By the time Cultist gets its 15 minutes on the phone with Australian actress Margot Robbie, she admits to having lost count of how many interviews she has done that day regarding her high-profile role in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. "We're probably in our 30s or something," she says with a shrug in her sing-song Aussie accent.
At this point, the 23-year-old actress has grown accustomed to the usual questions: "What was the sex scene like? What's Marty like?" she notes.
All valid questions for the actress whose career has suddenly entered a new level with one of the most talked-about films that closed 2013. In the film, she adapts a heck of a Long Island accent to play the young trophy wife Naomi Lapaglia to Jordan Belfort, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Naomi is supposed to be just one of Belfort's upgrades in his life clambering to the top of his swindling ways on Wall Street in the 1990s, high on coke and Quaaludes.
Scorsese based The Wolf of Wall Street on the autobiography of the same name by the real-life Belfort, who would ultimately end up in jail for less than two years for his crimes. It's probably the most raucous film of Scorsese's career. It's three hours of debauchery and excess filled with lots of sly winking that sometimes incriminates the viewer. There are no mixed reviews for this film. It has either been adored or reviled by critics.
Robbie, who admits her favorite Scorsese film of all time is Gangs of New York (she says she first saw it at 15 years of age and never tires of it), feels immensely proud of her work in the film. She does not hesitate to look beyond the noise to provide a little perspective on the film's merits.
Cultist: There are people who are loving this film and others who are hating it. What did you think when you first saw the completed film?
Margot Robbie: I was actually amazed at how funny it was. I didn't know what I was gonna see because we shot so much footage and every take was different. There was so much improvising. I really had no idea what versions of the takes were gonna make it in the cut. I just had no idea how to prepare myself for what I was gonna see, so I was just shocked at how funny it was. I was kind of amazed that Thelma [Schoonmaker, the movie's editor] and Marty were actually able to edit together probably hundreds of hours footage into a clear, concise sort of story line.
Are you surprised by the divisive reaction?
No. When we were shooting it, we knew perfectly well it was always going to be a controversial, confronting film, and it was gonna raise a lot of debate. I think everyone was aware of that when we were shooting it. It's not a movie to please the masses. It's only a certain group of people that are absolutely gonna love this movie. We made this movie for those kind of people who really like experimental sort of films, people who want to see someone push the envelope, I suppose.
There's quite a bit of subjugation of women going on in the film. Early on we have that scene with one woman has her head shaved for money to buy breast implants, and then your character arrives, who really has an uphill battle toward redemption. Should women take offense?
A lot of people are asking that, actually. I don't think it would have been fair to leave out one particular group of people. You know, you can't pick one group of people to be victimized and then leave out the others. There's this scene where there's this gay orgy, and then the gay butler gets beaten up and says, "Is it because I'm gay?" There's so many different groups of people that can claim they're being victimized. You can't pick and choose. Pretty much no one is unharmed in this film, and with a film like this, it's all or nothing. It's just unapologetic, raw, uncensored version of events, and if we polished over or glossed over any part of that, it just would have been inauthentic, so I'm personally glad there were no exceptions made for anyone.
It must have been something you believed in, because this film features your first nude scene.
As for my character in particular, the nudity and the sexual side to her is her main power over Jordan. She uses that to manipulate men to get what she wants. That's her form of currency in a world where she's surrounded by millionaires, and she's come from nothing. She didn't have any money whatsoever. That's how she became a millionaire, you know? So she definitely wouldn't see it that way. She wouldn't feel sorry for herself for having to take her clothes off. She would do that willingly. In fact, she would pity the men that are dumb enough to fall for it. It's her form of power, so it wouldn't feel exploitative for my character at all.
Wall Street of the '80s/'90s seems like the primordial start of a lot of what's wrong with the financial system nowadays. Is it a statement on how awful things are nowadays? Are we laughing at our own failure?
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I think the audiences can take away from it what they want. If people want to see it that way, they can see it as a cautionary tale, or they can see it as history repeating itself, or they can see it as multiple things. I personally don't see it so much as a look at Wall Street in particular. You can see in the film, when he starts talking about stocks or IPOs, he stops halfway through and says, "You know, don't worry, you don't need to know about this stuff. The point is we got rich," or whatever, and then they go back to their thing. I think the point of all that is to show it's not a plot-driven film. It's more about the characters and how flawed they are and their relationships and the dynamic and really the whole stock market, Wall Street, blah, blah, blah, is just really there to create the tapestry for this bit of life, to enable them to have the means for this crazy lifestyle, to have the dysfunctional relationships. And what we're really looking at are the dysfunctional relationships and the character flaws that they have, and what the film is, is a close look at these flawed characters and the relationships they have. That's how I view it.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.