Where did Margot Robbie come from?
Well, Australia—we know that. But it seems as if one day she wasn’t on Hollywood’s radar and the next she was one of the most sought-after actresses around, with only the briefest of layovers in up-and-coming territory.
Her home nation was indeed keeping her to itself for awhile, particularly via a long run on the rite-of-passage soap opera Neighbours, past stomping ground for stars including Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth, Kylie Minogue, Ben Mendelsohn and Natalie Imbruglia. Robbie played Donna Brown from 2008 until 2011, when she moved to Los Angeles and was promptly cast in the short-lived ABC series Pan Am, one of numerous dramas that tried to cash in on the retro-glamour craze triggered by Mad Men.
But her short stint as a ’60s-era flight attendant led to Martin Scorsese casting her in The Wolf of Wall Street as “the duchess of Bay Ridge,” the eye-catching second wife of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s off-the-rails stockbroker—and that was that.
“When I looked at the audition tape…I knew right away that she was very special, and the moment we met with her I knew that we’d found our Naomi,” Scorsese told Australia’s Sunday Life at the time. “Her extraordinary beauty was one thing, but it was her instant authority that did it: she had an immediate understanding of the power her character held, and she was instantly commanding on screen.”
“Playing a girl from Queens when you’re all the way from Australia, and understanding the mannerisms and the hand movements and the culture, is a difficult undertaking,” DiCaprio told the Sydney Morning Herald about her in 2014. “But Margot worked so diligently creating the character. She’s incredibly believable.”
Today, experts are expecting Birds of Prey, her stand-alone Harley Quinn movie spun off from Suicide Squad, will top the weekend box office with at least a $50 million haul. And, of course, Robbie’s off to the Oscars this Sunday as a nominee for Best Supporting Actress for Bombshell and as a pivotal member of the cast of 10-time nominee Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
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That’s just Robbie’s world these days, though—making one movie after another and usually being one of the best parts of all of them. All while rising to the top of the pack in the least flashy way possible, with no muss, no fuss and, notably, no off-screen drama.
So, how did Robbie solve the Hollywood puzzle after a few short years in the mega-spotlight?
Asked at the Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood premiere last summer how she managed the fame game so well, she told E! News, “Have good friends. I’ve got the best friends in the world—yeah, makes all the difference.”
And while she seems to be getting along just fine on these shores, it sounds as though she was talking about friends she’s had for years, since before she was a household name, a two-time Oscar nominee and had explained exploitation of mortgage bonds while sitting in a bubble bath in The Big Short.
Sure enough, she started her production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, with childhood best friend Sophie Kerr, as well as with Robbie’s now-husband Tom Ackerley and his friend Josey McNamara. Among their first acquisitions was the script for I, Tonya, for which Robbie earned her first Oscar nomination, Best Actress for her portrayal of skating world champ turned pariah Tonya Harding. Her inner circle also includes sisters Poppy and Cara Delevingne.
And she decided early on as her career took off that she didn’t want to be a so-called Hollywood type. “There is not one person that I’ve looked at and thought, ‘I want to be like them,’ ” she told the Herald. “But I like the choices Cate Blanchett has made. She’s not someone who’s always in the tabloids. Her personal life remains personal and that’s something I want to strive towards.”
Robbie was born in Dalby, Queensland, on Australia’s Gold Coast, to Scottish parents Sarie Kessler and Doug Robbie, but was raised primarily by her mother, a physiotherapist, and spent a lot of time on her grandparents’ farm.
“I adore my mother…She’s the most pure-hearted, divine human being,” Robbie told Vogue in 2016. Sarie stayed with her daughter in New York when she was running the Wolf of Wall Street press gauntlet and learning just how “fun” being famous could be.
“I didn’t realize people could write comments below articles,” a more wide-eyed Robbie told the Herald in 2014. “I was flabbergasted that people were so awful…I said to Mum, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this job, but I think it’s too late not to.’ And she said, ‘Darl, it’s too late not to.'”
Robbie also has a sister and two brothers. An energetic child, her mom enrolled her in circus school and, according to Robbie, she got her “trapeze certificate” at 8.
They lived modestly but “I went to a school where all of my friends were very well-off…and I went to their houses a lot” she recalled, “and so I knew what it looked like to be rich but I didn’t have it, so I was like:, OK—I know exactly what I want.”
