SW Resident speaks to Margot Robbie about her latest role playing disgraced Olympian Tonya Harding in I, Tonya – a film that she also produced – and life in Clapham
Words: Karen Anne Overton
Lead image: Maarten de Boer / Getty Images 2017
She’s the Aussie bombshell who got her big break playing the wife of an American fallen idol in The Wolf of Wall Street, but in the last few years Margot Robbie’s choices both on and off screen have had a distinctly British flavour.
It all began in 2013 at the London premiere of her aforementioned breakout film, when the young actress had such a blast cavorting around the city that she and some friends decided, on a whim, to move to a flat in Clapham.
Immersing herself fully in south west London life, the Hollywood starlet was often spotted out in the neighbourhood, whether feverishly dancing at nearby hotspot Infernos or adorning herself with body art at the many local tattoo parlours.
Then, when she met and fell in love with her now-husband, Surrey-born filmmaker Tom Ackerley on the set of Suite Française, she simply moved him into the flat-share as well.
‘For me, where you live and what you do have to be simplistic and comfortable, otherwise how are you possibly going to relax?’ she begins. ‘Clapham has always felt unassuming in the sense that you’re just left alone to get on with who you are, and that’s perfect for me.’
Clapham has always felt unassuming in the sense that you’re just left alone to get on with who you are, and that’s perfect for me
Currently one of cinema’s biggest stars, following impressive performances in blockbusters like Suicide Squad and The Legend of Tarzan, it is unlikely the 27-year-old beauty will continue to enjoy such anonymity, though her recent performance in Goodbye Christopher Robin – in which she played the wife of Winnie the Pooh creator A. A. Milne with a stiff upper lip and immaculate upper-class accent – suggests her time in the capital has been well-invested.
In her next role, Robbie takes on a rather more contentious cultural icon playing shamed figure skater Tonya Harding. Having premiered to rave reviews at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, I, Tonya recounts the events surrounding the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships.
In the lead-up, Harding’s estranged husband Jeff Gillooly paid someone to (unsuccessfully) break rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s leg – an act that would essentially end Harding’s own career as she was banned from the sport for life.
No novice when it comes to portraying morally-dubious women, Robbie is clear to emphasise that the film is not designed to alter perceptions or bring any level of sympathy to the fallen athlete.
We didn’t set out to change people’s minds or make a particular statement about what happened. The greater theme is truth and there are so many different sides to a single story
‘We didn’t set out to change people’s minds or make a particular statement about what happened,’ she explains. ‘The greater theme is truth and there are so many different sides to a single story. I don’t know if people will walk out of the theatre thinking that someone was in the right or the wrong, but they’ll appreciate that they didn’t know the full story.’
Despite having garnered a reputation as a formidable action star thanks to her impressive turn as baseball bat-wielding psychopath Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, Robbie still had to undergo four months of intensive training to master even the most basic figure skating manoeuvres.
‘It was much more difficult than I imagined,’ she says with a smile. ‘One big thing I found out was that the real challenge is making the skating look as effortless as possible even though it’s very athletic and physically demanding. Skating is like ballet in that sense because it’s that effortless quality which makes it look so beautiful and artistic.’
But Robbie’s angelic face and graceful, gamine physique belie a rugged toughness. This the actress owes in part to her mother, who raised four children alone following her husband’s departure.
My siblings and I went boar-hunting and surfing. It was not the kind of upbringing that you could ever have expected would lead anyone into acting
‘She was a single mother raising my brothers and my sister and I by herself and we didn’t make life easy for her. We were always fighting and my mum had to be a very strong woman to hold things together,’ reveals Robbie, before adding emphatically: ‘She’s an amazing woman.’
It is also thanks to the fact that these formative years were spent on a farm belonging to her grandparents that allowed for the kind of freewheeling adventures you might find in a child’s story book.
‘My siblings and I went boar-hunting and surfing, and I grew up learning more about agriculture and animal husbandry than you could imagine,’ says Robbie wistfully. ‘It was not the kind of upbringing that you could ever have expected would lead anyone into acting.’
Though one may question how such a rural upbringing might prepare Robbie for the glamour of Tinseltown, it does explain her ability to navigate the urban jungle that is Clapham Common on a Saturday night.
I, Tonya is due for release early in 2018 but previews at Clapham Picturehouse on Sunday 10 December 2017