Wednesday 12 December 2018

Leslie Ann Horgan: 'Does it really require guts for gorgeous actresses like Margot Robbie to play ugly?'

Margot Robbie has revealed it took three hours in make-up to transform into Queen Elizabeth I

Margot Robbie in Mary Queen Of Scots
Margot Robbie in Mary Queen Of Scots
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

You've heard the tale of the Poor Little Rich Girl, now let me introduce you to a parable for our times: that of the Poor Little Hot Girl. Margot Robbie - she of the endless legs and vertiginous cheekbones - is featured on the cover of the latest edition of Harper's Bazaar, which hit shops this week. The Australian star was interviewed to promote her latest project, Mary Queen Of Scots.

In the movie, which opens next month, our own Saoirse Ronan plays the titular character who tries to usurp her cousin Elizabeth I, played by Robbie, and take her 'rightful place' on the English throne. To a backdrop of stirring music, the trailer promises a film full of lush cinematography, intricate hair-dos, rousing speeches and what appears to be a core feminist narrative about two powerful women pushed apart by the jealousies of the men who were bound to serve them. No doubt it will serve as an entertaining afternoon over Christmas, and Saoirse is already tipped for an Oscar (fourth time lucky perhaps?)

Speaking about her role as Queen Elizabeth, Robbie recounted how it took three-and-a-half hours of "intensive" hair and make-up each day to create the look of the woman who was balding and scarred by smallpox. So effective was the transformation, she told Harper's there were occasions where her colleagues on set wouldn't talk to her when she was in costume. "They wouldn't even get close to me. It was very alienating. And I felt very lonely. It was an interesting social experiment."

Aww, Margot. How hellish it must have been to have to conceal those golden tresses under a bald cap and that glowing skin under white pan stick. How lonely not to be the adored object of every gaze in the room.

Margot Robbie (PA)
Margot Robbie (PA)

Later in the interview, she added: "Normally, there's someone who steps in and says, 'No, keep all the girls looking pretty'. But Josie Rourke, the director, was keen to explore how Queen Elizabeth's looks affected her relationships, and everyone had the guts to do it."

Does it really require guts to play ugly? Perhaps when you first made your mark on Hollywood as the ultimate hot blonde, as Robbie and those infinite pins did in The Wolf Of Wall Street, it does. But surely both the industry and the actor in question have moved on?

Margot Robbie stars as Queen Elizabeth I (Parisa Tag/Focus Features)
Margot Robbie stars as Queen Elizabeth I (Parisa Tag/Focus Features)

(As an aside, they may well have had the guts to do it on screen, but in the poster for Mary Queen of Scots, we see both Robbie and Ronan so airbrushed that they look preternaturally perfect. Gotta keep those girls looking pretty after all it seems…)

The 'hot girl goes ugly' trope was well and truly mined way back in 2003, when Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Since then, there's no new ground to be gained by slapping on some prosthetic scars - and we should be glad of that. While the original intent may have been to strip away the distracting beauty of the actor so that their talent could shine through, the message we were left with is that women have to play ugly to be taken seriously.

Play it cool: Margot Robbie as Tonya
Play it cool: Margot Robbie as Tonya

In the last couple of years, we've seen more female producers and directors emerging in Hollywood who aim to create roles for women that move beyond the silly hot girl/serious ugly woman stereotypes. One example is Nicole Kidman, who produced the celebrated female ensemble Big Little Lies and has signed up to make a TV series from Roar, Cecilia Ahern's book of short stories about women.

Another is Robbie herself, who set up her own production company in 2014 to promote more creative roles for women in movies, and make films aimed at female audiences. "I didn't want to pick up another script where I was the wife or the girlfriend - just a catalyst for the male story line. It was uninspiring," she said in her Harper's interview.

Margot Robbie ✓
Margot Robbie ✓

It was Robbie's company that produced I, Tonya for which she was deservingly nominated for an Oscar last year. It is also developing a Suicide Squad spin-off in which Robbie's Harley Quinn (the role that launched a thousand slutty Halloween costumes) will lead a band of female superheroes.

The intent is right - and the talent is there - but the effect is still either silly hot girl or serious ugly woman. So come on Margot, ditch the poor little hot girl mentality and find the middle ground. You of all people must know that women should be taken seriously, no matter whether they look like the beauty you are, the beast you play - or just the average real woman in between.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss