Never underestimate the power of a well-timed "just sayin'."
That was one of the lessons learned by Australian actress Margot Robbie while filming her career-making performance in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Portraying the Brooklyn-born trophy wife of Leonardo DiCaprio's greedy corporate raider Jordan Belfort — in the $100-million, big-screen adaptation of Belfort's 2007 memoir of the same name — a casual suggestion by Robbie resulted in "Wolf's" most shocking scene. No small achievement in a gleefully vulgar movie comedy chock-a-block with drug-fueled debauchery, dwarf tossing and graphic sex.
"The day Leo was shooting the scene, [the actress portraying a dominatrix] was going to pour candle wax on him," Robbie recalled. But that was a tame version of what Belfort described in his book. "I was like, 'You know, if you were really committed to this character and wanted to do it authentically, you'd do the same. Just sayin'.
"And Leo's like, 'Oh my God, you're right!' " Thanks to Robbie's provocative remark, DiCaprio is shown getting up close and personal with the candle.
Of course not just any ascendant ingenue could expect to wield such persuasive power over one of Hollywood's preeminent alpha males.
"She's in her early 20s but just feels wise beyond her years," said "Wolf" screenwriter Terence Winter. "She's really savvy. Sharp. Poised. She just gets the joke."
With her bombshell looks and cheeky demeanor, Robbie, 23, comes across as unattainable yet somehow approachable. She's the rare glamazon who "gets it" in a way that recalls "There's Something About Mary"-era Cameron Diaz.
In "Wolf," Robbie is deployed like sexual napalm, more in the service of risqué comedy rather than eye candy. DiCaprio's first assignation with her character ends prematurely, hilariously, disastrously. And when co-star Jonah Hill first sees Robbie's Naomi (nicknamed "the Duchess" in "Wolf"), his corporate character becomes unhinged in the middle of a crowded pool party.
As Winter put it, "she's incredibly gorgeous, which lends itself to the obvious stuff. But then to play off the people who are tongue-tied, trying to talk to her because she's so beautiful, she understands how to downplay moments to get the maximum impact."
Ensconced in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, slogging through a long day of media engagements, and just hours after arriving from Australia where she spent the winter holiday with family, Robbie kicked off her Christian Louboutin heels and curled up on a sofa to describe what went into filming her nude scene in "Wolf." The first and only time Robbie has bared all before the camera, she said, "it was stressing me out for months leading up to it."
Unbeknownst to director Scorsese, a crew member on the movie's Brooklyn set suggested some liquid courage might calm her jitters and popped out to a 24-hour liquor store to buy the actress a small bottle of tequila. It was nowhere near cocktail hour. But after downing three shots, she was ready for the scene.
"Amazing how easy it went down at 9 in the morning," Robbie said with a grin. "My Aussie breeding had prepared me well for that."
A native of Australia's Gold Coast, Robbie grew up surfing and playing beach cricket but incubated her ambitions of Hollywood stardom as a young child by memorizing dialogue from old VHS tapes — 1993's "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" providing a libretto for early dining room performances. After appearing on TV commercials and taking odd jobs such as "sandwich artist" at a local Subway, Robbie lucked into roles on a couple of indie movies then relocated to Melbourne at 17, where she picked up work as a series regular on the long-running Australian soap opera "Neighbours."
There, Robbie began plotting an exit strategy.
"It wasn't like, 'Guess I'll go to America!' For two years while I was finishing my contract on 'Neighbours,' I was carefully setting things up," the actress said. "Two years of doing acting courses, dialect coaching so that I could have my American accent perfect. I didn't spend any money so if I didn't get a job, I wouldn't have to move back. Getting a team in place so I could get straight in the room with the best casting agents and not waste any time."
Within a month of landing stateside, she scored a co-lead role on the TV series "Pan Am" (which was canceled by ABC after a season in 2012), and a part in last year's ensemble sci-fi romance "About Time."
But even before "Wolf" established Robbie's va-va-voom bona fides, she popped up on the celebrity radar thanks to a rash of specious tabloid reports linking her to Will Smith, the actress' co-star in the romantic dramedy "Focus." At issue: Photographs of the two hugging, goofing and lifting up their shirts for a photo booth camera were presented by Star magazine in November as evidence that Smith and Robbie were having a "home-wrecking" affair.
Robbie stands by her initial tweets refuting an affair and brushes off any suggestion of impropriety.
"It genuinely came out of nowhere and nothing," the actress said. "But even my mum's like, 'Margot, be careful next time you're at a party.' 'Mum! We weren't even at a party! We're at work. We weren't drunk. We were between scenes on set!'
"It's unavoidable," Robbie continued. "A little while back, they put pictures in the magazines saying Leo and I were on a balcony in Miami. It's not me. It's a 6-foot Ukrainian model. Really, I could lock myself away in a dark room for the rest of my life and they still could say I'm having an affair with someone."
Although she transitioned from Antipodean soap star to tabloid mystery woman to A-list actress with relatively dizzying speed, Robbie takes pains to make clear: If she appears lucky, it's because she made her own luck.
"Everyone's like, 'overnight sensation.' It's not overnight. It's years of hard work," Robbie said. "I feel so fortunate that everything worked out according to plan. But it definitely was a plan."
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