Margot Robbie is the latest girl from nowhere to become a Hollywood star

Margot Robbie in Valentino, photographed by David Slijper for Harper’s Bazaar

Kitty (Jean Harlow): ‘Do you know that the guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?’

Carlotta (Marie Dressler): ‘Oh, my dear, that’s something you need never worry about…’


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– From Dinner at Eight (1933)

Jean Harlow was Hollywood’s first ‘blonde bombshell’. Not that there hadn’t been fair-haired actresses in films before, all the way back to Clara Bow. But the star of Platinum Blonde was something else: ‘a glowing white sexpot’, according to the great lexicographer of cinema, David Thomson.

Finally a tragic figure, dead at 26, Harlow is by no means Thomson’s favourite Hollywood blonde, nor Martin Scorsese’s, though the latter gallantly chose Gwen Stefani to play her in The Aviator. Much more Thomson and Scorsese’s speed is Carole Lombard, the smart, funny screwball star. Lombard died young too, but unlike poor Harlow, she was nobody’s fool.

Neither, based on an afternoon and an evening spent in her company, is the very latest bombshell to detonate: Margot Robbie, a dazzling 24-year-old Australian who, in her breakthrough as Leonardo DiCaprio’s trophy wife in Scorsese’s priapic epic, The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as in her first lead role, opposite Will Smith in Focus, plays the archetypal blonde on the make: flirty, ambitious and sexually available.

I meet Robbie for lunch at the Ham Yard Hotel in central London. She arrives in a hurry – we’ll soon learn she does everything in a hurry – in a vintage Rolling Stones singlet; ripped black jeans from Frame Denim; ankle boots from AllSaints; a Carven coat; and carrying a red Chanel bag.


One doesn’t have to be a professional casting director to recognise that Robbie is as perfect a specimen of young womanhood as a film-maker could hope to find. With her honeyed skin, her mega-watt eyes and her widescreen smile, it’s almost as if she’d arrived pre-CGI’d, a Disney princess sprung to life. Were the makers of Frozen ever to consider a live-action version of their animated phenomenon (as if they aren’t already), they could do worse than cast Robbie as Elsa, the vanilla-haired ice queen, so uniform are her features, so uncomplicated is her appeal.

As a lunch date Robbie is equally fit for purpose. She’s sunny, lively, unpretentious – in a word, Australian – and obviously determined to extract the maximum enjoyment from any situation. But she’s no pushover: as will become clear, Robbie is also driven, dedicated and resolute. There is grit behind the grin.

Robbie is a country girl from just outside the Gold Coast, a small city in southern Queensland. In this, too, she is part of a noble tradition: the girl from nowhere who becomes a star. The Gold Coast might as well be the moon as far as Hollywood is concerned, but then, so might Kansas City, Missouri, where Jean Harlow started out; or Fort Wayne, Indiana, home town of Carole Lombard. Or even, for that matter, Orange County,where before she was Madame de Tourvel and Catwoman, Michelle Pfeiffer was a supermarket checkout girl. Pfeiffer’s breakout – her bombshell moment – was as Elvira, the junkie gangster’s moll in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). She entered the movie, and the dream lives of moviegoers, in a glass elevator, sheathed in clinging aqua-blue, her back turned to us and to Al Pacino’s lust-stunned hoodlum. Pfeiffer wasn’t entirely unknown in 1983, but this is where she made her indelible mark.

Margot Robbie was not without experience when The Wolf of Wall Street was released, on Christmas Day 2013. She’d done three years on the daytime soap opera Neighbours and had had a role, too, as a runaway bride in Pan Am, a jet-age American TV drama – Mad Men at 30,000 feet – that was grounded after a single series. Plus she’d played posh totty, with a very serviceable English accent, in a Richard Curtis rom-com, About Time. But to most cinemagoers she was unknown when she breezed into Scorsese’s bawdy satire of late-20th-century overconsumption.


Robbie’s character, Naomi Lapaglia, was described in the screenplay as ‘the hottest blonde ever’. Along with ‘every other actress in town’, she sent in her video with no expectation that it would even be watched. It was Ellen Lewis, the eminent casting director and veteran Scorsese collaborator, who passed Robbie’s video along to the director; Lewis it was who put Stefani into Jean Harlow’s shoes for The Aviator and Cameron Diaz into Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. When the call came for an audition, Robbie was in London. She remembers the date – 3 June 2012 – because it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend, and she’d been invited to join some fellow Aussies for a picnic: an all-day event that turned into an all-nighter.