Deciding not to make a career of being under the bigtop, she graduated from Somerset College in Mudgeeraba, also in Queensland, and then, with a few commercials on her resume, moved to Melbourne to pursue acting. In a rare occurrence, she actually had a name—”Caitlin Brentford”—in her first credited appearance, an episode of the crime procedural City Homicide. There were a couple of other TV roles and two indie films, and then she was cast on Neighbours.
Not that she was making a living as an actress overnight. “I think I’ve had every kind of job,” she said in a video for the Australian Council of Trade Unions from 2010, talking about the importance of being in a union. “Before Neighbours, I was working at Subway. I’ve worked in restaurants behind the bar, in the kitchen. I did retail for two years. I’ve done some secretary work.”
All the while, she shared with the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014, “I thought, ‘I’m going to use this time on Neighbours to save my money, have my ducks lined up.’ So I found a better agent in Melbourne, and said, ‘This is what I want to do—I want to go to America. How should we execute this plan?'”
“Every move has been carefully planned, it’s been really strategic,” Robbie affirmed. “When people write articles they talk about ‘overnight sensation’—it’s been anything but. It feels like it’s been a long process.”
Her American movie debut after Pan Am was the Richard Curtis-directed time-travel romance About Time, which also came out in 2013, less than two months before The Wolf of Wall Street, and she’s been alternating between big and smaller films ever since, though they’ve seemed awfully big lately…
“Half the reason you do big films is so that you have the ability to get the small films off the ground,” Robbie told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2016. And was interested in directing, but “I want to learn from the best before I set out and do my own things.”
Learning on the job has remained a theme throughout her career. At the time she was promoting the based-on-a-true-story dark comedy Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, in which she played a war correspondent reporting from Afghanistan just as the world’s attention is shifting to Iraq, and she sang the praises of co-star Tina Fey, whose journalist character shows up when Robbie’s reporter has already been there for awhile.
“Working with Fey is a dream come true,” Robbie told the Herald. “And a masterclass in improv. I just want to learn anything I can from her. [Improv is] something I personally find difficult but like doing a lot of the time. I feel like it’s a bit of a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it gets. I’m learning from the very best. She’s so quick.”
Robbie had done so much traveling for work that she wasn’t exactly homesick for home-home, she explained, but for all sorts of places she had been and then had to leave.
“I’m always homesick but the weird thing is now that I’ve had so many homes I get homesick for all the other places,” Robbie said. “At the moment I’m more homesick for London than I am for Australia and when I was away I was homesick for Santa Fe. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of different homes now and I get homesick for all of them.”
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was filmed in Santa Fe, as well as Albuquerque, and coincidentally Robbie did get to return to New Mexico to shoot the 1930s-era drama Dreamland, in which she plays a fugitive bank robber who’s being tailed by a desperate Dust Bowl farmer who’s on the brink of foreclosure and could really use that reward money.
These days, home is where the heart is—though that’s no longer the same flat in London’s Clapham neighborhood where she and Tom Ackerley lived with four other people, including Kerr and McNamara, before they got married. They quietly tied the knot back in Australia in December 2016 with zero fanfare—other than the “Say ‘I Do’ Down Under” t-shirt the bride-to-be was wearing at the airport when she touched down for her wedding weekend.
She and Ackerley—the assistant director on her 2014 drama Suite Française—swapped vows they wrote themselves in Byron Bay in front of an intimate group that included her three siblings.
“I was the ultimate single gal. The idea of relationships made me want to vomit,” Robbie divulged to Vogue. “And then this crept up on me. We were friends for so long. I was always in love with him, but I thought, ‘Oh, he would never love me back. Don’t make it weird, Margot. Don’t be stupid and tell him that you like him.’ And then it happened, and I was like, ‘Of course we’re together. This makes so much sense, the way nothing has ever made sense before.”
It sounds as though social awkwardness has never been an actual problem for Robbie, who by all accounts is a people person who loves vacationing in big groups and being around others, including roommates, when she had them.
When he met her in London, where they shot The Legend of Tarzan, co-star Alexander Skarsgård told Vogue, “she was living in a house with six other people, kind of a frat-house vibe, and on weekends she would go to Amsterdam and sleep in bunk beds in a youth hostel with Canadian backpackers, or to some music festival in Northern England and sleep in a tent. She’s not precious at all.”
