Margot Robbie got a role of a lifetime in The Wolf of Wall Street, but it came with a price. For the 23-year-old Australian actress, she’d be directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring against Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, but the role required her to get completely naked. And in the era of the internet, where such moments are never lost and said images are easily found, it’s a tough decision to make. But Robbie took it, and delivers one of the best performances in a film filled with great ones. Here’s our chat with the actress.
I’m sure all women hate you for playing against Leonardo DiCaprio.
Margot Robbie: I’m hated worldwide.
So what was the audition process like, was it very intensive?
Margot Robbie: It was like most things in this industry, it was rush-rush-rush and then wait, and then rush-rush-rush and then wait. “There’s a script, get an audition on tape!” and then you hear nothing for months. And then it’s “quick, get on a plane you’re going to be in a room with Mary and Leo, you’ve got the job” and then wait. And then you’re off and you’re flying, and that’s how it went. I did the audition tape here like everyone else was doing at the time, and never expecting Martin Scorsese to see it, we were just hoping (casting director) Ellen Lewis would see it but it went straight on to Marty, and then we heard “Marty wants to see you read in a room with Leo in New York.” And then all this stuff happened.
I was contracted to Pan Am at the time, it was this TV series I was shooting, and it was maybe going to go ahead with a season two, but maybe not. I was contracted, so if it went I couldn’t do it, “but then why did you audition for Wolf?” “Well, I never thought Marty would see it.” And then there was the nudity thing, I didn’t want to do nudity, but then “why did you audition?” It was all this kind of stuff going on. At the eleventh hour I got cleared from Pam Am, and I was in London doing a table read for About Time, a Richard Curtis film I was doing, I got cleared at the last moment, just as they were about to give up on me.
With a project like this, it must be weird to be thinking “please let my show be cancelled.”
Margot Robbie: I know, because everyone was like “you must be so devastated that Pan Am wasn’t picked up” and I was because I loved everyone and had such a fun time, but I wasn’t. I was kind of like “please don’t let this go ahead, so then I can do this and About Time.” It was a blessing in disguise. Everything happens for a reason, or at least you tell yourself that. Everything that’s wrong in your life, it must be because something better’s around the corner. And if you don’t tell yourself that you’ll go crazy.
Margot Robbie: It’s funny, in hindsight, I don’t know why I had an issue with it to begin with, I mean I get it, I see why it seemed really intimidating to me, but now that I’ve done it, it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all, and it wasn’t like I couldn’t see why the character needed to do it. It wasn’t like I was questioning why it was in there. There are scripts I pick up where characters take their clothes off and it’s so stupid, and that sort of nudity I don’t agree with ever, but when the nudity is warranted I don’t think there’s anything shameful in that. If it’s justified and the character would do it then it should be there.
And in this case that’s Naomi’s power over Jordan and her ability at getting what she wants. It’s her form of currency in a world of millionaires. She comes from nothing, so it’s her currency to get what she wants, it’s her power over men and especially over Jordan. It makes perfect sense for her to use her body to manipulate him, and also for the sake of showing it on screen, it’s the shock value the film has all the way through. I can absolutely see why the film needed it, it was never a question of “why is the character doing it?” It was a question of “am I able to deal with that?” It’s just different in this day and age because it was like “if I do this it will forever be on youtube, there will be slow motion versions of this, my family, it’s not just me, my brothers have to deal with that, my grandparents have to deal with that.” It’s not just something that affects me, it effects everyone around me. So it’s not something to be taken lightly. I obviously put a lot of thought into it.
But there’s a big difference from doing it the sleazy way and doing it for Martin Scorsese.
Margot Robbie: Which was the main reason why I did it. Because if ever there’s a time to do nudity it’s in the hands of Scorsese, who’s going to do it tastefully. You watch his films and there’s a lot of violence, which he does well, so so well, but he doesn’t use nudity as a tool for shock value, it’s not like something he keeps in his back pocket to use for picking the pace up, it’s not like that. It’s not something he takes advantage of. So I did feel confident that it would be done well, it would be done tastefully, and I knew that if there was ever a point in my career, this was the time to do it. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Yes, there was going to be a downside, it’s going to be intimidating, it’s not so much on the day doing it, cause I know the crews are professional, it’s more the having it physically recorded forever. And all that was so worth doing for the experience I had, and it was done so well and everyone gets naked in the movie (laughs). It was like nothing, it was like a drop in the pond.