Over to Robbie for what happened next: ‘I get home at six in the morning to all these missed phone calls and my team is saying, “You are on a plane in a couple of hours to New York to read with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.” So: race to the airport, get to New York, go straight to see Ellen Lewis, she takes one look at me, I’m wearing jeans, flat boots, and she says, “No. Here’s what you’re going to do: SoHo’s right there. Lots of stores. You’re going to get a really tight, short dress and the highest pair of heels you can find.”‘

Cut to the audition the following day. ‘OK, so: big open room, video camera, Ellen Lewis is filming. Just me, Marty and Leo.’ In the scene, Robbie’s character and DiCaprio’s character, the degenerate financier Jordan Belfort – the Wolf of the title – are on their first date. ‘We get three lines into it and he says something and, subconsciously, I roll my eyes. And Leo’s like, “What was that look for?” And I’m thinking, in my head: “That’s not a line! Is he really asking me that? Should I explain?” And then I realise he’s ad-libbing. I’m like, “Oh, shit. He’s improvising! I need to improvise now!”

‘So I’m failing miserably. And Leo’s phenomenal. He’s powerful. He can do his part and he can do your part at the same time with his eyes closed. I’m barely getting a word in. When I do it’s not anything interesting – I just look pathetic.’


Next scene. The characters are now married, and mid-argument. Robbie again: ‘In my head I was like, “You have literally 30 seconds left in this room and if you don’t do something impressive nothing will ever come of it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, just take it.” And so I start screaming at him and he’s yelling back at me. And he’s really scary. I can barely keep up. And he ends it saying, “You should be happy to have a husband like me. Now get over here and kiss me.” So I walk up really close to his face and then I’m like, “Maybe I should kiss him. When else am I ever going to get a chance to kiss Leo DiCaprio, ever?” But another part of my brain clicks and I just go, Whack! I hit him in the face. And then I scream, “Fuck you!” And that’s not in the script at all. The room just went dead silent and I froze.

‘I’m thinking, “You just hit Leonardo DiCaprio in the face. They’re going to arrest you because that’s assault. You’re definitely never going to work again, that’s for sure. They’ll probably sue you as well in case there’s a bruise on his face and he needs to film something else.”

‘And then all of a sudden Marty and Leo just burst out laughing. Marty says, “That was great!” Leo’s like, “Hit me again!”‘

A week later they called her back in and offered her the part. ‘I walked out, got in the elevator, and did that silent stupid dance you do.’ She was 22. The film changed her life. ‘Totally. None of this would have happened without it. Or if it did, it would have taken another five years, 10 years.’


That last bit sounds speculative. But I suspect she fully believes she would have got here anyway, eventually, without Marty and Leo and Ellen Lewis and that panicked celebrity face-slap. The way she tells it, she never lacked for self-belief.

Maggot, as she is known by friends and family, is from fruit-farming stock on both sides, the third of four children – girl, boy, girl, boy – raised by a single mother, Sarie. Her childhood was spent shuttling between the mountains near the Gold Coast and a small country town, Dalby, where most of her extended family lives. It was, she says, a relatively simple life, rural and outdoorsy.

Sarie – the spitting image, I’m told, of her famous daughter – is a physiotherapist who worked with the elderly when her children were younger, and now does the same for disabled kids. (‘Heart of gold,’ says her daughter, whose most cherished accomplishment to date is the fact that, on her mother’s 60th birthday last year, Robbie was able to pay off the mortgage on Sarie’s house.)

Robbie’s contact with her father, a former farm-owner, is, she says, limited. When I ask what qualities she shares with her dad she says: ‘None. Nothing. I’m not like him at all.’ It’s the only time she seems reluctant to expand on a topic.


