Speaking about the stratospheric rise of his star, Aussie Margot Robbie, Dreamland director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte says of the big bang of her arrival: “I mean, Martin Scorsese really shot her out of a cannon. It was like, ‘whoa, who is the biggest movie star now? Oh, it’s you’.”
And it does feel that way. There Robbie was, stealing The Wolf of Wall Street out from under Leo DiCaprio and then BOOM, she was taking over Hollywood. And not just in front of the camera either. Robbie and her husband Tom Ackerley are fast-rising fixers behind the scenes too, as co-owners of wildly successful production company LuckyChap Entertainment. The outfit counts her Oscar-nominated turn in I, Tonya and her butt-kicking run as anti-heroine Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey among its run of big hits. Joris-Peyrafitte is connected to their reboot of comic book movie Tank Girl.
Robbie’s a major player, then, but one with a minor-key ego, Joris-Peyrafitte insists. “You work with people all the time, in this industry, who either feel like they’re gonna pop or have popped and carry some sort of crown on their head, but Margot’s absolutely the opposite,” he says. “She’s the most down to earth, hard-working people. And you sort of understand that after spending an hour working with her.”
He says her success is nothing to do with luck. “It isn’t anything other than somebody who has an unbelievable work ethic and raw talent, but was never willing to let that raw talent and beauty be her ticket. She has so much craft and is such a great producer. She totally helped elevate and empower the ideas that we had.”
The Depression era-set Dreamland casts Robbie as Alison Wells, a Bonnie Parker-like bank robber on the run who crosses paths with a frustrated young dreamer, pulp comic-loving Eugene (Peaky Blinders’ Finn Cole). He hides her in his family’s barn, but trouble pursues her from the get-go, hardly helped by the fact Eugene’s stepfather George (fellow Aussie and Vikings star Travis Fimmel) is the run-down town’s deputy police chief.
Robbie found writer Nicolaas Zwart’s first feature in the Black List of highly praised but as-yet unproduced screenplays. Vibing with its nostalgic elements, she took it under her wing – a dream start for the project. Joris-Peyrafitte sure felt like he was dreaming when she then tapped him to direct. She saw and rated his debut feature As You Are, which also features confused teenagers mixed up in a crime. Getting a call from her people was a trip, as was the actual journey that followed. “I got to LA for the first time, and she’s my first meeting,” he says, sounding stunned all over again. “It was an opportunity for me that I didn’t see coming from a mile away, not only to make a movie with Margot, but also a film that takes place in this period.”
It’s real American myth territory. A fact highlighted by Joris-Peyrafitte first reading Zwart’s script in 2016, the most momentous year for the country in recent memory (barring 2020). “It got pretty bleak for us here, pretty rapidly,” he acknowledges. “And there has always been this sort of resonance in the story of America. I was interested in breaking down this myth of Western expansion, but also paying homage to the spirit, dreams and desires that exist within anyone in a moment like that.”
Mistress America star Lola Kirke’s narration adds to the fairy tale. She went to Bard College with Joris-Peyrafitte in upstate New York. “She is sort of like the beginning,” he says of Kirke’s influence on his acting career, after spotting him in a play on campus. “She forced her agent to send me to auditions. And when I first moved to New York, she gave me an apartment. So it was actually very cool to have her be a part of it, even though we only worked together for about six hours in the sound booth.”
Once Robbie decided to step into the role of Alison, the pressure was on to cast someone in the role of Eugene that was able to hold their own with her. “He had to be a character that we believe, in all the iterations of this story,” Joris-Peyrafitte says. “We needed to believe his youthful petulance and his desire to get out. We also needed to believe what he was capable of, and that a love story could emerge out of his meeting with Alison that was beyond just manipulation.”
Casting director Laura Rosenthal went above and beyond, Joris-Peyrafitte says, whittling many possibilities down to five, including Cole, that they whisked to London for a day to read opposite Robbie. She was then filming Mary Queen of Scots, though Joris-Peyrafitte reveals it was her day off, and the auditions did not occur with her in full Queen Elizabeth I regalia. “They all did about an hour of scenes with Margot. That’s what I mean when I say that, as a producer, she’s going to do what’s best for the movie and put in the work.”
Robbie is also a big believer, like him, in being present during the shoot, making the most of their creative time together. “Talk about a dream; it was the most beautiful 26 days I could have hoped for,” he says. “It was unbelievable. When you’re shooting a movie, there’s so much going on, so much stress and anxiety about making it happen, that it’s hard to sit back. So being in a group, like me, who are very emotional about that was really so special.”
Dreamland is in Australian cinemas now. Watch the trailer now:
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