MARGOT ROBBIE ALWAYS thought that once she was a good enough actor, she would write Quentin Tarantino a letter. Just to get on his radar. Or at least to let him know how much his movies meant to her. She was sure people must tell him that all the time. But still. “I’ve always been a huge—huge—Tarantino fan,” she tells me one afternoon in Los Angeles. “I love his movies. Love them.” After Robbie watched the first cut of I, Tonya, the 2017 biopic about figure skater Tonya Harding, which Robbie produced and starred in, she decided she was finally good enough. (The performance would earn her an Oscar nomination.) “So I wrote him and said, ‘I adore your films, and I would love to work with you in some capacity. Or any capacity.’ ”
When Tarantino received Robbie’s letter, he’d recently finished the script for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a romp through the movie industry of the late 1960s, which opens this month. Friends who’d read the script had already asked if he’d be casting Robbie in the role of Sharon Tate, the actress, wife of Roman Polanski, and most famous victim of the Manson murders. Then Robbie’s letter arrived. The timing was spooky enough that Tarantino thought they should meet. Soon Robbie was sitting at the director’s kitchen table, reading the script. Robbie is a careful reader; it took her four hours. Tarantino would occasionally pop in to offer her food or a Victoria Bitter, an Australian beer. When I later ask Tarantino what made Robbie right for the role, he tells me, “Margot looks like Sharon Tate. . . . And she can convey Sharon’s innocence and purity—those qualities are integral to the story.”
Tarantino’s film is about the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but Robbie, who is 28, has come to represent so much of what’s new. As an Australian soap actress, she entered Hollywood being typecast. She played the bronzed, gold-digging beauty in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, the hot blonde explaining mortgage bonds from a bubble bath in 2015’s The Big Short, and Jane following Alexander Skarsgård’s Tarzan into the Congo. But it turned out Robbie wanted more than these roles. It turned out she wanted to put on a fat suit for I, Tonyaand to cover her face in boils for Mary Queen of Scots and to produce female-driven projects via her production company, LuckyChap Entertainment. Part of the charm in Robbie’s Tarantino story is that it—like the film itself—sounds very old Hollywood: An aspiring actress writes a fan letter to an auteur director in hopes of getting cast in one of his nostalgia-loving films. But Hollywood is changing, and while Robbie may have arrived at the end of an era, she is now among the women ushering in a new one.
Today we’re on the set of Birds of Prey, a spin-off of 2016’s Suicide Squad that Robbie developed and pitched to Warner Bros. as an R-rated, female-led superhero action film—a commercialized product of new Hollywood if ever there was one. “I think there’s a perception that a PG female-led action film is kind of considered a chick flick,” says Robbie.
At $75 million, this is LuckyChap’s largest project to date, but Robbie seems unperturbed. “Well, we’re on schedule and on budget, which is a wonderful place to be.” In Birds, which is due out next year, Robbie will reprise her role as Harley Quinn, the Joker’s ex. But today she’s primarily a producer. Wandering the set in jeans and a smiley-face T-shirt with two hearts for eyes, her cell phone suspended from a rope in place of a purse, she introduces me to the women who work with her: Cathy (Yan), the director; Jody, the script supervisor; Sue, a producer. We run into Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has spent the day performing stunts as Huntress, a crossbow wielding vigilante. Winstead pulls down her track pants to reveal a bruise on her hip. “Shit,” Robbie says. “That looks legit.”
The day’s shoot is at a medieval-style stone abbey in Highland Park. “Sorry I’m not taking you to paint mugs or something,” Robbie says. She’s referring to the tropes of celebrity profiles, the skydiving or skateboarding or whatever else actresses are supposed to do to charm writers. When I say that it is nearly impossible to find a story in which she’s not described as a “bombshell,” Robbie suppresses an eye roll. “I hate that word. I hate it—so much. I feel like a brat saying that because thereare worse things, but I’m not a bombshell. I’m not someone who walks in a room and the record stops and people turn like, ‘Look at that woman.’ That doesn’t happen. People who know me, if they had to sum me up in one word I don’t know what that word would be, but I’m certain it would not be bombshell.”