“I like living with lots of people,” Robbie told news.com.au in 2016. “It reminds me of the house I grew up in.” (She even lived with Cristina Ricci while they were making Pan Am.) “It’s funny. I always think I want privacy because I’m never actually on my own, ever. But then when I am I hate it. After five minutes I find people to hang out with.” Her family’s house in Australia “is one of those houses where the front door is always opening and shutting, someone’s always coming in,” she told the Herald in 2014. “The kettle’s always on for tea, and when anyone leaves our house it’s bizarre, we all go out on the front steps and wave goodbye.”
Sharing a flate was also an economical choice. “I don’t spend much money at all,” the actress said. “It actually makes me really anxious, just the idea of it. It seems crazy to spend a huge amount of money on things you don’t need. I’m pretty frugal.”
Luckily she has the biggest design houses clamoring to dress her, and in 2018 she became the face of Chanel’s Coco Neige line of winter sportswear (perfect for skiing in Switzerland or for cool summer nights on a yacht). Which, though by then she’d lost count of all the couture gowns and impossibly chic outfits she’d worn in public, was a very authentic choice.
“I guess I’m more casual, a bit more boyish,” Robbie said in 2009, back when she was on Neighbours. “I don’t really like the girly-girly look so much.”
The lifelong surfer (Australia, duh) bought her first board at a garage sale when she was 10, and she also jet-skis and snowboards—and while she was a big fan of cars with heavy-duty engines back in the day, her tastes have since shifted with the time and she was named Nissan’s first electric vehicle ambassador in 2017.
There has been some off-screen drama, none of it any fault of her own aside from the audacity of her existence as a very fetching-looking woman, who frequently must spend hours alongside very fetching gentlemen for work.
“The worst bit is people making things up about you and printing absolute lies,” Robbie acknowledged to the Herald. After tabloids insinuated that she had affairs with two of her co-stars, “my grandmother is embarrassed to go to church because the whole town is gossiping—and that absolutely breaks my heart.”
Getting married seems to have nipped that brand of journalistic malpractice in the bud for the time being, and she’s loving her adopted home of Los Angeles with Ackerley and their adopted pit-bull by her side.
“I’m a great advocate of doing business with your partner. Being married is actually the most fun ever, life got way more fun somehow,” Robbie told Porter in 2018. “I have a responsibility being someone’s wife, I want to be better.”
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water)
They have implemented a three-week limit when it comes to time spent apart. “Even if we both have to fly to a country in-between where we both are for one night, we’ll do it and then fly back to work the next day,” Robbie said.” And we speak all day, every day on the phone.”
They were in no rush, however, to add anything other than puppies to their household at the time.
“If I’m looking into my future 30 years from now, I want to see a big Christmas dinner with tons of kids there,” she said. “But definitely not at the moment. That’s 100 percent certain.”
Reassessing the whole perils-of-fame-thing, Robbie mused, “Your relevance in the current conversation changes; sometimes you’re in everyone’s face, other times you’re not. There are moments when you feel the heat, then it cools off a little bit and you can breathe, and then something comes out of left field and totally side swipes you. So you’re kind of on your toes trying to keep your head above water, I guess.”
She’ll take selfies with fans, especially when she’s back in Australia, feeling that that’s the crowd that’s been supporting her the longest, but “I hate people taking pictures without asking; it’s the grossest feeling and it happens all the time. Everyone’s got a phone with a camera on them at every second of the day in every part of the world.”
Robbie tries to cut into the market by posting her own photos to Instagram, including ones with Ackerley and from vacations with their friends, and other non-work-related moments.
But sharing snowy scenes from a trip to Lapland is a far cry from letting the innards of her life hang out for the picking.
All the attention is “just a strange thing—there’s no other way of putting it.”
At the same time, she didn’t want to become too cynical. She couldn’t help questioning people’s intentions sometimes, “but I’d rather be f–ked over and still have a positive view of the world than be this cynical, sheltered, negative person who never gets f–ked over. I’d rather get f–ked over 10,000 times and still believe the best in people. So a couple of years ago I just stopped and said to myself, ‘Yes, you’re gonna get screwed over, you’re gonna get your feelings hurt, people will be taking advantage. But, for the sake of your happiness and sanity, presume the best in people.”
Even if she does let an unsavory character slip through her shield, it sounds as though the Birds of Prey star has surrounded herself with a flock of supporters who will have her back no matter what.