Margot Robbie & Jonah Hill on The Wolf of Wall Street
When I first published my review of The Wolf of Wall Street I felt like I might have been a lone wolf in thinking that its portrayal of repetitive, excessive greed might skirt too close to awe.
Since then, you’ve probably read lots of scathing remarks on the culpability of Hollywood (and director Martin Scorsese and star/producer Leonardo DiCaprio) in possibly creating more criminal banking douchebags than there already are. There were reports of cheers from bankers at screenings; there was a viral letter written by a daughter of a shady financing father that shackled her with debt but who was (like those duped by Jordan Belfort) not actually depicted in the movie. High-end critics told people to grow some balls, or they’d look ridiculous in years to come. Wolf got a "C" CinemaScore on opening weekend, but also already sits as one of the Top 100 highest rated films on IMDB.
Wow. Talk about dividing camps.
I actually don’t take refuge in either camp. I admitted in my review that I could come to view the film later down the line. I placed DiCaprio as my number two best performance of the year. There’s much to admire, but the division between those who love it and those that hate it is pretty spiteful and reactionary.
It’d be better if we just talked about it.
When I was invited to represent CraveOnline’s Film Channel at a roundtable interview with co-stars Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie, you could tell that the other journalists there were trying to figure out where people landed on the film. It feels like some sort of cinematic litmus test at the moment. But history isn’t written over Christmas break.
Too often, we try to determine what’s a masterpiece and what’s a failure as soon as it comes out. Great films are evident outside of upcoming awards discussions.
Let things breathe.
In the case of Hill and Robbie, we let them speak. And they had some great nuggets and an artful way to inject into some of their answers that these aren’t good people they play in The Wolf of Wall Street, and they never thought they were.
The discussion is below. The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters now.
CraveOnline asked about playing real, unlikeable (and renamed) people and the differences from Jordan Belfort’s memoir:
Margot Robbie: I had the choice to meet Nadine (Belfort) or not, and I ended up opting to meet her. I’m really glad that I did. It ended up being very helpful. I told her that I was creating Naomi, a character that lived a life that she herself was in, but I wasn’t trying to be her. She was very understanding and unfazed by it all. She had to be to put up with Jordan and all of his shenanigans for so long…
What I asked her was, “What would you fight about?” She said, “The drugs. He was a drug addict.” I was a little surprised because, conveniently, [Jordan] doesn’t really mention those [arguments] in the book. He makes it sound like they fought about him sleeping with hookers and coming home late. But what she told me was, “I didn’t care about hookers, or him coming home late. He’s a man, he might fuck around, but I don’t give a shit… But he would smoke crack in front of our newborn babies.”
And I was like, of course, any mother would divorce her husband over that, or scream, or justify any irrational crazy behavior that she would have done, because it was out of protection of her children. Those conversations were so helpful for my character because then I could do or say any horrible thing, and know that it was a protection she needed. Whether or not the audience sees Naomi’s side of events is another matter… You’re not meant to sympathize with my character or see her sequence of events. You’re meant to follow Jordan’s version of events. Sympathy for my character is not the goal of the film, but it was something I needed to know for my performance.
In the first version of the script that I read, sexuality was very much like a transaction. I didn’t like her the first time that I read it. [Naomi] just seemed like a gold-digger. It didn’t seem complex. We worked on the character and developed it more.
If you read the books you can see that there was more to their relationship and their marriage than [Jordan] saying, “I’ll give you this lifestyle if you give me sex and when the money’s gone, you can be on your way.” It was a whirlwind (for her). She got caught up in the lifestyle. When the lifestyle became threatened, she stopped and saw that this wasn’t what she wanted: his drug habits were really becoming dangerous. Instead of [drugs] being a part of his lifestyle, it had become his life. And at that point, she had kids and she had different priorities.
Jonah Hill: I read the book a few times when I found out I was in contention for the part. I couldn't put the book down, and I couldn't believe this was actually how people behaved with other people. That's what makes the movie a story worth telling, is that this is what these people did, and this is how they got punished for it. And the most interesting part is that they get a slap on the wrist and they're ultimately okay. That's what's really shocking to me.
Donnie is pretty hard to like. I found him entertaining. If you were at a party with this person you might talk to him. But he's really more obnoxious than anything else. I had a harder time with that. I can't speak for anyone else, but I wouldn't want to actually be friends with these people. I found them entertaining to watch. I find lots of characters in movies entertaining to watch that I wouldn't necessarily want to spend my time with.
In both Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street, the names were changed and that was a relief to me – these people have families and they didn’t write the books that the movies were based on, so that took a lot of the pressure off.
(My next film) True Story was also really dark. After doing Wolf and True Story in a row, I had to do 22 Jump Street just to not be bummed out for a year straight, or live in those worlds for too long…
But I find real life fascinating. I think movies should feel as much like documentaries as they can, and acting should feel like you’re watching a documentary. How people treat each other, and why they hurt one another is what’s interesting to me.