Two years ago, up-and-coming actress Margot Robbie was stuck in what she calls a “blessing in disguise”. Her first American TV show, ABC’s “Pan Am”, was cancelled after its first season, but on the upside her freed network contract allowed her to pursue parts in both Richard Curtis’ “About Time” and Martin Scorsese’s next directorial effort. Prior to the network’s decision, Robbie—a 23-year-old Australian star best known for her role on the soap opera “Neighbours”—sent in an audition tape for “The Wolf of Wall Street” on a whim. To her surprise though, Scorsese’s casting director Ellen Lewis saw potential in her tape, and suddenly Robbie found herself in lead contention for the role of Naomi, the smart, sexpot wife to wheeling-and-dealing stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). A short while later, she snagged the role, and Robbie started preparing for her most high-profile film yet.
At both a roundtable and a one-on-one interview recently in Los Angeles, we got the chance to sit down with an enthusiastic Robbie as she described building her character’s distinctive voice, her intense, emotion-fuelled scenes opposite DiCaprio, going nude, and also her recently-shuttered next project, the crime drama “Violent Talents” with Garrett Hedlund and Toby Kebbell.
The Nude Scenes Were Essential—And Central—To Her Character’s Approach
There are scripts that I pick up and say, “There’s no reason why she’s getting her clothes off, that’s just stupid, it’s just nudity for the sake of nudity.” That I do not agree with, ever. But when the nudity is warranted, I totally agree with it, and don’t think there’s anything shameful in that. If it’s justified and the character would do it then it should be there. In this case, [sex is] Naomi’s power over Jordan and that’s her only way of getting what she wants. That’s her form of currency in a world of millionaires when she comes from nothing. The only way of creating a better life for herself and getting what she wants is the fact that she’s aware of this sexual power she has over men, and especially over Jordan.
It’s just different in this day and age too, because there’s the Internet. It was like, if I do this there will forever be YouTube clips of this, there will be slow-motion versions. It’s not just the repercussions on myself; my brothers have to deal with that, my grandparents have to deal with that. It’s not just something that affects me; it affects everyone around me. So it’s not something to be taken lightly. I obviously put a lot of thought into it.
The Fact That The Nude Scenes Were In A Scorsese Film Didn’t Hurt, Either
If there’s ever a time to do nudity, it’s in the hands of Martin Scorsese, who going to do it tastefully, who doesn’t exploit nudity. You watch his films, there’s a lot of violence—which he does so well—but he doesn’t use nudity as a tool for shock value. It’s not like he’s going to keep nudity in his back pocket and say, “Here I wanna do something exciting to pick the pace back up.” It’s not like that.
So I felt totally comforted by the fact that it would be done well and done tastefully. I’m not really scared of doing it on the day because I know crews are professional and all that kind of stuff, it’s more like having it physically recorded forever. And all that ended up, it was so worth it. It was done so well and everyone gets naked in the movie, and it was like nothing.
On Meeting Nadine Caridi, The Real-Life Inspiration For Naomi
I had the choice to meet her or not and I opted to meet her, and I’m really glad I did. It ended up being really helpful. It wasn’t necessarily integral to meet her to form my character because I wasn’t trying to portray her. And I tried to explain that to her – I was creating a character that was in the same situation that she was in, that lived the life that she was in, but I was by no means trying to be her or portray her at that time. She was really great about it, really understanding, which is a real attribute to how strong she is as a person. She’s has to be, to have put up with Jordan and his shenanigans.
When I asked what would they fight about, she was like, “The drugs. The fact that he was a drug addict.” And I was like, “Oh.” Because in the book [Jordan] conveniently makes it sound like they only fought about him sleeping with hookers and him coming home late and all those kind of things. But her version of events – she said, “I didn’t care about the hookers or coming home late. He’s a man, he’s going to fuck around, I don’t give a shit.” And I was like, “Wow, okay.” She doesn’t really have a filter in what she says.
She said he would be doing crack in front of their newborn baby. Any mother would divorce their husband for that. That could justify any irrational crazy behavior if it was out of protection of your child. So that was so helpful for my character because then I could do or say any horrible thing and know that my character’s motivation was out of protection for her child. Whether or not the audience sees my side of events is another matter, but just to know my motivation can give me an authentic performance.
Robbie Felt An Adverse Reaction To Naomi The First Time She Read The Script
In the first draft that I read it very much seemed like a transaction, and that’s why I didn’t like the character when I first read it. I was like, she’s a gold digger, very superficial and very transactionary. I thought it didn’t seem much deeper than that. But the more we worked on the character the more we kind of beefed it up and the story and the relationships developed and became multi-faceted. It was like a complete marriage. They had kids over those years. I think it was more that she got caught up in the whirlwind and that was fine—she enjoyed the lifestyle. But when that lifestyle stopped and that coincided with his drug habit, it became more of an issue and more dangerous as opposed to a fun by-product of the lifestyle. She had different priorities, so that’s how I see it. I guess everyone sees it from their character’s perspective.
On The Surprisingly Complex Journey of Naomi’s Accent
This is how specific I was hoping [the accent] to be: she was meant to have a Bay Ridge accent from the beginning, and then once they were living in Long Island I wanted it to have Long Island influences. I also wanted her to have made a conscious effort to dull down the Brooklyn from the accent; I wanted her to be aware of the fact that she was hanging out with people with a lot of money and she would be a little embarrassed of her original humble beginnings.
