Margot Robbie was just 17 when she started out on Australian soapie Neighbours a decade ago and the best actress Oscar nominee believes her three years on the program provided the best training ground for Hollywood.
“I remember you know kind of saying, ‘I can walk off this set knowing I’ll never do a job as hard as this again’,” she told 7.30.
“And it’s kind of true, I mean, if you can survive Neighbours…
“If you don’t hit your mark, if you don’t know your line, you just won’t be on camera.
“There’s just not time to do it again, so keep up or get left behind.
“That was awesome, that propelled me in a wonderful way later.”
Robbie also remembers fondly the on-set culture back in her Ramsay Street days.
“There wasn’t such a hierarchy or segregation between cast and crew. I loved how integrated everyone was,” she said.
“You really worked as one team towards an objective. That’s what filmmaking should be and I loved that about Neighbours.”
Her American film industry colleagues weren’t used to her down-to-earth ways.
“I remember when I first got to America, because on Neighbours I’d say, ‘tea time’, and I’d get everyone’s tea orders and make everyone a cup of tea,” she said.
“I was on an American set and I said, ‘Oh, I guess it’s tea time, who wants a cup of tea?’ and the crew members would not let me make them a cup of tea.
“They were like, ‘No, no, no, I’ll get it.’ I was like, ‘I’m getting one now, it doesn’t matter, I’ll go get it.’ And they were like, ‘No, no, no, no.’ And I was like, ‘This is weird, this is not like how it is back home.”
In 2014, Robbie founded her own production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, with her husband Tom Ackerley and some close friends.
Their breakthrough success I, Tonya, a black comedy about the life of figure skater Tonya Harding, was nominated for three Academy Awards and saw Robbie share a Best Actress nomination alongside Hollywood royalty Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand.
Even with that on-screen success, Robbie felt it was important to have more creative control in her work.
“To be able to be a part of the conversations from the ground up, not just in casting and director and all that kind of stuff, but you know, who does our financing and why, and signing on with people who believe in the movie and want to make it for the right reasons,” she said.
Robbie is conscious of the autonomy this gives her in an industry dominated by men and sees the #MeToo movement as the road to creating an equal and inclusive film industry.
“At our company, half are men, half are women and we’re 100 per cent feminist,” she said.
“Guys can be feminist too.
“So I guess my message in all of this is, ‘We need to stand together’.”
Supporting women in the film industry
When the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke, Robbie was asked to speak at an event celebrating women in film.
In preparing her speech, she chose to consult with close female friends who worked behind the camera who, she felt, had been excluded from the conversation.
“I was shocked at how angry they were, I was shocked that over in London they were feeling extremely strongly about this and it’s not because they encountered Harvey Weinstein,” she said.
“He represents the person, it’s not the person they’ve ever encountered, it’s the problem and that’s what he represented.
“To hear everyone speak and respond in the way they did and flip so quickly from anger to, ‘How do we fix it?’ I was … as I often am in life, I was amazed by women as a species.”
Robbie is keen to foster the talents of women in film, especially in roles behind the camera.
This year saw Rachel Morrison become the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar in cinematography for her work on American period drama Mudbound, and Robbie sees it as just the beginning.
“I don’t think most people in the industry are making a conscious choice to exclude women or people of colour or people of the LGBTQ community,” she said.
“Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think people want to do the right thing, and they want to change things for the better.
“And I think the more conscious they are of it, there’s a quicker path to that change.”