Margot Robbie knew she’d be a star. Five years ago, the then 18-year-old Australian soap actress told the student magazine, S-Press, “I’ve got big, big dreams for the future. I want to go to L.A. and be a massive actor over there.”
Now, the blond Aussie stunner is heating up cinemas across the country as Naomi Lapaglia, the promiscuous, no-nonsense wife of shady stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), in Martin Scorsese’s bacchanal of sex, drugs, and machismo, The Wolf of Wall Street. Sporting a wild updo, convincing Long Island accent, and attitude to spare, Naomi’s like the sister from another mister of Jennifer Lawrence’s housewife scorned, Roslyn, in American Hustle. Whether she’s tempting Jordan with her legs spread open in their baby’s nursery or throwing a glass of water in his face and screaming at the top of her lungs, she commands the screen.
The fun, outspoken Robbie spoke to The Daily Beast about her breakthrough performance, why the film’s criticism is off-base, her humble beginnings at making sandwiches at Subway, and more.
How were you cast in the role of Naomi Lapaglia? There are rumors you beat out some heavy competition in Jessica Biel and Kristen Stewart.
I truly don’t know to this day. I’m still completely confused, but extraordinarily grateful that I did. I did a self-tape in L.A. that got sent to Ellen Lewis [casting director] that got sent to Marty, and then he asked to see me in a room so I could do an in-person audition with him and Leo, and then they brought me back a week later and gave me the role in the room.
What scene did you do in the audition with Scorsese and DiCaprio?
Some of the hardest scenes in the film. It was the throwing-water fight scene, the “What’s wrong, Daddy?” scene in the nursery—and a lot of it got cut out in the film. It was a lot more confronting and awkward to do in an audition, let me tell you. And I also did the first-date scene.
So did you actually pull a Basic Instinct in the movie and it got cut out?
No, I was wearing flesh-colored underwear but there was a shot with a body double that was very much Basic Instinct—probably ten times worse than Basic Instinct—much to my relief.
What did you do when you learned you got the role? I would’ve partied my ass off.
I wish I could say that I went out and partied, but I had to fly somewhere the next morning at like 5 a.m.—but I partied after that, don’t worry. I had celebratory drinks. But I was staying at my ex-boyfriend’s house in Bed-Stuy, and someone ended up getting shot on the street so there was police everywhere. It really wasn’t a celebratory night at all.
Did he become your ex-boyfriend as soon as you got the role? “Sorry! Off to work with Marty and Leo…”
[Laughs] No, he was my ex before that.
My sister’s your age, 23, and she was obsessed with Titanic. Were you, like every other young girl, crushing on Leo back then?
I was absolutely obsessed with Titanic—but not the movie, the actual boat. I’d draw diagrams of it and everything and theorized that if it was built a different way, it wouldn’t have sunk. But seeing the movie really traumatized me. It was the first sad movie I saw—when I was 8 years old—and it upset me so much I could never watch it again until two years ago. But, amongst my friends, everyone loves that movie. It’s a common quote among my friends and I that whenever it’s cold, we go to each other, “It’s so cold, Jack…” I had to stop myself from saying it because I’d be on the set of Wolf of Wall Street shivering and I was tempted to go, “It’s so cold, Jack…” but Leo is there sitting right next to me.
Your character goes through a lot during the course of the film. What was the craziest scene for you to shoot?
Every single scene was absolutely insane. Definitely the Qualuude scene. I remember sitting there going, “I will never, ever film a scene like this again.” I’m sitting there eight months pregnant and Leo and Jonah are crawling around trying to strangle each other and I had to try not to laugh because they looked so ridiculous.
It’s funny because the first sex scene between your character and Leo’s, we think it’s going to be like the 4th of July, and then it’s just Womp. Is it supposed to symbolize how this “master of the universe” isn’t as big of a big shot as he thinks he is?
Or he’s just that attracted to “The Duchess” that he can’t last more than 11 seconds. Let’s go with that theory. [Laughs]
Also, having sex on a pile of money is usually just a joke that people say about douchebags, but you don’t usually get to actually see two people having sex on top of a pile of money like you do in the film.
I got a million paper cuts on my back from all that money! It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. If anyone is ever planning on having sex on top of a pile of cash: don’t. Or maybe real money is a bit softer, but the fake money is like paper, and when I got up off the bed, I turned around to get my robe and everyone gasped. I said, “What is it?” And they said, “You look like you’ve been whipped a million times. Your back is covered in a thousand red scratches.”
One of the most terrifying scenes in the movie is the one where your character gets punched in the stomach by Leo’s. It’s the moment where the audience realizes this guy’s become a monster.
In that moment in the book, he kicks her down the stairs—which happened in real life. When I saw Jordan at the after party following the premiere, I asked him how good the scene looked, because in the cinema the whole audience gasped. And he said, “I know! Even I couldn’t watch that. I was like, ‘Oh god, I can’t believe he just did that.’” And I said, “What are you talking about, Jordan? You kicked her down the stairs in real life!”
The film has attracted a bit of controversy over its overall message, with some critics claiming it glamorizes the excesses of these finance scumbags.
Honestly, I don’t think it was intended to really be a moral tale of what to do and what not to do. I think everyone knows what’s right and wrong, and it doesn’t really stay with an audience if you do that obvious choice of, “You do the wrong thing, you go to jail for 20 years.” It’s more powerful if you do an accurate portrayal of the events, and we portrayed in the film exactly what was written. For the first two hours of the movie, the partying and the money looks awesome, but for the last hour of the movie, I don’t think you think it’s worth it in the end. I don’t think most people walk out of that movie and go, “Yeah, I think it’s worth it to lose your family and all your money to have a few crazy years of coke-filled partying.” I personally don’t think there’s any glory in doing drugs and sleeping with hookers and losing your family, so what the film does is give an uncensored, raw version of true events. And no one is left unscathed. It exploits everyone.
As far as your journey from Australia to Hollywood goes, did you have any odd jobs prior to becoming an actress?
Oh, I’ve worked everywhere. I worked in a warehouse packing surf supplies, a restaurant washing dishes, in retail, and I was a “sandwich artist” at Subway.
Do you have a favorite Subway sandwich?
It used to be Chicken Teriyaki and then I moved to the Meatball, and now it’s the BLT. I can’t go there now though because when I watch someone else make my sub they just don’t put as much care as I would, so I want to jump over the counter and tell them, “You’re ruining it! You’re not spreading it out nicely and everything!”
And your first big gig stateside was as a stewardess in the short-lived TV series Pan Am. Was it a big blow when that got cancelled?
It didn’t really hit me like a ton of bricks because we had a pretty clear indication that it wasn’t going to go ahead for Season 2, and if it had, I wouldn’t have been able to do About Time or The Wolf of Wall Street, so it worked out really well for me.