Margot Robbie: Retelling The Legend Of Tarzan

July 5, 2016
In-demand Australian actress, Margot Robbie, heads deep into the African wild to play Jane opposite Alexander Skarsgard’s jungle king in The Legend Of Tarzan.

Tell us about Jane’s story in this? “The story picks up about eight years after they’ve moved back to London, so there’s no, ‘Me Tarzan. You Jane’ situation. It’s like the typical Tarzan story done in reverse in that they’re married and living in 19th century London, and then they’re drawn back to Africa. Neither of them fit into London society very well, and they end up going back to the Congo where Jane grew up. She moved there with her father when she was young because he was doing research, so that’s home for her. She’s extremely excited about going home and John Clayton – Tarzan – is extremely trepidatious about going home. He’s scared about putting them in danger and, more so, about the person that he was when he was there. So it’s a big adventure, and there’s an epic love between husband and wife. I wanted them to be very dependent on each other because of that love, but also – since they are apart for a lot of the movie – I wanted them to be very independent too. I wanted Jane to be very strong and composed. I wanted her to have a massive emotional strength in the way that he has physical strength. He needs her, as much as she needs him.”

And you have red hair? “Initially, they wanted me to be blonde, because that’s the first thing that a studio says: ‘Make sure that she’s blonde!’ But in the 19th century Victorian era, if you were going to be the most gorgeous girl, you’d be a red head. That was the most sought after hair colour back then. Queen Elizabeth used to have all those wigs made with the red hair; she’d literally pick girls off the street with red hair and have wigs made. Plus, I wanted to look different than I normally do. So we did a bunch of wig fittings and tried all the different colours, and they said, ‘You’re right: red hair does work.’”

Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend Of Tarzan

Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend Of Tarzan

There have been so many versions of the Tarzan story…did you hesitate in taking the role? “I definitely hesitated. I said, ‘I don’t want to play a damsel in distress.’ It didn’t look like a project for me. And my team said, ‘No, you should read it. It’s a different take on the story and a different take on the character.’ I read it and then I was like, ‘Yes. I’m in.’ I loved the script. I spoke to [director] David Yates and clarified things…I really said, ‘I will not be the damsel. I do not want to be crying for the while movie about my husband waiting to be saved.’ I was not going to do that. When she’s held captive, she should be kicking and screaming, and I wanted her to be smart too. I wanted her to be figuring out how she’s going to get out of the situation herself. He totally agreed, and I was very happy with the version that he wanted to create.”

How was working with Alexander Skarsgard? “It was amazing! We’d met before we did the shoot, and I already knew that we got along so well. He’s literally the loveliest person, so that wasn’t an issue at all. He’s very easy to be around. I have a lot of close Swedish friends, so maybe it’s a Swedish thing. My best friend is Swedish, but I don’t know. We just got along really well. That was easy.”

Alexander worked hard to get so buff for the role. Did you have to work out too? “No. I didn’t work hard, physically, at all. It was tremendously unfair, and I was revelling in it. It is so rare that you are the female who is wearing more clothes than the male! I could eat what I wanted and do what I wanted, and if I put on any weight, I was like, ‘Well, it’s the 19th century Victorian era, so having a bit of weight is probably an attractive thing.’ It’s like the red hair. She’s looking great. Back then, this would have been all the rage. So, no, I’m not getting thin just for the sake of getting thin. My character doesn’t need to be thin. I did personal training throughout just to keep some level of fitness, because on set, the hours are crazy, and I was running around all the time. But it was nothing like training for Suicide Squad! I didn’t need to be tremendously strong the way that Alexander did. I just needed to have enough fitness to be able to run around for six months.”

Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend Of Tarzan

Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend Of Tarzan

Could you actually tease Alexander about that? “Oh, I was terrible. I was awful. I would eat things in front of him, and he would have tears in his eyes! I would actually feel bad and be like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ He would be like, ‘What did you do on the weekend?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, it was so fun! We went out and did this, I ate this.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no. I don’t want to hear what you did. Tell me what you ate. Tell me exactly what you ate.’ I’m like, ‘First, I had…’ It was like food porn for him listening to that.”

You have been doing very interesting work…what have you learned from the various people that you’ve worked with? “What became evident to me was that you can be in a big position of power like Martin Scorsese or Leonardo DiCaprio on The Wolf Of Wall Street, and you can still be incredibly respectful to anyone on set. I’ve also seen the flipside of that, with actors who aren’t at their level behaving badly on set. And I’ve always thought, ‘How do they get away with that? Imagine what the A-list actors would be like if that’s what they’re doing!’ But the A-listers tend to be the most gracious, lovely people on set. That makes you think, ‘I want to work like you. I want to be as professional as you.’ I also like watching different people’s processes. Directors all work so differently. Scorsese has such a specific style. David Yates has a specific style. I really like stylised films, and I pay attention to each director’s style. Watching different actors work is really impressive. I’ve now worked with Method actors and actors who wing it on the day, and I’ve worked with actors who do lots of research. Everyone has a different style, and what works for them works for them, and it might not for someone else. But it is interesting to see how everyone does it, and maybe take little pieces here and there and apply that to my own process.”

Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz in The Legend Of Tarzan

Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz in The Legend Of Tarzan

Which one of those categories do you fall into? “I’m definitely not Method, and I don’t wing it on the day either. I’m probably the third category. I do a lot of research in advance, so I’m equipped for whatever scenario eventuates on set.”

Are you looking to initiate projects now? “I’ve started a production company, and it’s been a really empowering experience where I can seek out stories that I want to tell, and characters that I want to play, and people that I’d like to work with. It’s definitely being proactive about forming those relationships. We are producing an indie film called Terminal. We’ve probably got four projects that we’re working on at the moment. That’s the closest one to starting. I’ll be acting in it too.”

Are there any Australian directors or fellow Australian actors that you’d love to work with? “Yes! Ever since I saw The Assassination Of Jesse James, I’ve being dying to work with Andrew Dominik. He’s just a brilliant Aussie director. And Cate Blanchett has always been my absolute acting idol. Ben Mendelssohn…I would chop off my right hand to work with him. Baz Luhrmann would be one of those bucket list sort of things. Rebel Wilson. I actually can’t think of an Aussie actor that I wouldn’t be thrilled to work with.”

What do you miss about Australia? “It’s just a different lifestyle. It is so typical to say, but it’s a really laidback country. I miss that. I miss the lifestyle. I miss going for a swim every morning. I miss the sunshine. I miss my friends and family, of course. I miss that it’s kind of isolated. It’s our own little section of the world, and it has its own vibe. I miss that.”

The Legend Of Tarzan is released in cinemas on July 7.

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