“I love being surprised,” says Margot Robbie when asked how she chooses a role these days. “I obviously read so many scripts, and a lot of them follow the three-act structure and feel often very formulaic, and I know what’s going to happen. I’m bored and I’m disengaged, and I don’t find myself thinking about it afterwards. Then there are the scripts like I, Tonya, like Terminal, that seem to be breaking the rules. I get a real thrill out of seeing rules be broken, and I love it, and I want to encourage it and embrace it.”
For Robbie, encouraging and embracing the vision of Terminal writer/director Vaughn Stein meant going a step further and becoming a producer on the independently made film, her second project as a producer after I, Tonya. “The script was on my kitchen bench,” she recalls, sitting with Stein and co-star Simon Pegg among a small circle of journalists during a roundtable discussion in Hollywood. “I was living, at the time, with my producing partners, because we’re first and foremost friends, and we were all living together in London. They had known Vaughn for years through (being assistant directors), and Vaughn’s script was literally on my kitchen bench one morning, and that’s where it began for me.”
Robbie read the script and thought it was “weird” and “dark,” and also enjoyed that Stein’s writing was dialogue-heavy. “I really wanted to do a play, and I felt like I was reading a play,” she explains. “So I was like, ‘I can’t believe you did this, Vaughn. We should make it.’ So we just did.”
Terminal is best described as an oddball mix of neo-noir, dystopian urban thriller and pitch-black humor, all set around a train terminal in a nameless city and anchored by Robbie as Annie, a mysterious woman who — depending on the scene and which wig/outfit she is wearing — is a waitress in a diner, an exotic dancer in a strip club, and a would-be assassin working for an unseen gangster but with a secret agenda of her own. As the night progresses, she crosses paths with a distraught, terminally-ill teacher (played by Pegg) as well as a couple of hitmen, one of whom she seemingly has romantic designs upon. How they eventually all intersect is the engine that drives Stein’s homage-heavy script.
“It was sort of born out of three unhealthy obsessions of mine,” says Stein, who makes his feature directorial debut on the movie. “I love film noir, and the evolution of noir. I love dystopian cinema and literature, and just the idea of incorporating the aesthetics of the dark fairy tale. That sort of heightened sensation, this graphic novel palette, and the world sort of came first, really. I loved the idea of creating this vast, anonymous city, and populating it with these noir-esque inspired characters that were vibrant and funny and dangerous, and then setting it all around this linchpin of this amazing woman who could do anything and be anything, and pull anyone into her world. So it all came from that.”
The film was shot largely in Budapest over the course of 27 nights, with Stein, cinematographer Chris Ross and production designer Richard Bullock creating a color-streaked urban wasteland that seems to extend far deeper under the city than anyone might care to ponder. “(Chris Ross) just did a stunning job, and Richard Bullock, the designer, they took this world and they had an idea of this sort of neon-drenched noir. We had a lot of influences. Blade Runner, I think, is the very best one. It’s a film that we loved, and we really wanted to tip our cap to it.
“That was a big one for us,” continues Stein, noting that the production of Blade Runner 2049 came to scout the same location where Terminal was shooting not long after. “But we wanted it to have that sort of British sense of grit in it as well, that was kind of reminiscent, but not recognizable, as a decaying Britain, and we borrowed quite heavily from 1984 in that way. We also looked at things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example. Gilliam’s Brazil was a big one. We really wanted to look at different genres and look at different styles of films.”
“I think sometimes, when you’re working with the kind of budget we had, necessity is the mother of invention,” says Pegg, whose own career has run the gamut from tiny indies to massive franchises like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. “You have to think on your feet and come up with solutions to problems which are sort of put on you by lack of resources. When you’re making a big movie, you can just like, ‘Whatever, we’ll do it later. We can turn money about.’ With this kind of film, there’s such a lot of kind of imagination and resourcefulness in the moment, that some of the problem solving ends up giving the absolute best solution you could ever have.”
One surprise during the production of Terminal that no one saw coming was the casting of Mike Myers (Wayne’s World) as Clinton, an eccentric janitor who works in the terminal and seems connected somehow to all the events taking place there. For Myers, it was his first film role in seven years. “Seven years, yes,” says Robbie. “I don’t think any of us really believed that we’d get him. It was kind of a crazy idea. We spoke a lot about finding a character actor, someone who really utilizes their physicality in their characters, and that’s how the conversation eventually led to speaking about Mike Myers, as ‘Where the hell is he these days, and would he do this?’
“Then of course, as soon as he spoke to Vaughn, they spoke for five hours,” the actress continues. “And then the next minute, we get a call that he’s in, and we’re like, ‘Hallelujah!’ Never thought I’d even meet the guy, let alone work with him.”
“He’s so precise,” adds Stein. “He created these enduring characters. Of course he’s hilarious, and of course he’s got brilliance built into it, but he works so hard at his characterization and his physicality and his look, and he pours his heart into it. He elevated that character so far above my paltry words on the page. He took it, and on that phone call that Margot was discussing, he came with an entire backstory. I could hear him kind of rustling through these sheets of paper with all these notes that he’d made, just all this amazing information for him to draw on that created that character that you saw.”
With Terminal now the second title on her producing resume and the untitled Harley Quinn “girl gang” movie (as she calls it) going on there soon, Robbie says she’s firmly committed to taking chances as a producer now as well as an actor. “People need to take a chance on that, and if we don’t all kind of jump in and band together to do that, it’s just not going to happen,” she says. “(On Terminal) we were like, ‘Let’s do it. We’re all friends. We all believe in it. Let’s give it a go,’ and then wonderful people like Simon come along and put their faith in the project as well… It’s a really special thing to kind of assemble the crew and the group that ends up making a film.”
Terminal is out now in theaters, on VOD and digital HD.