Margret Robbie: I did meet her. I met her before we started shooting. I had the choice to meet her and I’m really glad I did. It ended up being really helpful. It wasn’t integral because I wasn’t trying to portray her, I was creating a character that was in the same situation as her, who lived the same life as her, but I was by no means trying to be her or portray her. And she was great about it, really unfazed by it all. It’s a real attribute to her, how strong she is as a person. She has to be to put up with Jordan and his shenanigans. What I got from here was why he was so obsessed with her, because after meeting her for a half an hour I was in love with her. But when I asked her “what did you fight about?” She said “the drugs, the fact that he was a drug addict.” And I was like “oh” because he conveniently doesn’t talk about it in the book. He makes it sounds like she was upset because he was sleeping with hookers and coming home late at night. Her version of events was “I didn’t care about the hookers. He’s a man, he’s going to f— around, I don’t give a s—.” She doesn’t really have a filter in what she says. And so I asked, “well what did you fight about?” “Him doing crack in front of our newborn baby.” And I was like “oh, yeah. Any mother would divorce their husband for that.” It would justify any irrational, crazy behavior if he’s smoking crack in front of their child, and so that was so helpful for my character, so I could say any horrible thing and know that my motivation was out of protection for her child. Whether or not the audience see my side of events is another matter, but just to know that gave me an authentic performance. You’re not meant to sympathize with my character, so the audience doesn’t need to see my side, you’re meant to see Jordan’s version of the events, and if you get the opportunity to sympathize with Naomi’s side that’s great, it’s not necessarily the goal of the film, but I needed that to feel confident in my performance.
Do you think that Naomi ever loved Jordan?
Margret Robbie: Oh she absolutely did, yeah.
Margret Robbie: In the first draft that I read it seemed like a transaction, which is why I didn’t like it when I first read it. I thought “she’s a gold digger.” Very superficial, very transactionary, that’s a great term for it. But I didn’t have much interest in playing that because it didn’t seem much deeper than that. But the more we worked with the character, the more we beefed it up and figured out the relationship it became multi-faceted from there, and if you meet them and if you read the books you see there’s a lot more to it too. It was a complete marriage, they had children. It was more than “you can have this great lifestyle, I’ll give you money and security, you get sex, and bang, when the money’s gone so am I.” I think it was more so that she got caught up in the whirlwind, and she enjoyed the lifestyle, but when that lifestyle stopped she felt like that wasn’t what she signed up for. And that coincided with his drug habit becoming more of an issue. It became dangerous, drugs were a fun byproduct of the lifestyle, but it became the lifestyle. Plus, she had kids then, and it wasn’t worth it any more. She had different priorities. At least that’s the way I see it.
Had you done a New York accent before?
Margret Robbie: No I hadn’t.
You did an amazing job. And a specific New York accent.
Margret Robbie: It’s meant to be Bay Ridge, but this is how specific I was hoping it would be, it was meant to be a Bay Ridge accent from the beginning, and then once they were living in Long Island it was meant to have Long Island influences with her making a conscious effort to dull down the Brooklyn from the accent because she was aware she was hanging out with people with a lot of money, that she would be a little bit embarrassed by her original humble beginnings.
And you’re not shooting in order, so you have to keep track of this.
Margret Robbie: Yes, I carried my script with breakdowns, but then something I realized when I moved to America is that often people have these general American accents, but when they get upset or angry their original accents come out. My manager, because he’s from New York, suddenly had this accent I was like “what was that?” So I thought whenever she’s angry or overexcited the accent should come out, which happens to be most of the scenes. But if she’s just sort of talking I wanted it to be more Long Island than Bay Ridge.
Margret Robbie: So many times. It was so funny, the angle I was throwing the water, somehow it got upside into his eyelids, and I was temporary blinding him, and he didn’t tell me until the fourth take. And so every time he’d be (does a DiCaprio in the scene impression), I thought “oh god, he’s such a good actor,” but then he said “you need to throw it at my chin or something because I can not see anything.” And I was like “oh my god, I’m so sorry, why didn’t you say anything?” But it was so funny. We did that a lot of times, I felt really bad.
Unlike the male characters, you only had one big party scene, how was that?
Margret Robbie: I was so bummed, I assumed they were having so much fun without me. My introduction? That was my first day of shooting, and Jonah and I (laughs)… “Nice to meet you Jonah.” That was literally our first day of working together.
The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters now.