Robbie plays thoroughly modern 'Jane' in new 'Tarzan' film
With her cut-glass cheekbones, porcelain skin and cascading flaxen locks, it is hard to imagine a better choice to play Tarzan’s love interest than Australian actress Margot Robbie.
But the 25 year old, who appears as Jane in The Legend of Tarzan, the latest take on one of Hollywood’s most enduring colonial era adventure stories, is anything but a shrinking violet.
“I’ve never wanted to play the damsel in distress, and Jane is anything but,” said the actress, who rose to worldwide fame starring in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Margot agreed early on with director David Yates that her take on Jane Porter, and later Lady Greystoke, in the 51st live action Tarzan movie would be a feisty character, capable of fighting back.
In one memorable scene, Belgian ruler Leopold II’s dastardly henchman Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz, demands of a captured Jane that she scream to attract Tarzan’s attention, and instead she spits in his face.
It is a gesture of the kind of fiery insouciance common in the roles Margot has picked, from her portrayal of the feisty Naomi Lapaglia in The Wolf of Wall Street to the villainous Harley Quinn in the much anticipated Suicide Squad from DC Comics. The Queensland native, whose first regular acting job was in Aussie soap Neighbours, is enjoying an unusual trajectory in an industry where many female actresses complain of the shallow roles they are offered.
Studies consistently show that men outnumber women by up to three to one among speaking parts in feature films, with the few starring female roles often largely just foils for the male star. “I think it’s definitely improving. And I think people have finally recognised that half the ticket sales are coming from women,” Margot said at a publicity event in Beverly Hills for Tarzan, which hits theatres on July 1.
“And if they don’t create the kind of roles that women are going to be able to relate to then they’re not going to enjoy watching them as much. And if they don’t enjoy watching them as much, they’re not going to be able to make their money. I think they needed to recognise that and I think the industry has really responded in a positive way and people are really making an effort.”
Margot says she is still offered parts that strike her as problematic, but senses that producers and directors are keen to work with her to give the role more depth.
One notable feature of Yates’s take on Tarzan is that, for once, it is the male lead, Margot’s co-star Alexander Skarsgard, who spends much of the duration half-naked while Margot was able to keep her clothes on.
Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films and is helming J K Rowling’s forthcoming Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, revealed he had turned down the studio’s suggestion of
Superman actor Henry Cavill for the role of Tarzan, preferring Skarsgard’s lower profile and physicality.
“He was so motivated. I did ask him - and I did this with Eddie Redmayne on Beasts because they both had to work out - ‘can you send me photographs of yourself?’ which seemed kind of not right. So every week, there would be photographs of Skarsgard naked - not completely naked - and after about three or four weeks I just thought ‘ok, that’s fine, it’s great.’”
The Legend of Tarzan picks up the King of the Jungle’s story several years after his adventures in Africa with Jane. Now a parliamentarian in London, Lord Greystoke is persuaded by Samuel L Jackson’s former US civil war soldier George Washington Williams to go back to the Congo Free State to investigate reports that Leopold II is engaged in mass enslavement of the locals.
Jackson describes Tarzan as “an origin story more than anything else”. “You find out exactly why he is Tarzan of the Apes and what his relationship is to that ape community, how he was treated in it, who loved him, who bullied him,” he said.