Focus: A Conversation with Margot Robbie

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Perfecting her American accent wasn’t the only skill Australian actress Margot Robbie honed for the John Requa/Glenn Ficarra stylish trickster noir, Focus.

Margot also picked up quite a few pointers from her Focus leading guy Will Smith as well, teaching her a thing or two about the global art of the con.

The eager apprentice to Will’s rather elusive object of desire in this primarily psychological thriller, met to talk about her tendency to end up in lots of male bonding movies but loving it. Along with assorted topics on the table having to do with pumpkins and poker, Italians on steroid, conning her way for real into college matriculation, lost luggage, auditioning in wet sneakers, and navigating cobblestone in high heels.

What about hanging out with all these guys in the movie, who may all be lying to you in one way or another?

robbie
Robbie at the 2011 Logie Awards.

MARGOT ROBBIE: Yeah! I don’t know, I had a great time. But I do seem to keep doing all these films that’s like a boys club. And I’m the only girl!

But it’s kinda fun rolling with the guys. They’ve been really great. And it’s like I inherited a bunch of devoted brothers.

You know, they all kinda took me under their wing. And they were really wonderful to me. So yeah, I had a great time.

And what about that scene you pulled off on a cobblestone road, with those high heels and that tight skirt?

MR: Yeah, that was tough!

How were those romantic scenes with Will?

MR: It was awful! But you know … At the end of the day, somebody’s gotta do it! So, you know. No, it was great. Will made it very, very … easy!

Is there any of that stuff going on between the two of you that we won’t get to see?

MR: One day when they release the gag reel, you’ll see that! I was like, Will you can put your shirt back on. And he would go, no, no no! Any excuse to get the shirt off!

Well, there was lots of chemistry.

MR: And emotion, and emotion!

But you looked like you were sweating too.

MR: Yeah, it was … stressful! Even knowing what was coming at the end! It was just so stressful doing it. It was … exhausting!

What about your experience filming in Argentina, those guys down there seem so passionate.

MR: Oh, yeah!

Somebody said, like Italians on steroids!

MR: Ha! I found that everyone in Buenos Aires was um, extremely passionate. And they were exceptionally excited to see Will – oh my gosh!

And the first day of shooting was a little tricky. It was a wall of fans! Very passionate. But there was such a vibrancy about that city.

So we just had the best times. It was such an infectious sort of energy as well.

But it kind of seeped into the scenes a little bit. Because we were definitely feeling it! An inspiration.

What about pulling off your con lady thing in the movie?

MR: Deception. Layers and layers! Kind of like a head shrink. Yeah.

Did you ever try to pull off a con in the real world, just to mess with someone?

MR: I used to um, I started working on a television show in Australia. Straight out of high school. So I missed the whole university experience.

So I would just go to all the university parties with all my friends. And if anyone was like, do I know you? I’d be like yeah, I’m studying here.

And they’d say, doing what? Oh … marine biology! So I would just put out like a different con like that.

And I would just, you know, pick out being a new student. Like every time I would be at these university events.

So I didn’t feel like I missed out on the university experience! But yeah, it was kinda fun!

There’s lots of hardcore gambling in Focus too. So what’s the craziest thing you ever betted on?

MR: Oh, I remember we played poker. I won ten pumpkins off Will! Yeah. I didn’t know how to play, and Will was teaching me to play poker.

But we quickly realized, it just kept rolling and rolling. And I just kept winning!

Pumpkins?

MR: It was coming up to Halloween! But we quickly realized that betting on money wasn’t fun for us. Yeah so … That was high stakes gambling for you!

Did you let Apollo play with you?

MR: Oh, he’d win every hand! You don’t play with cards that are disappearing!

This movie is about con artists crossing a fine line that isn’t real. So would you say there’s a fine line between con artists and actors?

MR: Hmm … Yeah! I would say so. It really does go hand in hand, with acting sometimes. It’s all about emotional manipulation.

And that’s precisely what we do. To try and evoke emotion out of the audience members. And make them emotionally invest in something.

And that just raises the stakes. People care so much more, all of a sudden. And um, yeah. If you can achieve that … you’re conning is gonna work out!

How did you get involved in Focus?

MR: Ha! Well, I showed up from Croatia, it was a long journey. And all my clothes were actually … wet clothes! I had been swimming, right before I got the audition call!

It was six in the morning, and then I got the call saying, oh yeah. You need to be doing an audition with Will Smith. Like tomorrow, in New York!

So your flight is booked for tonight. And I was like, tonight? Oh my god! And I started asking, how do I get off this island! I need to go to … the mainland!

And they were like, oh there’s only one boat a day! And it leaves in twenty minutes. And I was like, oh my god.

So I grabbed all my stuff there in the hostel, and raced off. Then got another bus, and got to the airport.

And I waited eight hours, and then I went to France. And then to New York. And by the time I got to New York, I had now not slept for well over two days.

And they lost my luggage! And my audition was about seven hours away. So I’m walking to the audition, in wet sneakers! And ripped denim shorts.

And a pajama shirt, which was the only dry thing I had before they lost my luggage! I swapped it.

And I thought, I cannot meet Will Smith in my pajama shirt! So I went to Top Shop, and grabbed this top!

And then walked in, and still looked horrendous! So … I just put in a lot of effort.

And Will was late! Yeah, I had come from Croatia, and Will was late! And I called him a dick. To his face! But it was fun.

What about Focus, beyond all the con and deception, as a love story?

MR: Absolutely. We always said from the beginning, that at the core of it, this is a love story.

And I think it’s pretty amazing, that we didn’t lose that. You know, with all the heists.

And, things that were happening around it. So it was kinda, yeah. That was the most important part for us.

Watch the Focus trailer:

Warner Bros.

Rated R

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.