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Glamorous movie star isn’t really Robbie’s vibe. She laughs easily, curses liberally, and is more likely to opt for a shared trailer if it means making room in the budget for something else. Here she is on the outlandish demands (or so she’s heard) of certain actors to have their bathtubs filled with Evian water: “They must have massive insecurities they’re compensating for.” And on the tribulations of life in New York, a city she has only sampled in stretches: “Fucking A—shit show!” Sophia Kerr, Robbie’s childhood friend and now–business partner, who met her as a braces-wearing, emo metal–listening pre-tween in Australia, describes Robbie as someone who “likes a good time,” whether it’s taking belly-dancing lessons in Marrakech, going to see Celine Dion in London, or trudging through mud at Glastonbury. Nicole Kidman, her costar in director Jay Roach’s forthcoming (and still untitled) Roger Ailes film, about sexual harassment at Fox News, calls Robbie a “powerhouse.” “She’s just got incredible ease,” Kidman says. “She seems to be unbelievably mature, and she’s managed to kind of float with everything. She doesn’t seem to have resistance. She’s very powerful in how she approaches her life and her work.” When I ask Kidman, a fellow Aussie, if she sees a difference between her own path in the industry and Robbie’s, she says, “I didn’t have the opportunity to produce my own things or control my destiny like that. So that is definitely different.”
A lot of actors want to be producers, but Robbie seems to actually think like one. On I, Tonya, it was common for her to skate off the ice to go over locations or to discuss budgets from the makeup chair. When Robbie landed her first American TV gig, on ABC’s short-lived Pan Am, she asked the cinematographer so many questions that one day he handed her a copy of The Five C’s of Cinematography. At home, in her bedroom closet, Robbie has written the classical structure of a screenplay on large swaths of butcher paper, so that she can give thoughtful notes while on calls with writers. Roach recalls their first meeting for the Ailes film, when Robbie nudged him to add layers to her character, a fictional Fox News associate producer. “She just sort of said, ‘I’m not great at playing naive,’ ” Roach says. “I thought, That’s excellent because a green newbie wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad’s baby-voiced psycho schoolgirl on roller skates, is not exactly a mascot for the emancipation of women in Hollywood. But when we drop by the wardrobe trailer so that Robbie can try on a costume intended for the next day’s shoot—a sequined blazer, sports bra, and orange track shorts—I notice that this Harley seems more Sporty Spice than male fantasy. “That’s what happens when you have a female producer, director, writer,” says the film’s costume designer, Erin Benach, who previously worked on A Star Is Born.
“Yeah, it’s definitely less male gaze–y,” Robbie says.
Benach tells me that Robbie “has an uncanny ability to focus on what’s happening in the moment, and when she needs to shift, she can so perfectly shift.” She turns to Robbie: “You kind of have a business mind.”
“God, I hope so,” Robbie says. “Or else this movie is going to fail!
BIRDS IS JUST ONE of some 50 projects on LuckyChap’s current slate. There’s also Promising Young Woman, a rape-revenge thriller starring Carey Mulligan, directed by actress Emerald Fennell (soon to play Camilla Parker Bowles on The Crown); Dollface, a Hulu comedy created by the 25-year-old writer Jordan Weiss; and a film adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Though LuckyChap’s overarching mission is promoting projects by women, Kerr sums up the company ethos thusly: “Margot once said to me, ‘Whenever we’re reading things, if your immediate reaction isn’t Fuck yes, then it’s a no.’ ”
The company has just moved its offices to an industrial complex near downtown L.A. Inside there is a pink neon sign bearing the company name, Haim playing at a low volume, and Tom Ackerley, Robbie’s husband and LuckyChap cofounder, a bearded, easygoing Brit in a T-shirt and jeans, perched at the marble island of a pristine tiled kitchen.
“This kitchen has been dubbed a Nancy Meyers kitchen,” Ackerley tells me.
“Oh, it is so a Nancy Meyers kitchen,” Robbie says.
