out every sixth option, going around and around the page until there is one option, no longer a choice, in each category.
Margot Robbie gets the number three because she’s impatient, or eager, or both. She is one of the most-wanted actresses in Hollywood. She is 25 years old; 26 in July. Her next movie, The Legend of Tarzan, comes out the day before her birthday; she plays Jane to Alexander Skarsgård’s Tarzan. The one after that is Suicide Squad, scheduled for release early August; she plays Harley Quinn. These two movies have a combined budget of $500 million.
On a page torn from my notebook, we start the game.
Around us is the pianissimo sound of breakfast music. The sun has been up for four hours casting a lemon-cream glow over the long, trellised roof of the Cavatina, a restaurant at the Sunset Marquis that before noon is languid, sparsely populated. Robbie’s hair is drying from the pool. Two things put her in a good mood, no matter what she has to do that day. The first is a proper swim. A Gold Coast native who surfs and dives, she hates not being near a body of water. The second is a cup of tea, like the one getting cold on the table. Upstairs in her suitcase she has five hundred bags of Dilmah, a brand of Ceylon tea she says she can only get in Australia. She was back with her mum a few weeks ago; she goes back as often as she can, but it’s never for long enough, and sometimes it will be half or two-thirds of a year before she can catch a flight south.
Robbie has been living in L.A. for two weeks in a one-bedroom suite, which is to say, a cross between a mansion (luxurious) and an attic (sequestered, or cramped). Her life right now is less lush than it sounds, she swears. For one thing, she shares a bed with her best friend and assistant, Sophia Kerr. Soph, as Robbie calls her, was her best friend before she was her assistant, which is definitely the order in which to do it, since celebrities whose assistants become their best friends strike everyone as maniacs or dopes. Margot is two things, I can say with certainty: she’s busy, and she’s grateful to be busy. After another two weeks of photoshoots and interviews and meetings, she will go home later than planned to London, where she shares a three-bedroom house with Soph, Josey, and Tom, her boyfriend since the middle of 2014. The four friends share not only living space but also a small production company, LuckyChap Entertainment.
“Like family” is the way Robbie describes her friends, or an ensemble cast, or a domestic arrangement. She grew up on the Gold Coast in Queensland with her “amazing woman” of a mother, Sarie, who works with disabled kids as a physiotherapist; her two younger brothers, Cameron and Lachlan; and her older sister, Anya. “We were a big family in a small house, which is very different from having a big family in a big house,” she notes. Until the age of 16 she shared a room with Cameron that she painted herself: green walls, a pink ceiling, a yellow door. She says she’s indecisive with small things — it takes her a few minutes, when the waiter comes, to decide on chicken-apple sausages and a brown-rice bowl — but quick to know when big things are the right ones. At 17 she landed a part on Neighbours playing Donna Freedman, an obsessive bisexual groupie who matured into a lovable but still-intense university student and fashion designer. After three years at the soap Margot moved to Hollywood. One of the most striking things about her, according to people who know her and are interviewed about her, is how much she hasn’t changed.
Weeks go by in which she spends “zero time” alone. If she does find herself in a “deathly quiet hotel room” she can’t sleep; she needs “doors banging and washing machines and people yelling and all that” in the background. “I always wish I could be alone,” says Robbie, “and then as soon as I’m actually alone for like, more than 15 minutes, I’m in a group text like, ‘What’s everyone doing?'”
This isn’t surprising for an actress, but it’s slightly horrifying to think about as a writer — one who, I tell her, sometimes stays indoors for over 72 hours. Her eyes are wide. They’re always wide, but now they’re wider. She’s resizing me, trying to get inside my head, as if I’m now the character in the story and she has to play me. She gives a gentle twitch of the head. “I’d go insane,” she says.
Her five options for places to live, in the game of M.A.T.C.H., are: Australia “of course”. London too. Then “we need somewhere random”, so Ukraine; “somewhere fun, like the jungle”, so the Congo; “somewhere really cold”, so Antarctica. There is an unspoken rule that one of the options in the game must be unappealing, one random but desirable, one or two realistic, and one or two entirely fantastical.
