Margot Robbie’s Best Movie And How It Made Her A Star

By Nathan Kamal | 4 months ago

margot robbie

It is often said there’s a difference between a movie star and an actor. A movie star is someone who radiates charisma on screen. They command the attention, love, and hate of audiences. But first and foremost, a movie star is always recognizable. Think Kevin Costner. He’s an archetypal movie star, in that despite his many roles, he is always recognizable as Kevin Costner on screen. Despite the many different cowboy hats he’s worn, you always know who you are watching. Then there are actors. That’s someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, who immerses himself so much into the role that it’s easy to forget you’re looking at a real person and only see that character. Margot Robbie started out as an actor, and then she quickly became a movie star. 

Neither one of those roles are better or worse than the other. The great ecosystem of Hollywood needs both. But sometimes a new talent bursts out and seems consigned to one or the other. Leonardo DiCaprio has struggled with being a movie star for decades now, trying to prove himself an “actor” behind facial hair and reports of on-set frostbite. Margot Robbie, his co-star in 2013’s Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street has encountered the same problem. After her breakout role in that white-collar crime drama, Margot Robbie became quickly associated with a single role: Harley Quinn

Now, there are worse things than having such a megawatt presence on screen that moviegoing audiences latch onto one role and cannot see you as anything else. Although Robbie had starred in the time travel romance About Time the same year as The Wolf of Wall Street and was well received in both, it was 2016’s Suicide Squad that made her explode. With just one movie, Margot Robbie went from being an actress to being a movie star. And it’s a pity, because she would have her best role the very next year in I, Tonya which is the best Margot Robbie movie.

There are some similarities between Margot Robbie’s most famous role and her most acclaimed one. Of course, there’s a lot of differences too. Harley Quinn is a fictional, clown-themed criminal from the world of DC Comics. Tonya Harding is a real person who found fame in the world of competitive figure skating, then notoriety. The 2017 film I, Tonya, manages to thread a difficult needle. It harnesses the movie star image of Robbie as Harley Quinn to the real-life story of Tonya Harding. It turns Robbie back into an actor in the process. 

A short summation: In 1994, Tonya Harding was a world-class competitive skater. The day before the U.S. Figure Skating Championship first Ladies’ Singles competition, Harding’s competitor Nancy Kerrigan was attacked. Her injuries were severe enough for Kerrigan to withdraw. It quickly became a national scandal, as Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly was discovered to have orchestrated the attack. Harding’s complicity is still debated after years of investigation, plea bargains, and conflicting reports. Margot Robbie plays Harding largely in the years around this event.

But I, Tonya is not solely focused on an idiotic plan that wouldn’t have been out of place for a real-life supervillain like Harley Quinn. As directed by Craig Gillespie, the film takes just as much interest in Harding’s life outside that incident. Margot Robbie does not shy away from Harding’s noted bluntness of character and her emotional volatility. The film also does not ignore the class-based prejudices widely held in competitive skating. And if all this sounds serious, that’s the great trick of the film. It’s actually funny. 

Margot Robbie manages to bring the same manic, dark humor of Harley Quinn to a much more controversial figure in Tonya Harding. The movie brings a satirical mirror to how we choose to view real people like Harding, and how easy she is to villainize. Gillespie would go on to direct Disney’s Cruella with Emma Stone a few years later. It is easy to see his interest in re-evaluating demonized figures in the two films, though there are far fewer dalmatians in I, Tonya.   

I, Tonya netted Margot Robbie her first Academy Award nomination. She has swiftly become an active TV and film producer in Hollywood and an increasingly respected actress. I, Tonya was absolutely the catalyst for that. It showed that as fun as Harley Quinn is, the movie star energy that Robbie brings to the character is not a fluke. As indelible as she can make a comic book character on screen, she can also turn a person turned into a cartoon villain back into a human.