Ackerley makes us coffee on the new espresso machine that Robbie hasn’t mastered yet and retreats to his office (“See ya!”). Press isn’t Ackerley’s thing, Robbie later tell me. “He’s usually a very loud and friendly person, but he’s definitely behind the cam,” she says.
The story of how Robbie and Ackerley got together is also the story of LuckyChap. It all began in 2014, when Robbie was in London promoting The Wolf of Wall Street and she invited Kerr, as well as Ackerley and Josey McNamara, a couple of assistant directors she’d just met on the set of the film Suite Française, to the premiere. They ended up partying until the wee hours in her hotel room. In the morning, Robbie had to catch a flight to the Golden Globes. “I was like, ‘Ugh, wouldn’t it be fun if we all lived together?’ ” she recalls. Three days later, the foursome signed a lease on a house in London. That same year, they founded LuckyChap in their kitchen, and Robbie and Ackerley became a couple. (They married in 2016.)
It’s nice working with your spouse, Robbie says. “We can talk about work all the time. And then work feels like fun. And fun stuff can involve work.” Fun stuff has recently included a weekend glamping in Big Sur and a Boogie Nights–themed party with friends, where Robbie dressed up as Roller Girl (naturally) and Ackerley was the silk robe–wearing drug dealer played by Alfred Molina. “We just get along,” she says. “I think it’s crazy that not all couples get along.”
If Robbie likes a full house, it’s because she grew up in one—as the second youngest of four—on Australia’s Gold Coast, a beachy, surfy region along the country’s western edge. (“It’s kind of like Miami,” she says. “Lots of canals and tacky people.”) Her mother is a physiotherapist. She doesn’t love talking about her father, who left when she was five. “Just because it’s hard to briefly mention without it sounding like ‘My dad’s awful and. . . .’ That whole thing. But yes, Mum and Dad split up.” At seventeen, she moved to Melbourne, to work on a soap called Neighbours, followed by brief periods in Los Angeles and New York, before settling in London with Ackerley, Kerr, and McNamara. The story behind the name LuckyChap? Something to do with Charlie Chaplin. “We were drunk, and no one remembers,” Robbie says. “So it’s kind of like a shit tattoo. I have only shit tattoos.”
When they moved to Los Angeles, Robbie and Ackerley settled on their own, though currently they have Robbie’s older brother living with them, as well as her cousin and her cousin’s husband. “It’s a common theme, isn’t it?” she says. “I hate—hate—being alone.”
I don’t ask her about children. It was Robbie, after all, who made headlines in January by reminding everyone that such questions are not just tired but also sexist. (“I got married, and the first question in almost every interview is ‘Babies? When are you having one?’ ” she told a British weekly.) Lately she and Ackerley have been talking about forming a little commune with Kerr and McNamara, and touring double plots around the city. “We’ll be like a cult!” says Robbie. When they looked at one property, Robbie asked if she could have a slide built connecting her bedroom to the pool. “I think that just sums up the person that she is,” Kerr says. “She will buy a compound on a whim, so that her close friends could live near her and so that she can wake up and slide into the pool.”
SPEAKING OF CULTS, we are now en route to Musso & Frank’s, significant not just for its status as a Hollywood landmark but also as a pivotal setting in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film follows a Western TV actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt), who live next door to Sharon Tate (Robbie). There are also takes on Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and a wild-eyed Charles Manson. And that’s pretty much all I can say. The project was shrouded in so much secrecy that even after signing an ironclad NDA, I was allowed to watch only a portion. Mostly, the film just feels like an incredibly fun party that you know is about to come to a terrible end.
Robbie’s Tate (like her Tonya Harding) is less imitation than an interpretation. Whereas Tate has always seemed ethereal and elusive, like someone in an old photograph, Robbie’s performance is exuberant and in full color, like a match that’s just been lit. Her prep for roles is often physical. In addition to Robbie’s usual Pilates routine, her stunt training ends up being her default workout. For Tonya, she learned to ice-skate. For Harley, it was roller-skating and fight-training. Becoming Tate was more complicated, with Robbie working with a movement coach doing something called “animal work” to accomplish Tate’s lightness and brightness; in one scene, she levitates midair. “It was such a strange challenge,” Robbie says. “I find it much easier to go dark and angry. With Tonya, I wanted to go really heavy, almost like she had weights on her feet. This time I was trying to do the reverse.”
We’re outside the restaurant now, and the air smells of grilled steak, which Robbie inhales like a scented candle. “I’m such a carnivore,” she says. “I’m trying so hard to do meatless Mondays, for, like, environment reasons, but fuck, it’s hard.” Today is Thursday, so we order two filets and get back to the business of working with Tarantino. We haven’t talked about it yet, but Once Upon a Time is the first of Tarantino’s films not produced by Harvey Weinstein. It is also the director’s first release since the #MeToo movement and since . . . here Robbie finishes my thought: “The Uma Thurman thing?”
Early last year, Thurman told The New York Times that she, too, had been assaulted by Weinstein, and that her relationship with Tarantino had suffered as a result. She held Weinstein’s studio, Miramax, responsible for injuries she sustained in a car crash on the set of 2003’s Kill Bill, and for suppressing footage of the accident that she ultimately released herself. According to Thurman, she’d asked Tarantino for a stunt double to drive the car, but Tarantino insisted that Thurman do it. And there were further details of the director’s quest for authenticity on that film—spitting on Thurman in one scene, choking her with a chain in another.
Tarantino has never been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. He called the car crash “one of the biggest regrets of my life.” Robbie tells me she was reassured by this and by the fact that Tarantino had helped make the footage public. “But the thought definitely crossed my mind,” Robbie says, “like, Will people view this decision as conflicting with what I’m doing on the producing side?
“I don’t know,” she continues. “I don’t know how to say what I feel about it, because I’m so grateful to be in a position of power and to have more creative control when that is embraced and encouraged now. At the same time, I grew up adoring movies that were the result of the previous version of Hollywood, and aspiring to be a part of it, so to have those dreams come true also feels incredibly satisfying. I don’t know. Maybe I’m having my cake and eating it too. . . .”
Robbie is answering this question because I asked, and it shouldn’t really fall to actresses to right the wrongs of Hollywood. The fact is that old power structures haven’t gone away, even as new ones are still emerging. “It would be easier, and so much more unfulfilling, not to have a production company,” Robbie says. “To not hire first- and second-time female directors, and stake millions of other people’s money, and put my name to it and everything I’ve worked for, but I’ve made the choice to do it, and I don’t regret it. On the flip side—and it doesn’t even feel like a flip side—it was my lifelong dream [to work with Tarantino], and I got to do it, and it makes me sad if people might hold that against me despite everything else I’m doing.”
It’s difficult to parse out all the layers here. Tarantino’s film (which will premiere at Cannes several weeks after Robbie and I speak) is about a power shift in Hollywood’s history, one that ended the studio system and eventually created the space for indie masterpieces like Pulp Fiction. It also serves as a reminder of the best of what Hollywood can still do— assemble major movie stars for a film by a director with a singular vision, who can shut down Hollywood Boulevard in the middle of a weekday if he wants to. “Quentin told me, ‘You will never have more fun on a movie set.’ And he was right. I had the greatest experience of my life,” Robbie says. “There are some aspects of old Hollywood that are really wonderful and important and should be carried over. Do you erase history because there were some bad parts? Maybe it’s important for us at this juncture to acknowledge the good parts as well.”
It is not 9:00 p.m. yet, but Robbie has to rush home to watch dailies from several LuckyChap projects currently in production. The next morning she’ll be on set at 4:30 a.m. to perform stunts as Harley, and at the office by 5:00 p.m., for what she calls a “half-day.” Though she spends her workdays watching films by female directors and reading scripts by female writers, when she goes home at night, Robbie tells me, she still likes to watch films like Snatch and Braveheart. “My love and passion for female filmmakers doesn’t mean I suddenly don’t like male-driven films,” she says. “And that’s an important argument to make—so that men go see films about women, by women. If it’s a good film, they’ll be able to relate.”
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