Photoshoots & Portraits > 2022 > Session 01 | The Wall Street Journal
WSJ – The hottest blonde ever.” This was the infamous script description given for Margot Robbie’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), directed by Martin Scorsese. Widely credited as Robbie’s breakthrough, the role instantly helped establish her as one of the biggest movie stars.
Yet Robbie—Australian born and then still relatively new to Hollywood—says that she had little interest in further riffing on the blonde-bombshell theme: “I was going to have to show people that I could do something different. I didn’t want to get pigeonholed.” Accordingly, her next roles gave the middle finger to the hot-blonde paradigm.
On Suite Française’s set, in 2013, “I play a French peasant, and trust me, I looked revolting,” she says via Zoom. (Her screen name reads “Maggot,” her childhood nickname, rather than “Margot.”) “Then I did Z for Zachariah…and again, I looked revolting. By that time, I thought, I’ve shown people.” As the smallpox-riddled Queen Elizabeth in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie was adorned with oozing sores, scabs and scars.
While filming Suite Française, Robbie made friends with assistant directors Josey McNamara and Tom Ackerley. Both became her business partners, along with her childhood friend Sophia Kerr; she later married Ackerley. The four discussed their mutual producing aspirations, and about what they saw as a lack of desirable film roles for women. “I remember saying, ‘Every time I pick up a script, I want to play the guy,’ ” Robbie recalls. “ ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool if people pick up scripts that we’re making and always wanted to play the female role?’ ”
They decided to found their own production company, calling it LuckyChap Entertainment. Robbie had just turned 24. (The company name was conjured while they were drunk, says Robbie; it may refer to Charlie Chaplin, but no one can really remember.) The LuckyChap mandate, from day one, was to “make female stories.” Each of its projects had to involve a female story or female storyteller. They also, says Ackerley, “wanted to find the next generation of talent,” while being “on the right side of culture.”
Getting any movie made is difficult, but Robbie, now 32, says that the LuckyChap team wasn’t daunted. “[We were] too young and dumb to know how scary [it would] be,” she says. “Starting it all off on a kitchen bench in London, everyone was like: ‘They’re such idiots…it would be a miracle if they did anything.’ ”
But the team promptly manifested just such a miracle, in the form of a spec script by screenwriter Steven Rogers that had been making the rounds: a daring redemption film about former Olympic ice-skater Tonya Harding. Others in the industry dismissed the project, Robbie recalls. “They [were] like, ‘You can’t make that…. You’ve got 200-something scenes, several locations, it’s period,’ ” says Robbie. “We read it and were like, ‘But it’s just f—ing great; it’s the best script ever, so who cares?’ ” They snatched up the option.
When playing Queen Elizabeth, Robbie says that she felt “very restrained, both emotionally and physically.” But with I, Tonya, in which she played the title role, she came out guns blazing and made her true breakthrough. Through the unlikely avatar of Harding, she broadcast the qualities that have since defined a quintessential Robbie role: extreme physicality, an overt defiance of cliché and a willingness to subsume herself entirely in a character.
I, Tonya also served as a declaration of intent for LuckyChap. The young team had just released a film that would be nominated for three Oscars in 2018, including a best performance by an actress in a leading role nomination for Robbie and a win for her co-star Allison Janney. The company and Robbie had certain things in common: Their sensibilities were unconventional, even wild. Both courted risk. And both saw infinite value and opportunity in what others had dismissed.