THIS AUSTRALIAN OSCAR NOMINEE HAS A KNACK FOR PORTRAYING CONTROVERSIAL POP CULTURE FIGURES MOST RECENTLY THE LATE ACTRESS SHARON TATE IN QUENTIN TARANTINO’S JUST RELEASED DRAMEDY ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
BY JOEL KELLER
If you haven’t gathered it already after absorbing favorite movies or TV shows, we can a firm that being a thespian is hard work. “Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation,” Bette Davis once observed, and regardless of whether a performer’s motivation is prosaic self enrichment or the achievement of transcendence, the journey is labor. Part of the e ort is the drudgery of auditioning and rejection, certainly, but also the required suspension of self a process that most of us mere mortals can’t even comprehend.
Now imagine that you have to become someone who was a historical figure, a person who had real success in her time but has become truly legend for being a victim in one of the most notorious mass murder cases in history. In playing the late Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated period film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Margot Robbie did just that.
The production stars Leonardo DiCaprio as TV star Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his stunt double, Cliff Booth, as they try to make their way in 1969 Hollywood, where the types of shows and movies coming out of the entertainment mecca are changing rapidly, and ethereal actresses like Tate are in demand. The wife of Roman Polanski, she was pregnant with their child when she was butchered by members of Charles Manson’s “family” in August of that year.
In the film, written and directed by Tarantino, Tate is a ebullient presence, and even though she’s given comparatively few lines of dialogue, he felt she was vital to the script even going as far as saying “I reject that hypothesis” when a reporter at a Cannes Film Festival junket asked him about Robbie’s dearth of lines.
For her part, Robbie said at the press panel that, “I think the moments I got on screen gave an opportunity to honor Sharon and the lightness she brought to people’s lives. The tragedy really was a loss of innocence, and to really show those wonderful sides of her I think could be adequately done without speaking.”
This poise has marked Robbie’s relatively brief career since bursting onto the scene in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), in which she played Naomi Lapaglia, a salty tongued and fiercely independent Brooklynite and wife of DiCaprio’s hard charging stockbroker, Jordan Belfort. Even though the Australian actress had been in a popular soap opera called Neighbours in her home country, then found a regular role on ABC’s short lived nostalgia series Pan Am, the part of Lapaglia yet another based on a real person demon strated a magnetic screen presence, even at the age of 23.
An infamous scene where she sexually taunts Belfort in their daughter’s nursery was charged in various ways. It was also, as Robbie explained to Porter magazine, hard work.
“It doesn’t come across when you’re watching the movie, but in reality we’re in a tiny bedroom with 30 crew crammed in. All men,” she recalled. “And for 17 hours I’m pretending to be touching myself. It’s just a very weird thing and you have to bury the embarrassment and absurdity really deep and fully commit.”
Born in 1990, Robbie was the second youngest of four kids; her mother, a physiotherapist, raised the family on her own in the city of Gold Coast (just south of Brisbane) after her father left when Robbie was five. (As she told Vogue earlier this year, she doesn’t talk much about him.) She moved to Melbourne at seventeen after getting the role in Neighbours, then to Los Angeles in 2010 to pursue a career in American film and TV, which led to Pan Am and eventually to working with Scorsese on Wolf. In describing her zanily spot on tough city gal delivery in that film, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody observed that “her consonants alone, floating away at the end of words, deserve an Oscar.”
More big parts quickly followed; she played Jane Clayton opposite Alexander Skarsgård in The Legend of Tarzan, and costarred in Suicide Squad as the mysterious and murderous DC Comics’ Harley Quinn. She once again took on the mantle of a real life person in Goodbye Christopher Robin, ably playing author A.A. Milne’s wife, Daphne. Robbie even played herself in a funny cameo in The Big Short.
She met Tom Ackerly while filming Suite Française in 2014 (he was an assistant director), and they married in a private ceremony two years later.
Robbie is co-founder of the produc tion company LuckyChap Entertainment, and one of its earliest projects was I, Tonya, in which she played notorious Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, receiving her first Oscar nomination for the role. In its wake, she had considerable discretion as to whom she wanted to work with, and found her way to Tarantino. After taking the role of Tate, she researched as much as possible, while also making certain that the performance served the movie’s purposes.
“Quentin said it to me early on, that she was the heartbeat of the story. For me, I just saw her as a ray of light,” Robbie said during the Cannes press event. “I applied myself to the character in that respect, and in doing so, felt like I could honor the memory of real life Sharon Tate, who many said was such a bright light in this world.”
Of the painstaking recreation of high hippiedom L.A., including period faithful costumes, cars, and architecture, Robbie added that, “These sets weren’t added in post. This isn’t a CGI film…no green screen, no, ‘We’ll make it look like 1969 later, just use your imagination for now.’” Robert Richardson’s lustrous cinematography was aided by the production being shot entirely on 35 millimeter stock (as have nearly all of Tarantino’s projects).
Of her seven upcoming movies either announced or in production (including three more spins as Harley Quinn), the most unexpected might be a portrayal of another iconic figure: Barbie (yes, that Barbie) in a Warner Bros. and Mattel live action film produced by Lucky Chap and set for release next year.
“I’m so honored to take on this role and produce a film that I believe will have a tremendously positive impact on children and audiences worldwide,” she said in a press release, with Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman, Toby Emmerich, observing that “Margot is the ideal producer and actress to bring Barbie to life on screen in a fresh and relevant way.”