By Greg Wetherall (@gregwetherall)
She sits pert and pretty, with straightened dark hair, a smart brown coat and black trousers. A quick glance and you might miss her. You’d certainly be forgiven for not recognising her.
It’s true to say that the Agyness Deyn of late 2014 looks some way from the edgy, short-haired peroxide blonde that marked the ubiquitous fashion magazine years circa ’07. And whilst the haircut is softer, the unassuming style doesn’t detract from her model features, which are undeniably startling in the flesh, with precision-built cheekbones, bright eyes and perfect teeth.
She’s a warm, kindly presence too. Her body language evokes more of a girl-next-door vibe than international model/actress. Maybe it speaks of our preconceived notion of how models should be that it is something of a mild surprise that she seems unaffected by the machinations of ‘the business’. Her mum even sits in on the interview, offering a silent (save for an interview-stopping stomach rumble midway through, which causes much laughter all round) but reassuring presence for her daughter.
Agyness is here to talk to us about her latest film, Electricity, in which she plays Lily, an epilepsy sufferer on a mission; looking to track down her long-time errant brother through the streets of London. Their mother has only recently passed away and Lily wants him to have his share of the inheritance. But what’s happened to him? Will she find him? Why hasn’t he been in touch?
The success or failure of Electricity falls heavily on Deyn’s shoulders. Our review is here. It’s certainly a challenging role. Would she say that this is her toughest to date?
“Yeah, but I think every role has been a progression”, she says. “In Pusher (the British remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s cult 90s film), I was the lead female, but I wasn’t the lead character. It did give me the experience of being heavily involved in a feature though. And then there was this, with what she (Lily) goes through and everything, it was full-on… really hard and challenging.”
“I think that everything is harder, because you know what’s come before, but you don’t know what’s ahead. You’re growing every time and I think that’s what I love about it. It’s not the same thing. Each part is its own separate entity and journey, but on a bigger picture, it’s a progression.”
Speaking of her influences, who and what were they?
“I keep watching old films. People like Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, those kind of actors. I really got into them recently. They had a sense of fun and freedom. They’re very inspiring. The types of actors who would be able to make you sad in one moment and then the next minute you’re laughing.”
“One movie that really affected me was The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Dreyer). That was so beautiful and intense. It was so simple – obviously, there’s no dialogue – so it’s how you can communicate physically in a really simple way.”
Comparing those old films to those of the modern day, she said, “It was different then. Now, I feel as though there are a lot of female roles that are more ‘real’. I think a woman can really now connect on a strong(er) level.”
“Before, not with every film and every director, but it was more a projection of what a woman ‘should’ be, which is also great, but I think it was more aspirational and a case of perfect worlds and a bit more fantasy, whereas now, with women becoming more prominent in the industry, it is more a case of, ‘no, this is what a woman is like. This is really what women go through and have to fight for’. That’s what I enjoy watching”.
Did that come through to Agyness in the script for Electricity?
“Yes, definitely. Just the rawness of it and how the beauty and the ugliness of what people perceive… for example, Lily pissing herself, you know? For certain people with epilepsy that’s just what happens, because of the contract/relax, everything relaxes and so then your bladder relaxes.”
“Everything in the film was a valuable part of the story; the nudity, the rawness, the injuries, the vulnerability in sex and the intimacy of sex and how someone’s condition can affect that. I liked how it looked at all these different dynamics. She went through this journey and all these different characters that she met (on the way) made her confront something in herself.”
What does Agyness think is Lily’s motivating force for the search for her brother?
“I think she’s trying to feel whole again. I think she doesn’t know how to feel like that. I think she puts it onto an exterior entity, because she loses someone who was so supportive of her. He was kind of her angel and saviour as a kid. He protected her. She’s now in this vulnerable place without him.”
Referencing her own experiences, she added, “Trying to be a woman and grow, even without epilepsy, is difficult for everyone. You go through puberty and you’re like, ‘who am I?’, ‘How do I fit into this world?’, and so I think that she puts this significance on finding her brother… ‘I just need to get him and then I’ll be fine’“.
Having wrapped up filming on her next outing Sunset Song (“I’m just waiting for it to be totally finished and then I’ll be doing press for that early next year. Then I have a new project that I start in December and I’ll be shooting that in LA”), there looks to be no let-up in Deyn’s move into the acting profession. It’s a move that suits her well. This is no wooden model abusing their fame for indulgent fantasy. She has the chops and it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.
Electricity is in cinemas from 12th December.
Here is the trailer: