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Margot Robbie: from Neighbours to Oscar nominee

Actor Margot Robbie tracks the steps and roles that led her from Australian soaps to starring in and producing I, Tonya.

Margot Robbie at I, Tonya's Australian premiere / Photo credit Don Arnold, Getty Images

Margot Robbie at I, Tonya's Australian premiere / Photo credit Don Arnold, Getty Images

How does it feel to leap from a guest starring role in Neighbours to an Oscar nomination in less than a decade? Ask Aussie actor and producer Margot Robbie and you’ll get a typically humble response.

“Honestly when I got my first audition for Neighbours, that was a ‘pinch me’ moment and I haven’t stopped pinching myself since, because I still feel lucky every time I walk on a set,” says the newly-minted Oscar-nominated star of I, Tonya. “Every experience is new and crazy and something I wished for but never thought would ever happen to me. It’s been a wild ride!”

“I haven’t stopped pinching myself since.”

Growing up on the Gold Coast and spending much of her childhood on her grandparent’s farm, Margot never considered an acting career until after she finished high school. “I didn’t even know anyone else who’d done it so I always just did it for fun in school,” she recalls. “I’d decided to travel for a while after I finished school to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and two days later, I got the role on Neighbours and then I knew what to do.”

Margot was offered a guest role as Donna Freeman on the soap but quickly won over producers who made her a regular character and subsequently a fan favourite from 2008 until 2011, when she boldly took off to Hollywood in search of work.

Less than a year later, Margot was cast alongside Christina Ricci in the ‘60s period TV drama Pan Am, playing one of the stewardesses who worked on the iconic airline in its heyday. While the show only lasted one season, it caught the attention of casting directors and this led to an audition with Martin Scorsese, who cast the young Aussie actor opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

“It’s all totally surreal.”

“That film definitely opened so many more doors than I ever would have had access to and was instrumental in all the things that happened consequentially,” Margot reflects. She also adds that working opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, “made me a better actor for sure.”

Kicking down doors quickly built an impressive film resume for the actor: in the jungle with Alexander Skarsgard (The Legend of Tarzan), cracking jokes with Tina Fey (Whisky Tango Foxtrot), hustling people with Will Smith (Focus) and playing iconic comic book character Harley Quinn (Suicide Squad).

But when she read the script for I, Tonya to consider playing the lead role of disgraced Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding, Margot knew she’d found something special. “I passionately responded to it as one of the best scripts I’d read in my life and knew I wanted to be involved with it – and that was before I even knew it was a true story,” admits the actor, who was only four when the real incident took place. She loved it so much that she and former London roommate Tom Ackerley – whom she married in December 2016 – set up a production company, Lucky Chap, and decided to co-produce the film, shooting in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We did look at shooting this in Australia because I’d love to go home and make a film there,” she reveals, “but this was a very specific period with very specific homes and locations and we would have had to build them all from scratch in Australia so it just didn’t make sense unfortunately.”

The film has paid off for not only Robbie – who earned her first Oscar, Golden Globe® and SAG nomination – but has also proved that her work as a producer is not a vanity project: the film also earned a Golden Globe® Best Motion Picture Comedy nomination, and a Golden Globe® and SAG win for supporting actress, Allison Janney (who’s also nominated for an Oscar).

“It’s all totally surreal,” she admits giddily. “In some ways it feels quick, starting on Neighbours and ending up here, but it also feels like a lifetime ago. But it’s nice moving cities and countries so often for work because I’m Australian, married to an English guy and I work in Hollywood but also have close girlfriends on three continents.”

Is there anything Margot misses from her days as a struggling actor? “Back then, every audition I walked in on, nobody expected something exciting to happen and that gives you the drive to fight, like ‘hey, pay attention, I’m going to do a really great job!’” she recalls. “Now it’s scarier because everyone expects something, so that’s a different kind of pressure.”

Whether or not she takes home an Academy Award®, our newest Oscar-nominated actor says she’s just excited to be joining that exclusive list of Australian talent who have gone before her.  “I did a photo shoot recently with Nicole Kidman,” she says with awe, “and I was so excited because there is something really special about meeting people I admire but even more when they are fellow Australians. I never imagined I’d even be mentioned in the same breath as her.”


Margot Robbie will be honoured at the G'Day USA 2018 Gala for Excellence in Film.

I, Tonya releases in Australian cinemas on 25 January through Roadshow Entertainment. The 90th Academy Awards® take place in Los Angeles on 4 March.