Barbie Composition: Margot Robbie adds another layer of character to her versatile body of work
Margot Robbie wasn’t a huge Barbie lover growing up. The Australian actress who conquered Hollywood with seeming ease in her early 20s is unsure if she ever even had a Barbie doll. She spent a lot of time in Queensland, preparing mud pies with her cousin, playing with trucks and constructing forts.
The fashion sense came later; Robbie’s strong, glam femininity is currently being honoured in the Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion exhibition at Australia’s National Museum of Screen Culture, alongside other female screen icons who have taken creative control and shaped their own image. “The clothes are a huge part of this movie and a huge part of Barbie,” she says. “It’s super superficial – but it’s incredibly profound at the same time. Everything in this movie had to be authentically artificial.”
Transformed into a fantasy comedy directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women), Barbie hits cinemas this month. The Barbie actress not only plays the lead Barbie character (opposite Ryan Gosling as the main Ken) but also pulls the production strings through her company, LuckyChap Entertainment.
The actress, who turns 33 this month, has already had a career filled with memorable movie roles and, in real Barbie fashion, red-carpet looks. She got her start on the popular Australian soap, Neighbours, then quickly relocated to Los Angeles to pursue her Hollywood ambitions. Her rapid rise continued, as she was able to share credits with a number of well-known actors and filmmakers during her first few years in the US, earning praise from both the public and critics.
Life is her creation
Straight away, Margot Robbie landed top billing beside Christina Ricci in the period TV series Pan Am (2011), then appeared in the time-travel romantic comedy About Time, and shone alongside Leonardo di Caprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). She won the hearts of the DC Comics faithful with her portrayal of villainess Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016), a role she reprised in 2020 for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and again in The Suicide Squad the following year.
Robbie garnered her first Oscar nod for her complex portrayal of controversial US figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya (2018), and then regularly landed award-season nominations – including Bafta supporting actress shots for her performance as Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and her work in Bombshell (2019). The latter also brought in a second Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe shout-out.
While taking home a top award still eludes her, there is no question that Robbie will dominate the big screen for years to come. Acting is not her only concern, though; through her behind-the-scenes work as a producer, she has become a powerful advocate for women in Hollywood.
Beyond the Barbie world
Co-founded by Robbie in 2014 with three friends – one of whom, Briton Tom Ackerley, became her husband – LuckyChap has been committed to producing compelling female tales and assembling teams of female artists. These include I, Tonya, and multi-Oscar nominee Promising Young Woman, written and directed by Emerald Fennell and starring Carey Mulligan. More doors are being opened for women in Hollywood by Robbie and co., and she is also promoting women’s rights in the industry on her own platform. She has been an outspoken proponent of the #MeToo movement and has pushed to make the film industry a safer place.
Reflecting on her own self-education about the prevalence of misogyny in the workplace, she says: “It horrified me just how that particular crime plays in the grey area. That’s where it really flourishes when a situation isn’t black and white, and that’s when insidious people like Roger Ailes [as depicted in Bombshell] or Harvey Weinstein take advantage of that grey area.”
She is passionate about getting women involved in action movies since that particular genre is where the big money is. “Also, the perception that women aren’t interested in action is ridiculous,” she adds.
With the industry on the precipice of great change, Robbie finds herself not in the position of the burgeoning film starlet that she was a decade ago, but an executive producer making tectonic shifts to break the patriarchal mould.
Never going out of style
And then there’s her influence through fashion, which is a way of expression but also a powerful key for change. Empowering women through fashion is something strong and possible.
Barbie makes her own statement by dressing with intention. She doesn’t dress for the day; she dresses for the task, which might involve a leisure activity or a form of employment. In the official movie trailer, one scene stands out as it pokes fun at the way the Barbie universe seems to blur such distinctions.
Stepping into the shoes of stereotypical Barbie, Robbie describes what makes her special beyond the many clothes she gets to wear: “[Wonder Woman actress] Gal Gadot is [the inspiration for] Barbie energy. Gal Gadot is so impossibly beautiful, but you don’t hate her for being that beautiful, because she’s so genuinely sincere, and she’s so enthusiastically kind, that it’s almost dorky. Yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it’s fun and pink. Not because she wants you to see her butt.”
When the acclaimed actress is not in character, she is often checking the websites of train companies as travelling on the Orient Express was on her bucket list for a long time. “All I want to do is live on a train,” she says. “You literally wake up and you open the window, [you are in Switzerland] and it looks like The Sound of Music.”
Margot Robbie is at full speed and in the driver’s seat of her childhood dream of making it big in Hollywood. With Barbie, an intriguing cinematic take on a past childhood icon, it’s clear that the actress-producer won’t be hitting the brakes any time soon. Or as Barbie would say, live your dream.