Despite high-profile projects crowding her filmography of late, Margot Robbie still is finding time to return to the indie filmmaking world, not only starring in but also as one of the producers of Dreamland, which has its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday night. It is something her star power and industry clout will help a lot in getting a distribution deal after its NYC debut.
With Robbie attached, buyers obviously are interested in checking it out, and they should be. Dreamland is a smart, complex and entertaining period piece set in the Texas Dust Bowl of the 1930s in which Robbie plays a bank robber with a bounty on her head who is on the run from the law after a holdup gets very violent. Into her life comes Eugene (Finn Cole), a young man who sets out to capture the fugitive and collect the money, only to discover once he finds her hiding in his family’s barn that there is much more to her than he ever bargained for. Soon he finds himself involved in a relationship that puts them both in danger.
The film is written by Nicolaas Zwart and directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte in only his second feature. But it’s one that evokes memories of such seminal movies as Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Grapes of Wrath and Bonnie and Clyde. At its heart, though, Dreamland is wholly original — a unique and compelling coming-of-age story in which Cole is excellent. But Robbie is really terrific here in a different kind of part, one where she radiates sexuality with real heart and smarts. For some reason I kept thinking this would have been a great role for Marilyn Monroe in her prime, had she gotten these kinds of acting opportunities. Jessica Lange comes to mind too, but after seeing Robbie as Allison Wells, you won’t think of anyone else. She knows a good role when she sees one and put her producer’s hat on to make sure it found its way to the screen.
I talked to Robbie recently about this film and her first time attending Tribeca. She has numerous producing credits already on films including I, Tonya, Terminal and the upcoming Birds of Prey and Promising Young Woman, and does not look at her producing career as a vanity deal point as some actors might. With partners Josey McNamara and Tom Ackerley she is turning into a force behind the scenes as well as in front. Dreamland is very much a part of that vision.
“I mean it was actually one of the first projects we had at [their production company] Lucky Chap,” Robbie told me. “When we first started out, we were working off our kitchen bench before the company had grown to the place it is now. We were kind of scouring the Black List always, and this script is on the Black List and we thought it was really beautiful in its simplicity. And then, of course, sometime later, we kept trying to figure out how to make it.” She added that Joris-Peyrafitte came on once they saw his talent exhibited in his first film which had played Sundance Film Festival. “As we sat with Miles, we were just blown away because he is incredibly smart, incredibly visual, but he immediately took to the time period especially, and wanted to really expand on what it meant to be living in the Dust Bowl. So a lot of those elements were kind of added in from Miles, and he was just really fascinated with that sort of time period and what it meant for everyone.”
Robbie said initially Allison is not someone easy to understand, and she had to search for a way in to the character. “She was interesting to play. I was quite drawn to this feeling, this tangible desperation in that time and place, and I just felt that the Dust Bowl and people losing their property and just struggling to survive, just seemed to be the kind of place that could push people to the very limit, and maybe do things that they didn’t think they were capable of. And that was a notion that really took me. I was quite interested in that, like what people would do when they are put in that place of desperation. So I did really like to explore that side of her,” she said. “I think it is like a story about a boy turning into a man. It really is Eugene’s story in that regard, but I think that’s impactful to Allison, who’s lost her innocence, and then also the part of him losing his innocence, and that to me seemed so tragic and complicated and beautiful. I felt like I got to know her the most through the way she viewed Eugene.”
Robbie has nothing but praise for her director, and Peyrafitte returned the compliment when I spoke to him earlier this week. “I mean, honestly, it was one of the easiest working relationships I’ve ever had, and she’s an incredible producer on top of obviously being one of the best actresses working right now. She’s an amazing producer. She’s collaborative. She knows what fights to fight in terms of story, in terms of never letting her character eclipse anything else. She’s really supportive,” he said. “She knows the realities of indie filmmaking and she knows the realities of big studio filmmaking, but in no way is she blinded by that. She knows exactly what’s going on and is, in that way, a really comforting person to have on set with you, and she also just has full faith. You know, there were certain things that I wanted to change a little bit in the script that, for me, were really important, and she was totally in.”
“Totally in” is clearly the Robbie way. Peyrafitte said she took a chance on him, since he had only made one film before this, As You Are. It became his calling card, but she was completely supportive.
“She was like, ‘I want this to feel as much like your movie as it can. I want you to take ownership over this and really bring it into your world.’ And that, for me, you know, was an incredible leap of faith that she made, being that I was 23 when we had the conversation and I’d made one movie before. But she kind of kept re-upping that along the way and having my back, and just being such an incredible talent,” he said. “She set the tone for everybody on set, especially when the star and producer of the film is totally humble, totally grounded, totally in the mix with everyone else, friends with the grip, friends with the gaffers, and that, to me, is really important, because that is my favorite place in the world to be. And so to have somebody who’s in the mix with everyone, who’s in the shit, is super important, and I think we were able to do things on this movie with the budget that we had, that if we didn’t have that kind of support and we didn’t have a crew that totally bought-in, because they saw that everyone was trusting and everybody was like pushing this thing in the right direction, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
As for Robbie, she had just wrapped starring and producing Birds Of Prey, in which she once again plays her Harley Quinn character from Suicide Squad (and will again in the sequel) and is now in post-production. It will be out February 7 2020. She says, though Birds is the first big studio film for which she has a producing credit, it really wasn’t that much different from doing a small indie like the one taking her to Tribeca Sunday night. “I mean, they’re both hard. They’re hard in different ways, but making movies is so hard. Whether it’s big or small, I feel like it’s so hard, but it’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it. I just want people to watch it and to have an opinion on it, whether it’s good or bad, just if you can do something that’s thought-provoking in any way, that’s just amazing,” she said.
Her plate definitely is full. She recently finished playing a fictional character called Kayla Pospisil in Jay Roach’s untitled Roger Ailes film co-starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and John Lithgow as Ailes. She says Roach has shown her pieces of it and she’s excited. She calls Roach an amazing director. Everyone also is waiting with bated breath to see her as Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, for which she told me she expects to be joining the cast in Cannes next month. That Sony film has yet to be officially announced as part of the Cannes competition, but there is rampant speculation it could screen around May 21 (the 25th anniversary of the Cannes debut of Pulp Fiction). Cannes Fest director Thierry Fremaux has publicly stated he hopes it will be ready, calling the parts he has seen so far, “magnificent”.
“It was an amazing, amazing experience on set, so, I’m certain it will be an amazing film as well, but if nothing else, the journey itself has already made it so worthwhile to me,” she said of her first working experience with Tarantino. “It’s my first film with him and he’s one of my be-all, end-all idols. I adore Tarantino films, so I just couldn’t have been more thrilled to see him work first-hand. It was fascinating. And directors just work so differently, like, every director you work with, their process, their methods of what they gravitate towards, the way they kind of articulate their ideas, or execute their vision, it’s so wildly different and it’s such a gift as an actor to see it firsthand.”
I won’t be surprised to see Robbie directing sooner than later. But, for now, from all the varied roles Robbie has been playing lately, including Harley Quinn, Sharon Tate, Kayla Pospisil, and Allison Wells, it is clear she is on a roll, and you never know what she will end up doing next. She even has Barbie in development as both star and producer. Nothing is off-limits.
“I feel like variety in your acting career is such a blessing that not many people get. I feel so lucky that I really can jump from playing Tonya Harding to straight away then playing Queen Elizabeth. I mean, what better way to keep learning and growing then shifting directions that rapidly,” she said. “To me that really, really pushes me in a way that I feel is necessary to keep getting better. If it doesn’t terrify me, then it’s probably not worth me doing. They all terrify me in one way or another.”