Margot Robbie is set to rake in $50 million in salary and box office bonuses for her work on the billion-dollar movie, Barbie, according to a new report in Variety. It’s a sum that the beleaguered A.V. Club dubbed “obscene” before admitting that, yeah, Robbie actually had a lot to do with the film’s outsized success. The two-time Oscar nominee not only anchored the audacious film with her underrated performance, but she’s also the person responsible for convincing Warner Bros. to hand the reins of what could have easily been an open-and-shut exercise in product placement to a creative force like Greta Gerwig in the first place. There’s no way the history-making film would have been as good, as popular, or as idiosyncratic without Robbie’s vision. In fact, I’d argue that there’s a case to be made that Margot Robbie deserves even more money for Barbie‘s history-making global box office run. Barbie simply wouldn’t have hit so hard without Margot Robbie.
The version of Barbie that premiered in cinemas in the summer of 2023 was far from Mattel’s first stab at bringing their iconic doll to the silver screen. In 2009, Mattel attempted to get a Barbie movie off the ground with Universal before the deal fell apart. In the 2010s, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, producing powerhouse Amy Pascal, comedian Amy Schumer, and even Anne Hathaway all swirled the project at various points, none of whom were successful in their attempts to earn a greenlight to go into production. Then in 2019, Margot Robbie and her production company, LuckyChap Entertainment stepped in.
LuckyChap Entertainment was founded in 2014 by Robbie, Tom Ackerley (who is now her husband), and friends Josey McNamara and Sophia Kerr. In a 2020 conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Robbie, Ackerley, and McNamara recalled wistfully yearning to make their own passion projects during their early years on sets. Robbie remembered specifically seeing “a gap” in the scripts she was reading as an ingenue chasing heat after her breakthrough in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
“The conversation started because I was like, ‘I keep picking up scripts, and I never want to play the girl, I just want to play the guy.’ And I can’t be [the only one],” Robbie said. “There are brilliant actresses who aren’t getting amazing roles. And beyond that, you look at the statistics of male versus female directors, male versus female writers, etc., and there’s so much to be done. You can’t just sit there and do nothing when you hear those stats.”
LuckyChap’s first production was I, Tonya, the off-beat Tonya Harding biopic that won Allison Janney her first Oscar and Robbie her first nomination. Since then, Robbie has used LuckyChap to surface stories that center women in front of and behind-the-scenes. Success stories include Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-winning debut feature Promising Young Woman and her upcoming followup Saltburn, as well as the Margaret Qualley stunner Maid. Through LuckyChap, Robbie was also able to produce her first “solo” outing as DC anti-heroine Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey. The film turned out to be less of a vanity project for Robbie than an unapologetically femme-forward ensemble piece directed by inventive indie director Cathy Yan.
Cut to 2019. Margot Robbie has now attached herself as a producer on Barbie. Her risky gambit? Rather than simply push herself forward as the film’s star, she sold Warner Bros. on giving the project to a gutsy female auteur with a unique vision for the feature. Robbie’s first choice for the gig? Greta Gerwig.
“I think my pitch in the green-light meeting was the studios have prospered so much when they’re brave enough to pair a big idea with a visionary director,” Robbie recounted in an interview with Collider. “And I was like, ‘And now you’ve got Barbie and Greta Gerwig.’ And I think I told them that it’d make a billion dollars, which maybe I was overselling, but we had a movie to make, okay?!”
Robbie’s pitch prowess was clearly on point because Warner Bros. okayed the plan to enlist Gerwig, whose triumphant adaptation of Little Women was still in post-production (that film would go on to score 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), as screenwriter and director. Robbie’s next great decision as a producer was to take her ego out of the equation of casting the film. As she explained in that same Collider interview, “I didn’t want our director to feel pressured to put me in the role. So I was just really upfront about like, ‘I won’t be offended in the slightest. We could go to anyone. Whatever story you want to tell and whoever you want that to be, I support that. I’ve got skin in the game as a producer, I don’t have skin in the game as an actor, so be free with that choice.’ And [Gerwig] was like, ‘Shut up, I want to write this for you.’”
Robbie is a unique Hollywood talent in that she possesses the conventional beauty we associate with movie stars, supermodels, and, yes, Barbie dolls, but she attacks projects like a character actor. Each role she plays has a different accent, a different style, and different physicality. For Barbie, Robbie worked as hard as she had on I, Tonya, doing vigorous research on the role. As she details for Teen Vogue, transforming into Barbie took significant mental and physical prep before she even hopped into one of Jacqueline Durran’s costumes. The result of this work is the brilliant performance we got to see on screen. One that magically embodies an iconic toy and roots the film’s manic plot in true emotional devastation.
Barbie marked a perfect intersection for Robbie’s talents in front of and behind the camera, but her work wasn’t done yet. As a producer, it was once more time for her to sell the picture — this time to the public. Robbie enlisted the help of stylist Andrew Mukamal to recreate famous Barbie fashions for the various red carpets she’d have to walk. Mukamal’s work caught many a fashion blogger and film fan’s eye last year when he outfitted Zoë Kravitz in similarly on-theme garments for her turn as Catwoman in The Batman. Armed with decades of Barbie doll outfits and the archives of every major fashion house, Mukamal turned Robbie’s obligatory promo tour into a joyous celebration of the project itself. It was Robbie’s final stroke of genius.
Barbie is currently hurtling towards making $1.2 billion at the global box office and may very well oust The Super Mario Bros. Movie from the top of the 2023 domestic box office chart later this week. It is an incredible success any way you slice it. While much of the praise has been heaped on Greta Gerwig for her excellent writing and directing and star Ryan Gosling for his scene-stealing “Kenergy,” Robbie is arguably the single person most responsible for Barbie‘s success. She was the one who envisioned Gerwig at the helm and fought for her to be there. She did her darnedest as a producer to make the most excellent movie she could — and to ensure people got their butts in seats to see it. Most of all, like the film’s tagline says, she’s Barbie and that makes Margot Robbie everything.
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