Margot Robbie is back to playing real-life people in her latest film, Mary Queen of Scots.
The actress, 28, earned her first Oscar nomination in 2017 for her performance as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. She’s back in contention this year for embodying Queen Elizabeth I opposite Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart in the drama, from House of Cards writer Beau Willimon.
In a scene from director Josie Rourke’s film, exclusive to PEOPLE, Robbie stars as a young Elizabeth, urging her suitor for many years, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), to pursue Mary, who has returned to Scotland to claim her throne.
“Do not ask this of me,” Dudley pleads with Elizabeth.
“If you wed her, she is ours,” Elizabeth says. “Marry the beautiful queen of Scots and we can control her. With Mary, you too can become prince.”
Robbie shared recently with Harper’s Bazaar that her costars were often intimidated when she was in costume as Elizabeth I —especially when she played the Queen in the years after she was affected by a horrible and scarring bout of small pox.
“I’d say, ‘Hey, how’s your weekend?’ But they wouldn’t even get close to me,” Robbie, 28, recalls of trying to chat with people while covered with scars and thick white makeup. “It was very alienating. And I felt very lonely. It was an interesting social experiment.”
Robbie says had to wear layers of prosthetics and makeup to transform into Elizabeth, who often sported the heavy white makeup to cover the scars on her face for the small pox. It made her completely unrecognizable in the role, stripping away the Australian beauty’s distinctive features and glowing blonde hair.
“Normally there’s someone who steps in and says, ‘No, keep all the girls looking pretty!’” she says of her experience on movie sets. “But Josie Rourke, the director, was keen to explore how Queen Elizabeth’s looks affected her relationships.”
Of the relationships Elizabeth had, Robbie told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year that her rivalry with Queen Mary of Scotland was born out of manipulation from outside sources. The film deals entirely with their fraught communications.
“Everyone manipulated their relationship,” Robbie told EW of Mary and Elizabeth. “It’s complicated, it’s tragic, and it’s bizarre. The only other person in the world who could understand the position they were in was each other.”
Mary Queen of Scots hits theaters Dec. 7.