When, at 20, her contract with Neighbours was up, Robbie went to Hollywood with a plan and a team in place — an Australian agent; an Amerian dialect coach. She got a supporting role as one of the stewardesses on Pan Am, a mile-high drama set in the turbulent 1960s starring Christina Ricci. The show tanked after a season — reviews were bad and her performance largely unremarked on. Robbie returned to L.A. where she auditioned, along with “every actress in town”, to be the hot young wife to Leonardo DiCaprio’s white collar–crime lord in The Wolf of Wall Street. By then she had signed with an agent at CAA. She got the part.
For all the vast and accelerated star-making machinery of our age, it’s rare for an actress to have a breakout role in her first American movie, let alone a role opposite DiCaprio and directed by Scorsese. She had one role in a theatrical release before that in the bad British rom-com About Time, starring Rachel McAdams. In Wolf we are introduced to her character, Naomi, by a man’s nostalgic, longing voiceover, and by the spectacle of said man stopping in his tracks to gaze at her. The scene is a pool party and she arrives in a tight teal dress with those wide cerulean eyes and gold-plated hoops, looking seven per cent taller and slimmer than Robbie does in life (we are finally in a time when A-list actresses don’t have to be tinier in person, since whatever the camera adds, the retouchers take away). “I’d fuck that girl if she were my sister,” says one of Jordan/DiCaprio’s asinine friends. “I’d let that girl give me AIDS,” says another, upping the ante. Yet another whips his dick out in the foyer. It’s an intro so farcical it begs you to say, ‘She’s not that hot,’ and it is evidence of Robbie’s incredible ability to disarm that Naomi appears to be thinking exactly the same thing.
“I was really glammed-up in Wolf,” she explains, “so I said to my team, ‘I’m never going to get anything other than that kind of glam thing now, so we need to do something where I’m dirty.'” She needed parts that were realistic, if not quite to the point of unappealing. In the World War II period piece Suite Française, she plays a dun-haired, buxom peasant-girl in occupied France who sleeps with a German officer to get by. In her first movie with her name on the poster, 2015’s post-apocalypse drama Z for Zachariah, she’s a tough-as-land Appalachian named Ann, and yes, both the male leads (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine) want to sleep with her, but she’s also the last woman on Earth.
Currently Robbie is in talks to play “a working-class English waitress who’s also a psychopath” in an undisclosed project, and LuckyChap is developing I, Tonya, a film in which she will test the limits of belief suspension to star as Tonya Harding, the white-trash American figure skater who’s sometimes remembered as a sociopath; she’s never remembered as a beauty, and Robbie looks more like Harding’s rival, the Breck Girl–ish Nancy Kerrigan. It’s a switch and a risk for someone who doesn’t want to be the hot chick or sidekick, and it’s a switch that was precipitated in late 2014, when David Ayer sent her the script for Suicide Squad. He asked her to play Harley Quinn — she didn’t have to audition — and “for the first time,” she says, “I thought that I had the best character in the movie. I wouldn’t trade my character in Suicide Squad for anyone else’s.”
Harley Quinn is the coolest and best-selling character not only in Suicide Squad but in the Marvel and DC comic-book universes combined. A top hospital psychiatrist who falls in love with the Joker and becomes a low-level psycho in clownface, then a card-carrying member of the Rogues Gallery and at last a dramatically conflicted menace with a sick-sweet sense of humour, she is a complete package of hopelessly damaged goods. To be the first live-action cinematic incarnation of a female comic-book character, especially one so sui generis, is an absolute boon.
“The comics are rad,” says Robbie. When she’s excited about something, her warm voice gets scratchy, almost hoarse. “I hadn’t read any growing up, but now I’m obsessed. I read them in my own time. We went to Comic-Con this year and I didn’t get to be in and amongst it because we were shooting, but the energy is insane. People are nuts. I could go as Harley Quinn in the actual costume from the movie, and somebody there would have a better one.”
Robbie’s voice gets hoarse when she talks about random videos on YouTube. She learns regional accents by finding ordinary people — a little girl from Appalachia, say — and playing their videos on loop, but she also spends hours following link after link to get to “the weirdest shit, like videos of people exploding Diet Cokes by putting Mentos in them.” She can’t wait to watch a video I tell her about of Adele at an Adele impersonator contest. Ditto a supercut of Julianne Moore crying, which is relevant because Moore got her start on a soap opera, kind of like Robbie, and also like Harley Quinn, whose roller-derby court-jester look was inspired by a dream sequence starring Arleen Sorkin on Days of Our Lives. Robbie loves the randomness of this trivia. She describes Neighbours as boot camp for actors, and remembers being able to cry as easily as smile, which is weird, she says, because in real life she never really cries.
If Robbie had a supercut, it would be of her laughing. “I have a horrible laugh,” she moans. “I sound like a crow protecting its young. Then you meet those girls who laugh like, ‘A-ha-ha-ha!'” Her a-ha-ha-ha is a fine piece of mockery, an uncanny Valley girl laugh. “And you’re like, ‘Fuck you. Let loose. Give us a real laugh.’ But my friends would always say, when they would watch one of my movies or whatever, ‘I was watching it and I honestly didn’t see you. It wasn’t you. I was totally in it. And then you laughed and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s Margot, that’s right.’ And I was like, ‘Shoot, I’ve really gotta work on that. I’ve gotta come up with a different laugh for each character because it’ll take people out of it for a minute.'” For the role of Harley Quinn she came up with as many laughs as personalities, from a low warning giggle to a demented snigger to, most terrifyingly, a silent and open-mouthed jeer. The night before our interview I watch the trailer three times, and by the time I get to breakfast the only character I can remember in it is hers.
In the game, her five options for careers to have are: movie star, stage star, Adele impersonator, tampon-disposal worker, and stripper. The stripper one is half appealing, half unappealing, “because it could be fun but your family won’t be happy about it.”
West Hollywood now is a long way from the Hollywood of old. Actresses were cultivated by the studios to play themselves over and over again, to have distinct faces and personalities — to have, in other words, a strong personal brand. To be a studio-type actress today is to have a brand that is, above all, accessible, to err on the side of being commercial, friendly, even boring, the better to relate to one’s audience or disappear entirely inside disparate roles. It’s also to pretend that drama doesn’t exist off the screen. Margot Robbie can look like Grace Kelly, but she can’t be a princess. Nor can she be any kind of punk. Two decades ago at the Sunset Marquis, in a suite like Robbie’s but bigger, Courtney Love used hotel stationery to write suicide notes to Kurt and to her daughter. A few months before that, Love met the director Joel Schumacher to campaign for the role of Harley Quinn in Batman Unchained; she was on a lot of drugs, not allegedly. Batman Unchained never got made. Love survived. The era did not.
Robbie mostly uses the hotel stationery to write letters to her mum or to her boyfriend. She sends postcards to friends in Australia because it’s nice to get mail that isn’t a bill, and no one gets that these days. When she’s in London she’ll leave little notes signed xx m around the house for Soph or Josey, and she also likes to burn and give away mix CDs. She listens to songs on repeat, her latest being a genuinely old-school R&B song by The Spinners, ‘The Rubberband Man’. She plays it for me. The lyrics go:
Hey ya’ll, prepare yourself for the Rubberband Man
You’ve never heard a sound
Like the Rubberband Man
You’re bound to lose control—
“You get the picture,” she says, and turns it off. After a little self-deprecation about being “stuck back in the day”, she laments the part of “back in the day” in which “you could be a rock star, and now you can’t be a rock star — not in that sense of like, being totally wild.” She likes to entertain by bro-ing out rather than ‘opening up’ in her interviews, telling stories of how she slapped DiCaprio in the audition for Wolf or punched Skarsgård in a sex scene in Tarzan. One time on the set of Focus she and Will Smith took a frolicsome series of pics in a photo booth, and the next week she was a homewrecker in the tabloids. She hasn’t had a hint of a scandal since. “I’m a nun, compared to my peers,” she says, before whipping off a sneaker to show me her naked left foot, where she keeps all her stick ‘n’ poke tattoos. If she could get anything, she says, she’d get a giant back tattoo of Salvador Dalí’s elephants on stilts.
It’s impossible to see a girl like this as a rock star, or even as wild. It’s easier to see her as a stripper: practical, tough, and wise, with good taste in bad tattoos. She saves money. She weighs all her risks. Her favourite movies growing up were “the ones we had on VHS”, many of which starred Goldie Hawn. The list of directors she’d die to work with is a list of men who win the right awards: “Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson. Derek Cianfrance, also. Spike Jonze.” As for her favourite Wes Anderson movie, it’s whichever Wes Anderson movie she saw most recently: “I’m like, ‘Now Grand Budapest is my favourite! No, Life Aquatic is!'”
Robbie spends most of her time with people who work behind the scenes, and avoids anywhere the tabloids might deem a “hot spot”, but that doesn’t mean she can speak her mind off the record either. Assistant directors — like Tom and also Josey — have “no patience with actors because they have to deal with actors the most, I guess. It seems like they hate actors. So I never come home from work and go, ‘Oh, it’s really hard,’ because they’ll go, ‘Ooh, it’s so hard for you, blah blah,’ and they’ll just rip into me. So I don’t say anything.” Instead, when Tom or Josey come home with a story about how “this fucking person did this,” she makes a mental note: Never do that, Margot. Never say that.
She does complain to Tom, who is very cute and has 213 Instagram followers to her two million, about how no guys ever hit on her. “Seriously,” she says. “Except in L.A., which is so soul-crushing in some ways but so confidence-boosting in other ways — even though it’s in the least flattering ways possible.
Every time I’m in L.A. it’s like, I’ll be in CVS looking at tampons and someone will come up and say, ‘Wanna get dinner?’ And I’ll be like, really? Now? Was there something about this scenario that could be romantic?”
There are few scenarios in the life of a most-wanted actress that seem romantic. It seems a lot more mathematical than romantic, but it’s also beginning to look like the game of M.A.T.C.H., the way most of the options, in a relentless calculation, get crossed out. Her five options for men to marry are: Tom, naturally. Joaquin Phoenix, of whom she’s a long-term fan. Donald Trump, the least appealing person we — or anyone, at the moment — can think of. She’s having trouble thinking of more, so I suggest Nate the waiter, whose moon-eyed attentions to Robbie all morning are proof that Lyle Lovett gave a lot of guys hope. To make up for Nate (poor Nate) we add Ryan Phillippe, but only in Cruel Intentions.
Robbie takes the game “so seriously”, she says in a voice that embodies the emoji for ‘eye roll’, though I’m not sure she’s joking. When I accidentally count four instead of three and cross out the wrong option she leaps to correct me. She gives a genuine “oh nooooo” when Tom’s name is crossed out and a kindly “awwww” when Nate’s name goes, and a barely exaggerated shrug when ‘movie star’ goes. “Whoa,” she says at the results.
According to the game, Margot Robbie’s future involves living in an attic with Donald Trump, working as an Adele impersonator in Australia. She shouts as she reads this out loud. She cackles. She cacchinates. She does sound like a crow but she looks like a swan doing it, and she doesn’t care anyway. She laughs and laughs.
“At least I’ll be in Australia,” she says.
Suicide Squad premieres on August 4, 2016.
Read the full feature on Margot Robbie in Oyster #108: The Origins Issue, out now!
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Words: Sarah Nicole Prickett
Photography: Max Doyle
Fashion: Naomi Smith
Hair: Mara Roszack @ Starworks Group
Make-up: Sabrina Berdani @ The Wall Group
Nails: Millie Machado @ Tracey Mattingly
Production: Flower Ave Production
Special thanks to Patrick Corcoran, W Los Angeles & Elyx House, Los Angeles.