Margot Robbie struts, smirks, and slices into the role of a femme fatale in Terminal. The new film marks the sophomore release from Robbie’s production company Lucky Chap, following their Oscar-nominated debut with I, Tonya, and the neon-tinged thriller from first time feature filmmaker Vaughn Stein sends Robbie down the rabbit hole of London’s criminal underworld in a twisted mystery. Simon Pegg co-stars in the film as Bill, a terminally ill English teacher who winds up spending a night wrapped in deep, dark conversation with the mysterious women, while two unwitting assassins (Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons) and a strange train station attendant (Mike Myers) duck in and out to fulfill their roles in the unfolding mystery.
With Terminal now playing in theaters and On Demand, I sat down for a chat with Robbie, Pegg, and Stein earlier this week to talk about the film. They reminisced about their experiences filming in Budapest and the collaborative dynamic on set, talked about their favorite cinematic femme fatales, and Robbie’s passion for producing. Robbie also talked about her upcoming Harley Quinn spinoff, which she will also produce, and settling on Dead Pigs helmer Cathy Yan to direct.
Something kind of fun to start with. Who is your favorite cinematic femme fatale?
SIMON PEGG: Joan Crawford probably, in Mildred Pierce, just because I studied it at Bristol.
VAUGH STEIN: Good shout and nicely presented as well. [laughter]
ROBBIE: Oh, that is a good question. Jesus, I don’t know.
STEIN: You could be your own favorite. [Laughter]
ROBBIE: No, that’s so cringe. “Myself, I was awesome.” No.
STEIN: Who did we talk about? Helena Bonham-Carter in Fight Club.
ROBBIE: Yes! Yes, we did talk about her. Helena Bonham-Carter in almost everything. My femme fatales aren’t like the classic noir ones, its like Patricia Arquette in True Romance. You know like things like that, that’s my version of a femme fatale.
Was that something you were trying to channel here or were you going for a different energy?
ROBBIE: Not specifically in this, though I do quite often love trying to take moments for different characters.
Margot, you shot this film before I, Tonya, right?
ROBBIE: Yes, we shot this two years ago? Is it 2016?
PEGG: ’16, yeah.
STEIN: Because we’re five days away from the two year anniversary of first day. I realized that because you had a photo of them on your phone.
ROBBIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh my god.
PEGG: So we were rehearsing.
ROBBIE: We were rehearsing. We were probably drinking in a park in Budapest right about now two years ago. [laughter] Because the football was amping up, remember? And all the city was absolutely mental and the weather was gorgeous.
PEGG: It was gorgeous.
STEIN: So we shot at night in the dark. [laughter]
ROBBIE: Yes, yes, so we went to all the gloomiest places, meanwhile it was gorgeous weather.
And it was your first time producing, Margot, and Vaughn’s first time directing a feature, so what was it like taking that journey together.
ROBBIE: It was great, we were just doing it with friends, it was the best part. And we weren’t beholden to anyone or anything, because this movie doesn’t really fit into the category that most movies fit into. And there wasn’t a studio we had to answer to, it was such a creatively, stimulating environment, because everyone got to do whatever they wanted, with limited resources as it is on a movie film for sure.
STEIN: Just amazingly collaborative, wasn’t it?
ROBBIE: It was so fun, everyone was like, ‘I’ve got an idea,’ and everyone was like, ‘Cool, go for it. Why not?’
STEIN: Amazing, amazing cast. Amazing crew who just embraced the lunacy from day one and Budapest was just an amazing place to shoot and we found these incredible locations that were dressed beautifully by Richard, the designer, and was shot incredibly by Chris. Everyone really bought into the Terminal palette, we wanted to draw from all sorts of inspirations and genres and periods, to have these amazing people who say, ‘go for it’ and then just pass their ideas off as my own. [Laughter] It was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
PEGG: So there’s the thing that when you make a film like this with a low budget, everyone’s in it together. You work hard and fast, you can’t leave anything to later, it’s not like, ‘We’ll fix that later, we’ll do this in reshoots.” We have 27 days or whatever it was, we have got to get this done. And so everyone really commits to it. And it was great seeing Margot being a producer as well. Because she would be on set when she wasn’t filming, which was really cool because some people have that in name, but they’re not really there. But she was really hands-on. The Lucky Chap gang were just really cohesive and they were just on it. They were a very impressive group of youngsters.
ROBBIE: We were youngsters.
Practically ancient now. [laughter]
ROBBIE: Yes, back when we were 25 and it was a different time you see, it really was.
STEIN: It was pre-Academy Award. She was so much more relatable. [laughter]
ROBBIE: I’ve changed.
You do seem to have taken to it though, producing is something you’re very passionate about.
ROBBIE: I love it.
What were the lessons you took from this first experience that you were then able to apply since then?
ROBBIE: Oh my god, so many. Well, we learnt everything on this job, it was the first thing I’d produced so we learnt everything and it was incredibly difficult, but it has made everything since then much easier. [laughter] Well we know what we’re in for. Producing’s a huge job and being a first-time director, you might as well be a producer as well and Simon obviously produces as well, so we all kind of understand what it really requires to take that responsibility on and it is a huge responsibility. But you don’t do it unless you love it. It’s just not worth it if you don’t love it, really, it’s a lot of time and effort for something unless you’re hugely passionate about it. But when you are doing something you’re hugely passionate about, you don’t care about the hours or this or that or whatever, and if you’re doing it with your friends, old friends and new friends, it’s not even work at that point.
