There’s no shortage of great actresses hailing from Australia and if you haven’t yet heard of Elizabeth Debicki, you’re about to. From her front-and-centre role in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, to the critically acclaimed British drama The Night Manager, Elizabeth has already shown how broad her talents are. Thanks to her upcoming role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (released today), you’re about to see a lot more of her. We asked the Melbourne-native about her career moves thus far, what she’s looking forward to, and the types of characters she’s most drawn to.
Tell us about your acting education – what were some of the best lessons you learnt?
My acting education really began at the VCA [Victorian College of the Arts] when I was 17. When I look back, I realise how young I was to be thrust into full-time training as an actor, but I think I had the advantage of really knowing nothing. I just absorbed everything that came my way and I was lucky to have come across wonderful teachers during my time at VCA. Our training was predominantly theatre-based and was very physical and also very text-focused. The lessons that really stay with me as a professional actor are centred around an honouring of the text and all that it can provide you, and a simultaneous irreverence, nothing can be too precious and you must be prepared to fail and fall on your arse. It will always lead you somewhere else, somewhere unexpected.
Your breakthrough role was in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. How did you feel going for such a big role straight out of VCA?
It was simultaneously surreal and totally exhilarating. The audition was at the Chateau [Marmont in West Hollywood], which was beautifully fitting for Gatsby, but perhaps the most remarkable thing about it was how Baz ran the audition. It felt like a laboratory, not a test, and that is the beauty of working with a director like Baz; he emboldens you to try and go out on a limb.
“Nothing can be too precious and you must be prepared to fail and fall on your arse. It will always lead you somewhere else, somewhere unexpected.”
What characters do you tend to gravitate towards?
I suppose I’m drawn to women who are both strong and fallible at the same time. I am constantly intrigued by the juxtaposition of the mask a person may wear and what is underneath it.
You play a villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Why did you choose that particular character?
I was really a Marvel rookie prior to signing on to GOTG2. I had, of course, seen the first film, which I thought was hilarious and beautifully heartwarming. That was the main drawcard for me as an actor. Ayesha is fascinating to me as she is so extreme and has a sort of merciless intensity to her and how she rules her people. And then, of course, there is James [Gunn] our wonderful director, whose passion for these characters and the universe is completely contagious. He writes fantastic female characters and gives them wonderful character arcs and depth in his films.
What would you like to be known for?
I would be like to be known for my body of work first and foremost. I have never set out to be able to be labelled or thought of in a particular way or for my work to tick any specific boxes. Perhaps an actress who choose boldly and did not try to fit into any preconceived idea.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
My next film project, Steve McQueen’s Widows.
What’s your life motto at present?
“I want to feel my life while I’m in it” – the glorious Meryl Streep.