She studied drama at school but had no expectation that she would ever do it professionally. But when she was 16 – simultaneously cleaning houses, making sandwiches in Subway and working in a surf store to make ends meet – she was approached to act in a low-budget B movie, shooting nearby. She’s embarrassed, now, about this and another one – she says she’s never seen either and doesn’t think they were even released – but they were her start. She found an agent, auditioned for a TV show and, at 17, found herself for the first time in Melbourne, friendless and all but penniless, sleeping on the couch of a ‘scary-looking dude’ called Mark who turned out to be ‘the loveliest person in the world’.

She put in repeated calls to the makers of Neighbours and finally won an audition and a part. She got the call when she was in Canada, on a snowboarding trip with her then boyfriend, ‘driving around in a van that didn’t have a door’. She had to borrow the money for the flight home and turned up on set in Melbourne with a snowboard. ‘I started immediately – I didn’t even get back to the Gold Coast to pick up clothes for a couple of weeks. Worked five days a week, 17 hours a day, full on. That was my life for the next three years.’

Here’s the really ambitious part. Almost as soon as she got the job on Neighbours, she started preparing for Hollywood: saving money, taking acting classes on her days off, employing a dialect coach to teach her to speak with an American accent, endlessly badgering her new agent to get her auditions in LA. Five days after her three-year Neighbours contract ended, she moved to California.

In LA she auditioned for a TV remake of Charlie’s Angels and was offered Pan Am instead. That took her to New York, where she spent most of her 21st year; and, in the summer of 2012, The Wolf of Wall Street, and the stardom that amorality can bring.

Robbie’s character is introduced in DiCaprio’s voiceover, reverentially, as ‘a former model and Miller Lite Girl’, as if there could be no greater qualification for a wife and mother – or higher aspiration for a woman. We glimpse her briefly, writhing on a bed in her underwear. But to meet her properly, DiCaprio must wait until he throws a party, which she enters, like Pfeiffer’s Elvira, in an electric-blue dress, on the arm of another man, quickly disposed of. Her cutie-pie voice is laced with vituperative venom and a thick Brooklyn twang. She seduces DiCaprio by the simple expedient of quickly removing all her clothes and later teases him by flashing him in their daughter’s nursery: ‘Mommy is just so sick and tired of wearing panties,’ she mews. Then she pushes her stiletto heel into his face.

‘She might be manipulative and conniving, but she’s fearless,’ says Robbie of Naomi. ‘She grew up in Brooklyn and she wants a better life and she’s like, “I can get it from this guy.” And the way she manipulates him and drives him crazy is with her sexuality. She is such a bad-ass. She’s like, “Fuck it, if that’s what it takes, then I’ve got that. I’ve got it in spades. Boom!”‘

Boom, indeed. As you might expect, one of the more impactful Hollywood debuts of recent years opened plenty of doors, and Robbie has been glad to step through them. In Suite Française

, the screen adaptation of Irène Némirovsky’s novel of France under Nazi occupation, Robbie had a small part, her first non-blonde, as a defiant farm girl. For 


, out now, she’s back to bombshell, as a thief who steals the heart of Will Smith’s con man, with the help of a pink bandage dress that she hated wearing and a killer black bikini. The film is a glossy divertissement, with just enough verve that you don’t really mind the fact your pocket is being picked. And of course, Robbie looks sensational.

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Behind the scenes: Margot Robbie April 2015

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Also in the can: Z for Zachariah, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine as the other points of a post-apocalyptic love triangle. Then, later this year, Robbie will begin work on a comic-book blockbuster, Suicide Squad, with Smith again, plus Cara Delevingne and Jared Leto. And, just as Michelle Pfeiffer parlayed Elvira into Catwoman in Batman Returns, so Robbie’s turn as Naomi wins her the part of a comic-book femme fatale, in her case Harley Quinn (say it out loud for a clue as to what she’ll be wearing).

Before that she’ll be swinging through the trees in a new big-screen Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgard as the lord of the jungle and Robbie as Jane. That one took up most of her 2014, shooting in England – which was convenient, because in January of last year she decided to become a Londoner. She shares a house in Clapham with Sophia, her assistant and best friend from back home, as well as three Englishmen, all met on film sets over the past few years. ‘It’s the most fun ever,’ she says of life in leafy south London. ‘We’re like a little family.’ An ideal family weekend? ‘Infernos!’ she all but shouts. She’s then incredulous to discover I’ve never heard of the place. ‘You don’t know what Infernos is? Well, according to the sign outside, it’s the best club south of the river. It’s notorious.’ Incredible but true: at least every other Friday, a visitor to Infernos will likely be able to witness Hollywood’s hottest bombshell on the podium, giving it everything she’s got to the Backstreet Boys or 50 Cent, or the Baywatch theme. ‘Anything goes at Infernos,’ she says. Before the young men of London begin a stampede to Clapham, Robbie has news. ‘I’m officially off the market,’ she confesses, confirming that she has a boyfriend: an Englishman, Tom Ackerley, an assistant director she befriended while shooting Suite Française

 in Belgium.

It sounds to me, I say, like she’s having a rather good time. In fact, she says, the only clouds on her horizon are those that always shadow modern rise-to-fame stories: a rapacious tabloid press, pestilent paparazzi and mean-spirited below-the-line internet commentators. The unwelcome attentions of the press are well documented; so much so that even though the experiences are extreme – Robbie tells me she is frequently left ‘shaking like a leaf and almost in tears’ following a paparazzi pursuit, and that just passing through an airport has become so traumatic that ‘I can’t sleep for three nights before a flight because I’m so anxious about it’ – she understands that people are tired of hearing it.


Less often discussed are the pressures the entertainment industry puts on those same young women to conform to strict codes of behaviour, if only to ensure that their personal brand remains intact so that they can win endorsements. ‘For example,’ she says, ‘for a while, photographers stood outside my house waiting for me to look my absolute worst. They would follow me and wait and wait and wait and hide. The minute I eat a burger, drink a beer, have no make-up, they will take 10 million pictures and pick out the three that look the most heinous and post those. Then everyone tears it apart. But I can deal with that, that’s fine – if you want to be an actor you have got to deal with that kind of stuff and I can.

‘But then I get a whole bunch of phone calls from the studio that I’m currently working for. “Why are we paying for a personal trainer?”, “Why is she eating a hamburger?” They’re angry, your team’s angry, you’re having to appease everyone.’

Hold on, I say. They’re angry with you for being photographed having a burger?

‘For having a hamburger. I’ll sit on the phone for hours and get berated for that.’

The sense of being constricted is powerful. While filming Focus in Buenos Aires last year, after Will Smith declined to join her and friends on a trip for ice-cream, Robbie challenged him. ‘I said, “Come with us, we’re having such fun, come get ice-cream.” And he said, “I can’t”. And I said, “I think you think you can’t because you’re so used to being in a big black car. But maybe if you just tried it you’d realise that it’s actually not that crazy.

‘And he said, “OK, Margot, let’s go get ice-cream.” Walk out, boom! Crowd of people mob him, he’s surrounded, his bodyguard has to fight these people off him. And afterwards I said, “I’m so sorry, you’re right. In future we’ll bring you back ice-cream.” It sucks.’

Is she prepared for that, if things keep going the way they are? ‘No, I would hate that. I don’t ever want that life. I mean, I’ve seen what people like Leo and Will’s lives are like. It’s weird, though. Once you have this momentum, it’s kind of too late to turn it around. I don’t really have an answer to it. I haven’t played out the scenario in my head where I can’t go to get ice-cream because there’s a mob of people. I haven’t had enough time to dwell on it, I suppose, which is probably a good thing. Just keep moving and figure it out as you go.

It’s probably not a great plan, but it’s my plan.’ She laughs, and shrugs. The night of our interview I meet Robbie again, at Harper’s Bazaar‘s Women of the Year Awards, where she collects the prize for Breakthrough star. Stunning in a backless canary-yellow dress, she makes a witty and gracious speech and then returns to the table where we’re sitting with Sophia, one of her managers, and her friend, the model Suki Waterhouse. Robbie insists we do a tequila shot with her, and then another. But she can’t really let her hair down because she’s on a plane to Australia in the morning.

All her life Margot Robbie’s been in a hurry. Now, for the first time ever, she occasionally would like things to slow down. ‘I’m like, “This is spiralling out of control. Give me a week off. I’m tired.”‘ I tell her I hope she’ll have a chance soon to catch her breath. But then she reconsiders. ‘I’ve never really been good at moving at any other kind of pace anyway,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how to.’ Spoken like a true bombshell.

This feature was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Author Alex Bilmes is editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine.

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