STEIN: It’s true. And Marg is so hands on, on everything. From big decisions, budgeting and financing, she was incredible, down to discussing the days with me, and the way we could maximize the time we had and the money we had, down to running around with the tea tray at four o’clock in the morning because we were about to go over. She’s amazing.
PEGG: It’s kind of ideal really, when you pare film-making down to that. When your lead actor is also your producer, like you said a director also having to be a producer as well to some degree, it means everything is so concentrated and on point and there’s no F-ing around. There’s no waste, which you do see on bigger movies. It’s like, ‘how much money are you spending?’ Sitting around doing nothing. So even though it’s difficult, it is kind of optimal as well.
ROBBIE: And it’s nice with such a small crew too, because there is so much less waste. A) Because people multi-tasking, doing many different positions in one, and B) it’s small enough that communication is literally streamlined because there’s fewer people to communicate with. So you’re kind of in it together and on a big film set — and I love big film sets, love them don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing what you can do with a ton of money — set builds, pyrotechnics, all that stuff. It’s awesome, crane on set every day. That’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. Remember how excited we were that day the techno arrived? [laughter]
STEIN: The day the techno arrived!
PEGG: It’s technocrane day!
ROBBIE: And then we were like, ‘Yeah, we poured all the money into this moment right here. This is our shot.’
PEGG: You forget that you’re used to seeing it in the corner just doing nothing for weeks.
ROBBIE: Yeah, just sitting there.
PEGG: Just one day.
ROBBIE: And then you actually know how much it cost to have that crane on set and the day that it’s there, you’re just like, ‘Oh!’ And the shot that you’re getting, everyone’s like, ‘Oh it’s beautiful,’ like a new-born baby.
PEGG: Crane feels better as well.
ROBBIE: Yeah he does, it appreciates it.
STEIN: Margot walked backwards and forwards 18 times in high heels on a high floor up a set of stairs.
ROBBIE: In the dark.
STEIN: And then we thought it would be funny to not shout ‘cut’ a couple of times.
ROBBIE: [Laughs] Yeah.
STEIN: Because apparently at four o’clock in the morning, that stuff is really funny.
ROBBIE: I’d be off in the distance for the last shot of the film and everyone else by the monitor is being like, ‘Yes, we got it. So anyway, next week…’ Meanwhile, I’m still walking and I was like, ‘I guess I should keep going then.’ [laughter]
You’re playing in a lot of different genres. It’s noir, fairy tale, more of a horror movie than I expected at points. How did you approach bridging those into one tone?
STEIN: It’s a good question. A lot of it was to do, we wanted to have a throughline in terms of the aesthetic and palette and the cinematography with the views. And we were very genre-reverential, we all love films, we loved touching on the films that we were inspired by and we wear our heart on our sleeves.
ROBBIE: God, I’m gonna steal that. Genre-reverential. Fuck, that’s amazing.
STEIN: [Laughs] Sometimes I just drop it in.
PEGG: You can tell he’s new at this.
ROBBIE: He’s not jaded at all.
STEIN: Happy to be here.
STEIN: Then I think that really helped combine everything, just to have a really strong sense of style. We very much wanted to blend genre and we wanted to move through genre from noir to touches of sci-fi to touches of vaudevillian comedy to horror.
ROBBIE: I think the common response to most questions that were posed through this process was, Wwhy not?’ You know? If someone was like, ‘Shall we do that, shall we do that?’ Well, why not? ‘Is it too gory to do that when we’ve got-‘ Well why not, why not? It was kind of like a fine attitude to have where you’re just like, ‘Well, no one’s telling us not to, so let’s just try it.’
PEGG: It’s very freeing, because that’s when studios will be like-
ROBBIE: Yeah. “No, it doesn’t work. No, four quadrant.” It’s just like parameters.
PEGG: You can be braver, I think.
One of the next things your producing is the Harley Quinn movie, and that seems like it’s coming together. I absolutely adore the character of Harley Quinn, her stories mean a lot to me and it seems pretty clear that she means a lot to you too, so what are the elements in her that you’re excited to explore as a producer? And what are the elements that you shared in Cathy Yan’s vision, because you’ve previously said as a producer, the most important thing is finding your director.
ROBBIE: Absolutely. It was three years ago, when we still shooting Suicide Quad half-way through 2015 when I pitched the idea of an R-rated girl gang film including Harley. Because I was like, ‘Harley needs friends.’ Harley loves interacting with people, so don’t ever make her do a standalone film. She’s got to be with other people, it should be a girl gang.
I wasn’t seeing enough girl gangs on screen, especially in the action space. So that was always a big part of it. And then of course having a female director to tell that story. And giving a female director the chance to do big budget stuff, which they always get here’s the tiny little film, but the action film. I was like I love action. I love action films. I’m a girl. What, are we meant to only like a specific thing? So it was a hugely important to find a female director for this, if possible. But at the end of the day, male, female, the best director gets the job and Cathy was the best director. So we’re very excited to dive into it.