The star of “Mary Queen of Scots” (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expands to additional cities Dec. 21) wasn’t simply in the market for a juicy part when she signed on to play Queen Elizabeth I opposite Saoirse Ronan, who takes on the romantic (and doomed) Scottish monarch.
She was trying to add to her girl gang.
“I love all the dudes I’ve worked with, they’re amazing. (But) in real life I hang out with my girlfriends all the time,” says Robbie, 28. “I have a girl gang in New York, a girl gang in London, a girl gang in Australia. That’s who I hang out with. I have a lot of guy friends, too, but there’s nothing quite like the girl gang. And I was like, I never get to act with girls onscreen.”
The dueling queen drama was thus coronated. “Mary Queen of Scots” examines the fraught relationship between the dueling Scottish royal and her English cousin during their 16th-century reigns. The younger Mary, who herself had reasonable claim to the English throne, married and produced a male heir, posing a two-pronged threat to Elizabeth’s reign. She was also a Catholic slandered by claims of sexual promiscuity and forced to flee Scotland.
It was the Protestant virgin Queen Elizabeth, who refused to wed and be usurped by a power-hungry husband, who ultimately gave Mary safe haven in England, only to later order her beheading, convinced her cousin was plotting against her.
“The gender politics of the time put enormous pressure on women, especially women in positions of power (such as) Mary and Elizabeth, to have a male heir, because being male trumped everything,” says Robbie, who plays the wigged queen as she’s stripped of her beauty by a serious bout of smallpox. “It didn’t matter if you were born rightfully to be a queen. … People wanted stability, and in their minds, that had to be a male on the throne.”
Amusingly, Robbie and Ronan spent more time getting to know each other during last year’s awards run (Robbie was nominated for “I, Tonya,” while Ronan was up for “Lady Bird”) than they did on the “Queen of Scots” set, where the long-distance royals shared just one scene. (In real life, the two queens never met.)
“That’s true!” Ronan says by email. “Laura Dern actually hosted a dinner for all of the Oscar nominees last year that Margot and I were both at, and we had such a lovely time – we all shared embarrassing stories and a lot of laughs.”
Girl gangs will continue to take center stage when Robbie returns to playing Harley Quinn in “Birds of Prey,” the upcoming “Suicide Squad” spinoff that starts shooting in January. Robbie is executive producing, and under her watch, Harley will be joined by Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya.
It’s the highest-profile project to date from LuckyChap Entertainment, Robbie’s production company with her husband, director Tom Ackerley, which focuses on promoting women in film “whether it’s female-driven stories or through female filmmakers,” she says.
For her first few years in Hollywood, Robbie felt the need to keep her mouth shut. “I just assumed that everyone knew stuff that I didn’t know, so therefore I shouldn’t have an opinion.” But then she realized “LA is literally the land of ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ Everyone’s freaking out and winging it and pretending they’ve totally got it under control, and really they probably don’t. And then I thought, well, why not just give (producing) a try?”
No one was pretending earlier this year when Robbie was vacationing in Morocco. She was with one of her girl gangs, and a friend suggested they try something rather mystic called a moon circle. “I rarely cry, I’m not really a wear-your-emotions-on-your-sleeve kind of girl,” Robbie prefaces. But she says the oh-so-LA moon circle was different – and unexpectedly legit.
“You make this circle and you pick cards, and it’s all about female power and finding power in unity and your sisterhood,” she says. “Honestly, kind of like the Friendsgiving idea where you go around and say what you’re thankful for, but a little more specifically angled to how sisterhood helps your life. And we were sobbing, me included, holding hands and just saying how much we love each other, essentially.”
“I tried to explain it to my husband when I got home, and he was just thoroughly perplexed,” she laughs. “And then not that long after, he said, ‘Can the boys do the moon circle too?’ ”