Margot Robbie Is Nobody’s Barbie: The ‘Babylon’ Star on Navigating Hollywood

When I meet with her, Robbie has just completed the press tour for David O. Russell’s amsterdam, a quirky movie set in the ’30s in which she stars opposite Christian Bale and John David Washington. Russell is known for his, shall we say, intense nature on set. For starters, he made Amy Adams cry while making American Hustle and screamed profanely at Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees in a video so horrific that it’s now the stuff of legend. I ask if Robbie had any trepidation about working with him, especially in this “new” Hollywood where, ideally, toxic behavior isn’t tolerated. “The process with David started years ago,” she says, adding that they created her character together. “One conversation led to another conversation led to another conversation that went on for years and years. So it wasn’t like a moment of like, ‘Would you sign up for a David O. Russell film?’ ” She appreciated the brainstorming, she says: “I’ve never been that involved just as an actor. I’ve never had a director want to hear my point of view that much in the development process.”

I ask if the set was ever uncomfortable. She shakes her head no. “I had a pretty amazing experience,” she says. “The other thing I wish people could grasp is that when you make a movie, you’re not making it just with one director and the actors. You’re making a movie with so many people.” She singles out the Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki and says that working with him was one of the “absolute highlights” of her career.

As we talk, Robbie is open and generous, often digressing into passionate stories about her on-set experiences or favorite movies or podcasts (she loves team Deakins, a moviemaking podcast featuring cinematographer Roger Deakins and his wife, James Ellis Deakins). She’s more careful when we veer into her personal life. “It’s such an ironic thing,” she says. “When you’re an actor, the whole point is that you are showing people other people, so it’s such a counterintuitive thing to talk about yourself when you spend all this time hiding yourself.”

Still, she seems to be hiding nothing more than human decency (she paid off her mom’s mortgage with her first big paycheck) and a fondness for having a good time with friends (she takes girls’ surfing trips to Nicaragua and group vacations to Spain) . A few more details that suggest we’re dealing with an actual 3D person here: Robbie can open a beer bottle with another beer bottle. She wants to learn to play the banjo. She threw a Love Island– themed birthday party. “She really loves love island, which is surprising just because she’s very classy,” says Hodson. “But yes, that is definitely a guilty pleasure that we waste many, many hours on.”

dress by Lion. Photograph by Mario Sorrenti. Styled by Anastasia Barbieri.

At one point Robbie says she wishes she could have been an actor in the ’20s or even the ’70s. But she’s been able to play a variety of roles—putting boils on her face to play Queen Elizabeth I in mary queen of scots, wearing ice skates and a padded bodysuit for Tonya Harding, and employing garish face paint and a baseball bat for Harley Quinn—while also producing the sort of projects she longed for. Clara Bow could only play one type of character and had little control over her career—which, I can say with certainty, would not sit well with Robbie. She pulls out another notebook and reads Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” She looks up and smiles. “‘I contain multitudes’ is a cool thing to remind yourself.”

Hollywood didn’t expect her to contain multitudes. When she rose to prominence after Wolf of Wall Street at 22, Robbie was offered the predictable hot-blond roles, all of which she turned down. I tell her that Hollywood loves to put ingenues in a box, and she goes further: “I think people love to put people in boxes.” Even now, Robbie doesn’t get enough credit for her work as a producer. In 2014, she founded LuckyChap Entertainment with three of her closest friends—one of them, Tom Ackerley, became her husband in 2016. The company’s first release was 2017’s I Tonya a critical hit that earned three Oscar nominations and a win for Janney. in 2021, Promising Young Woman brought in five more Oscar nominations and a screenwriting win for Emerald Fennell. The company, which champions female stories and storytellers, produced five movies this year, including the next film from Fennell.

And then there’s Barbie. The movie was essentially dead after shuffling through lead actors (Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway) and writers until Robbie signed on to star and produce. She brought in Greta Gerwig to cowrite (with her partner, Noah Baumbach) and direct, aiming for a subversive take on the world’s most iconic doll. “Making an obvious Barbie movie would’ve been extremely easy to do,” says Robbie, “and anything easy to do is probably not worth doing.” Gerwig was impressed by Robbie to the point of being dumbfounded: “Once, I wanted to capture Margot in slow motion but have everything else move fast, so I went up to her and said, ‘Could you move at 48 frames per second, even though we’re shooting in 24 frames per second and everyone else will be moving at regular speed?’ She did some calculation behind her eyes and then fucking did it. She moved literally at a higher frame rate. I don’t know what category that goes into other than magic.”

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