GALAXY AT HER FEET
Elizabeth Debicki admits the price of her stellar screen career is long flights home to Sydney, writes Justin Burke
It’s been a heady few years for Elizabeth Debicki, from starring with her idol Cate Blanchett in The Maids on stage in Sydney and New York, to an enviable run of roles in films from The Great Gatsby in 2013 to last year’s Everest. But for the 25-year-old, being recently described in the British press as a “peerless” actress by the doyen of spy fiction, John le Carre, was a singular thrill. “Actually, I’m not going to lie: it was a lovely feeling,” she says, ahead of the premiere of le Carre’s The Night Manager on BBC First (Foxtel) tomorrow night.
The six-part TV series was adapted from le Carre’s 1993 novel of the same name by David Farr ( Spooks), and is directed by Susanne Bier ( Serena). It has been warmly received in Britain, where four episodes have already screened, including one featuring a bare-bottomed Tom Hiddleston, who plays Jonathan Pine, in con- gress with Debicki’s character Jed. The show also features Hugh Laurie as arms dealer and allround bad guy Richard Roper, and Olivia Colman ( Broadchurch) as spymaster Angela Burr.
Speaking to Review from Atlanta, Georgia, a mere three hours after wrapping filming on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — a role sure to bring her even greater recognition — Debicki explains that working on the thriller was exciting but that le Carre’s world of secrets, lies, and deception became all-consuming.
“It was an unusual shoot in that we were together like a travelling circus for about four months,” she says. Filming locations included London, Switzerland, Marrakesh and Majorca. “A lot of actors talk about ‘de-roling’, like when you’re doing a play and you don’t want to bring Henrik Ibsen back into your home; but this was a really unusual experience where the lines between acting and the real world blurred; but I just embraced it and let it take hold.”
Debicki is eager to explain that Jed is not just another two-dimensional femme fatale or Bond girl stereotype.
“I get it,” she says. “Part of the thing we love about spy thrillers is we want to see the archetypes. There is a familiarity, which is a big part of what entertainment is. With James Bond you
I DON’T FEEL LIKE A BIG MOVIE STAR WHEN I WAKE UP
sit back with your popcorn and you know pretty well when you are introduced to a female character she is not going to challenge the stereotype — but I personally didn’t have an interest in playing that sort of role.”
Debicki, Bier and Farr created a backstory for Jed that doesn’t exist in le Carre’s novel, relocating her from England to working-class Middle America. “As a woman, you read roles that plateau very quickly, or they don’t have the depth that the male characters have, not as complicated or as morally ambiguous,” she says. “Jed is a really messy person, super complicated and inconsistent, and I’m really grateful for that backstory because it meant instantly I had a reality that I could grasp as an actor.
“It’s not giving anything away, but we learn that she has made a decision earlier in her life for which has a lot of regret which trails her around, and you realise one of the reasons that she does what she does is so she can support her life back home that she left for various reasons.”
Despite her run of success, Debicki says the acting game never gets fundamentally easier.
“Firstly, I don’t feel like a big movie star when I wake up in the morning,” she says. “There is an unchanging element of an actor’s life that you have to tap dance on this table, and then tap dance on that table like a vaudeville act, and you’re like, ‘give me a job’.
“Actors often feel like they’re being examined under a microscope. Some days I feel like it gets easier, until something happens where you feel slammed straight back into reality. I still have to fight for roles, but it’s always grounding.”
Aside from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which is scheduled for release next year, and the premiere later this year of The Kettering Incident, in which she plays the lead role in a gothic Tasmanian mystery, Debicki is keeping her plans close to her chest, though she does want to return to the stage (“absolutely”) in addition to other screen projects. (Besides, “advanced” talks on a second season of The Night Manager have been reported.)
But her immediate plans involve returning to Sydney, which despite the almost constant travel for work, she defiantly describes as “home”.
“People often ask me, ‘Are you mad you haven’t moved to LA?’, but to be honest it is so important for me to come home and recalibrate between projects,” she says. “If you can find a place in the world that makes you feel like yourself, that’s worth every second on an aeroplane for me, and that is where I am at in my life.”
begins on BBC First tomorrow
Elizabeth Debicki with, from left, Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander in The Night Manager