Something I realized when I moved to America: people get these general American accents, but when they get angry or upset or excited their original accents come out. It’s something I noticed with my manager, because he’s from New York, and the first time he got angry he suddenly had this accent. I was like ‘What is that?” So I thought whenever Naomi’s excited or yelling or whatever the accent should come out—which happens to be most of the scenes, so the accent is upfront anyway.
[Later, we continue the conversation with Robbie, one-on-one]
Did you have a very specific gameplan when planning your move to America from Australia to act?
Yes, well when I was planning my move to America I was living in Melbourne working on “Neighbours.” I worked on the show for three years, and it was probably a couple months into it when I decided. Up until then I had no idea that you could even do acting as a career, or that people could make a living out of it. It was just kind of like this fairy tale sort of life, so once I met people who were doing that as a career and could actually live off it, I started thinking, “Okay, what’s the next step?” America’s really the furthest you could go, because there’s really a limited industry in Australia.
Did you have any Australian actors as mentors that you looked up to?
There were a lot of people that I was working with, but they all worked and lived in Australia on the show that I was working on, and like I said it’s a pretty limited industry—very comfortable. If you have a family and you’re happy playing the same character for 17 years then you can make a really happy, stable lifestyle out of that. But for me the idea of playing the same character for a number of years sounded suffocating. So I utilized my time on “Neighbours” to a) save my money so I had enough to live unemployed in America for a couple of years if need be, and b), use whatever time I had to do acting courses on the side—not that there was much time because we worked 17-hour days, five days a week, year-round with no hiatus.
When I first tried the American accent, for a moment I thought I could never be an actor, because I just could not do it. But then I thought, “Okay, it’ll just be something that I work at until I get it.” Someone told me that you could learn to sing, and that there are muscles that if you build, you will sing. So it was like that: I was just going to build these muscles until I could do an American accent. I had this brilliant dialect coach in Australia, Anna McCrossin-Owen, and I would just see her as often as I could. I learned all about the muscles and bones, and the structure of your mouth. When we had our first lesson she asked, “Is that voice the front, center, or back valve?” and I had no idea. “Am I resonating through my cheekbones or my forehead or my nose or chest?” No idea. Now she’ll just pick a dialect and I can pick where I’m going to resonate from. Now that I’ve got all the technical training in place it’s easy to adapt that foundation to any kind of dialect.
Are you fashioning your Midwestern accent then for “Violent Talents” next [“World War Z” scribe Matthew Mark Carnahan’s directorial debut]?
That film actually fell through… it’s beyond annoying. I would’ve been filming that within a couple weeks. But I hadn’t decided about the voice. We had room to move with that. It was set in Detroit though, so I would’ve opted to pick a dialect that I hadn’t done before.
Is it eventually going to start up again?
For sure, but we need to have the right people investing who are going to let the film be made the way it needs to be made. It’s a gritty, dark film, and we were so lucky to get the funding for ‘Wolf’ to make that kind of film, but it’s a rare thing. People just aren’t willing to take those kinds of chances these days. But it was such a good script. I said to Matt, “I don’t care if you make this film in 10 months or 10 years, I’m committed to it.” And my character is only in it for five scenes, but I decided if we get the funding in 10 years I’ll still be here.
What was the kind of character you were playing?
She was a college student, so hopefully we don’t wait too long to make it. I guess if you classified it you could say she’s a love interest to Garrett Hedlund’s character, but it’s not really a love story. It’s a very unconventional sort of relationship—not dysfunctional, just unconventional. They see something in each other that doesn’t make a lot of sense to other people, I suppose.
[SPOILERS] It’s interesting how in your final scene of “Wolf of Wall Street”, Jordan’s punch to Naomi’s stomach is the final straw, but yet few people equate it with the forced sex that happened a second before. As an actress and as your character, how did you and Scorsese approach that beat? Originally it was you getting kicked down the stairs, right?
Yes, but we couldn’t find a way to block it. We didn’t intend it to look like rape. We just wanted it to be just the most tragic sex scene you’ve ever seen. Just uncomfortable, and tragic. Uncomfortable, because we wanted him to be so unaware of her repulsion towards him. Because so much of the nursery scene got cut out, something that you kind of miss is that [Jordan and Naomi] had a sick sort of aspect to their relationship. Not them as the real people, but the characters we created. He’s got this sexual obsession with her, and she uses her sexuality to manipulate him, so they both play these weird sort of fucked up sex games to just mess with each other.
So since this end scene was meant to be this cathartic kind of demise of their relationship we wanted it to be just fucked up. She’s kind of messed-up, saying, “Come for me”, and he’s kind of into it because that’s what they normally do but she’s forcing it—the whole thing is just meant to be painful to watch. When the sex scene’s happening, I feel like I can hear a pin drop. I feel like no one’s moving. And then when he punches me in the stomach everyone was like “Oh!” And it was so awesome, that collective, audible reaction. No one saw it coming.
You Mentioned The Nursery Scene Was Cut – What’s Missing?
Oh, it was when she was messing with him, saying how [adopts the Bay Ridge accent] “It’s going to be nothing but short skirts for a very long time, Daddy,” and she’s touching herself, effectively masturbating. And he starts telling her a story about their happy life together and how they got all this money, they got these security guards and blah, blah, blah. She’s getting more and more into the story, and she thinks she’s totally got him, but it’s just so uncomfortable once you see what’s coming. So she’s really touching herself a lot, really getting into it and moaning, and he’s going with this story. And then he says she’s on-camera and she freaks out and covers herself up. To somewhat of my relief, because I was secretly dreading that scene. That was going to be more uncomfortable to watch than the sex scene at the end. It was going to be really awkward.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is in theatres now.