Movies & TV

Robbie plays an updated Jane in the Legend of Tarzan

Margot Robbie, left, and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "The Legend of Tarzan." Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

LOS ANGELES: 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 25-year-old Australian actress Margot Robbie. As Jane in “The Legend of Tarzan,” the latest take on one of Hollywood’s most enduring colonial era adventure stories, Robbie is anything but a shrinking violet.

“I’ve never wanted to play the damsel in distress,” said the actress, “and Jane is anything but.”

Robbie agreed with director David Yates that her take on Jane Porter (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 (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 Robbie has picked, like her portrayal of Naomi Lapaglia in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The Queensland native is enjoying an unusual trajectory in an industry where many female actresses complain of shallow roles.

Studies 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. I think people have finally recognized that half the ticket sales are coming from women,” Robbie told AFP Sunday. “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.

“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 recognize that and I think the industry has really responded in a positive way and people are really making an effort.”

One notable feature of David Yates’ take on Tarzan is that, for once, it is the male lead, Robbie’s co-star Alexander Skarsgard, who spends much of the duration half-naked while Robbie was able to keep her clothes on.

Yates, who directed the final four “Harry Potter” films, 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 ‘Can you send me photographs of yourself?’ which seemed kind of not right. So every week, there would be photographs of Alex naked – not completely naked – and after about three or four weeks I just thought ‘Ok, that’s fine.’”

“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 U.S. 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.

“George is a pretty fascinating guy,” Jackson said. “He fought in the Civil War, underage, and had this darkness about him that took him to the Mexican-American war where he joined the cavalry and ended up killing a whole bunch of Indians, which disturbed him greatly.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2016, on page 12.

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