Margot Robbie: from rural Qld to Hollywood
FROM rural Queensland to Los Angeles and what seems like everywhere in between, Margot Robbie has come a long way in a short time in her young career.
It's rare these days for an actor to possess a genuine wide-eyed demeanour, even one whose unlikely route to movie stardom began in rural Dalby, three hours' drive from Queensland's Gold Coast. Yet Margot Robbie - today poised and poured into a sleek black designer dress in her chic hotel in downtown Manhattan - has somehow retained an appealing how-did-I-get-here attitude.
It's less than four years since she left Australia, yet she has already starred opposite some of Hollywood's A-listed leading men, most recently, Leonardo Dicaprio inWolf of Wall Street (2013) and now, Will Smith in stylish con movie, Focus.
She appears to appreciate her fast-track through the Hollywood ranks and is devoid of any self-congratulatory affectations or sense of entitlement.
"The idea of working with actors of this calibre is initially daunting and a little overwhelming. But then you get in the room and talk to them for five minutes and they're just so normal. And I'm not just saying that," she assures.
At 17, after graduating high school, she followed a long tradition of Australian actors, serving an apprenticeship on Neighbours.
"That became my stepping stone to America and five days after my contract was over, I was on a plane to LA."
She left behind her family, friends, and then-boyfriend. "It was hard but I'm happy I did that. I was 20 years old. He was the loveliest guy but we were at an age where we had to put our careers first. We've both done really well since, so I guess it was the way it was meant to be."
Inn Los Angeles she soon landed a lead role on TV series Pan Am. The 60s-themed show about the glamorous world of air hostesses only lasted a season but it put Robbie in the spotlight. It also freed her for a role in Richard Curtis' rom-com,About Time. Then Martin Scorsese came calling and cast her in The Wolf of Wall Stas the frequently naked trophy wife of Leonardo DiCaprio's fraudster stockbroker Jordan Belfort.
"Wolf of Wall Street opened up a lot of doors for me. It was such a massive opportunity which provided me with only more opportunities."
I ask her if she considers "fearless" a suitable description for the attention-getting role.
"That's a nice word for it," she laughs. "It was terrifying and really, you've got to be fearless. What's funny is that you know those scenes will be scary, but you're not thinking about the millions of people who will see you naked. You're thinking about the crew because you've just been talking to one of them about their daughter's violin recital. But you've got to go for it; you can't half-arse it, otherwise it ends up looking stupid. But I like that adrenalin rush. I love it.
"And in that film, there were so many naked bodies that no-one batted an eyelid [at me]. In the end, you just threw your robe off and even when they offered it back after the scene, you were like, 'No, it's hot in here. Keep it.' "
In Focus Robbie plays a pickpocket recruited by Will Smith's big-time con artist. The film was initially a vehicle for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, then Ben Affleck and Kristen Stewart. Somehow the studio arrived at this seemingly ill-matched pair.
"Well, look at us. He's two decades older than me; he's an ex-rapper and I'm Australian. He's really tall and I'm not. Everything about us is super-different. But personality-wise, we actually happen to be incredibly similar. Will and I got along immediately, really got along, and then it just all made sense."
Still, this is yet another romantic storyline between a leading man and a much younger woman. "Well, Will does not look his age so I think he's supposed to be 35 and my character is about 27, somewhere around there. When you put it in those terms it isn't a massive age gap. I look older than I am and he looks younger."
"Chemistry is so important and so unpredictable. Sometimes you get in a room with someone where aesthetically you make perfect sense as a couple and then you read and you're both kind of sitting there like, 'This isn't working for some strange reason; it just doesn't really pop.' Then there are other times where you could be polar opposites like Will and myself where no-one would think that we'd ever be a logical coupling'."
In Focus, Robbie's good looks are again to be seen in an array of figure-hugging outfits.
"Fortunately, playing this 20-something woman living in New York City, I didn't need to be rail-thin or particularly buff. But of course there's a bikini scene and for that I was in the gym and eating a salad for dinner. The vain side of you always kicks in. Yes, I wanted to look skinny in a bikini but nothing extreme."
From Focus, she went straight into a new movie version of Tarzan playing Jane opposite Alexander Skarsgard. Robbie also spent some time in Christchurch and its surrounds, filming sci-fi film, Z for Zachariah, having replaced Amanda Seyfried in the role opposite Chris Pine and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
"Chris and Chiwetel were a hoot," she smiles. "And New Zealand is a sick place to shoot. We had so much fun; it was the best time."
Robbie's character in the book is 16-year-old Ann Burden.
"Yeah, I couldn't pull that off that so we made her 19, even though her age was integral to the storyline. I mean, no one even believes I'm my age now, which is 24. People think I look more like 34 and I was worried about that," she says.
"To the credit of hair and makeup, I look believably 19." As though revealing a secret worthy of international news, she leans forward and adds, "They drew freckles all over my face and I went back to light brown hair so I looked younger. It's a makeup trick that really works,"
Despite her Hollywood success, Robbie has chosen to base herself in London. "Since the move I've been filming all over the world - Buenos Aires, New Orleans, New York, and Belgium - so I've been living out of a suitcase for the last two years. She shot Suite Francais (starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Michelle Williams) in Belgium where she reportedly met her current beau, Londoner Tom Ackerley, 24, an assistant director who worked on the shoot.
On a roll, Robbie is definitely taking advantage of every opportunity coming her way. "Sometimes I get overwhelmed, but luckily, I'm so busy that I don't have time to really acknowledge what's happening." she says.
"It could all be gone tomorrow, so I'm going to appreciate today."
Who: Margot Robbie
What: Focus with Will Smith
When: Opens at cinemas next Thursday