Girl on film

Ag­y­ness Deyn on swap­ping the cat­walk for film, and­work­ing with Ter­ence Davies

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - Ag­y­ness Deyn “I’m very much a striv­ing for­ward per­son”

In 2001, at the age of 18, Laura Hollins from Lan­cashire moved to Lon­don to join her child­hood best friend, the de­signer Henry Hol­land. Her work ex­pe­ri­ence in­cluded night­shifts in a fish-and-chip shop and a week­end job in an Ital­ian restau­rant.

Fash­ion lore tells us that she was im­me­di­ately spot­ted by a tal­ent scout and signed to Se­lect mod­el­ling agency, where there were al­ready too many Lauras on the books. The young­ster opted, in­stead, for her grand­mother’s name, Agnes; the ec­cen­tric spell­ing was de­vised by a nu­merol­o­gist as “the most for­tu­itous” ar­range­ment of let­ters.

“It’s still a work in progress,” says Ag­y­ness Deyn, whose mother and sis­ter have sub­se­quently adopted the Deyn sur­name.

It has, in­deed, proved a most for­tu­itous han­dle. By 2007 Deyn had worked for Burberry, Doc Martens, Gior­gio Ar­mani, Ree­bok and Vivi­enne West­wood; she had graced the cover of Vogue and Time and had re­placed An­gelina Jolie as the face of Shiseido.

“I never in­tended to be­come a model,” shrugs Deyn. “I didn’t have a clue about it.”

Many sim­i­larly lucky starlets have been eaten up by the same in­dus­try, but not so Deyn: “I al­ways think that what­ever job you’re in, you can have good ex­pe­ri­ences and bad ex­pe­ri­ences. Be­fore I was a model, I hated all of the jobs I had. In all in­dus­tries, you can find ex­tremely cre­ative peo­ple. Mod­el­ling al­lowed me to ex­pe­ri­ence cul­tures and places that I would never have oth­er­wise been able to ex­pe­ri­ence. It opened pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

One of those pos­si­bil­i­ties was Hol­ly­wood. In 2010, Deyn played Aphrodite in Louis Leter­rier’s $493,214,993-gross­ing Clash of the Ti­tans. She has since turned her at­ten­tion to­ward smaller pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing a 2012 English-lan­guage re­make of Pusher and Bryn Hig­gin’s much-ad­mired Elec­tric­ity (2014).

“What I love about in­de­pen­dent films is that you feel like you’re in the trenches,” she says. “It’s a more ex­cit­ing way of work­ing. In­de­pen­dent film gives you space to cre­ate. When I go to work on big­ger films it’s more about dis­ci­pline and do­ing what you’re told.”

Last year, Deyn sep­a­rated from her Hol­ly­wood-based hus­band Gio­vanni Ribisi. But she isn’t done with the place, hav­ing just fin­ished work on Joel and Ethan Coen’s hotly an­tic­i­pated com­edy Hail Cae­sar. Next year, she’ll also be fight­ing off zom­bie hordes in Pa­tient Zero and bat­tling an op­pres­sive regime in the big screen adap­ta­tion of György Dragomán’s The White King.

So the model-turned-ac­tress tag hasn’t seemed to be too detri­men­tal.

“No. I’m not say­ing it’s not there. But I haven’t en­coun­tered it. I’m very much a striv­ing-for­ward per­son. Maybe I just haven’t no­ticed it. And a lot of the peo­ple who have cast me weren’t aware of my mod­el­ling. Ter­ence was sur­prised when he found out.”

Ter­ence is Ter­ence Davis, the gen­tle­man au­teur be­hind such gor­geous, melan­cholic rev­er­ies as The Long Day Closes and Dis­tant Voices, Still Lives. Davis’s adap­ta­tion of Lewis Gras­sic Gib­bon’s Sun­set Song – one of Scot­land’s favourite nov­els – has been some 15 years in the making. In it, free-think­ing farmer’s daugh­ter Chris Guthrie (Deyn) must con­tend with fam­ily tragedies, a tyran­ni­cal fa­ther (Peter Mul­lan) and, fi­nally, the first World War.

In­ter­est­ingly, when the book first emerged in 1932, its stark de­pic­tion of child­birth caused some re­view­ers to spec­u­late that it was writ­ten by a woman us­ing a male pseu­do­nym.

“I find it fas­ci­nat­ing that a man at that time would write a woman like that and give her such power,” says Deyn. “It makes you re­alise that fem­i­nism doesn’t have to be some­thing of the fem­i­nine. Men can think that way. I read that in­ter­view with Meryl Streep that peo­ple were talk­ing about. But I un­der­stood what she was say­ing. Fem­i­nism isn’t a move­ment that’s just for women. It’s in ev­ery­one’s best in­ter­ests that we al­low peo­ple to be as bold or as brave as they are.”

Birthing ad­vice

Deyn re­mains close to her fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly her sis­ter, with whom she runs a fash­ion line, Ti­tle A, in Los An­ge­les, and her mum, a nurse. The lat­ter pro­vided tech­ni­cal ad­vice for Sun­set Song’s birthing scene.

“I don’t have chil­dren ob­vi­ously,” laughs Deyn. “So I get around to the night be­fore we shoot that scene. And I panic be­cause I re­alise I don’t have a clue. So I had to call my mum and get her to walk me through it. The pain. The emo­tion. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pened when she had me. It was a long in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion that we had.”

De­spite the trauma of faux-labour, Sun­set Song was some­thing of a dream come true for Deyn, who lists Davis’s Dis­tant Voices, Still Lives and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love among her favourite films.

“I loved work­ing with Ter­ence,” gushes Deyn. “He has a very gen­teel qual­ity about him and yet he gets so ex­cited when some­thing feels like it’s go­ing right. And that’s very in­fec­tious. To get to work with him for months, watch­ing his tech­niques? That was a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me.” Sun­set Song is out now on se­lect release and is re­viewed on p10

In­de­pen­dent film gives you space to cre­ate. When I go to work on big­ger films it’s more about dis­ci­pline and do­ing what you’re told

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