Elizabeth Debicki is emerging from quarantine as a lockdown winner. Not only is she about to steal the scene in the complex AF new Christopher Nolan alternative universe spy movie, TENET – which is well worth returning to the cinema for – Elizabeth landed the role of Princess Diana in the last two seasons of The Crown.
She may complain that she didn’t get abs or bake enough bread in lockdown to Josh Smith, but she certainly hasn’t wasted ANY time. Here the Australian actress who rose to fame in The Night Manager talks powerfully about coming to terms with her body image, her new blockbuster role in TENET and how a lockdown ‘booty app’ led to her ‘hemorrhaging money on subscription apps.’ We have all been there…
How have you found the whole lockdown life situation?
I now wish I’d done a bit more as I still don’t know how to make bread and it would have been my opportunity! A very good friend of mine, an actress named Hope Davis, who’s an extraordinary human being, is one of those people that genuinely can follow a recipe from the New York Times. I’m sort of like, ‘What are you doing?’ as I’m just there with a bag of potato chips, and she’s like, ‘Oh, we’re making fried green tomato dumplings with radicchio.’ I could have learned how to cook really complicated things, I could have read, I could have gotten smarter. What did I do with my life?
I loved the people who were posting things saying, ‘You don’t have to. You don’t have to write the greatest selling novel. You don’t have to learn Italian.’ I will say maybe I fall into the cliché category of subscribing to so many things. I have so many apps on my phone right now. I have so many like AB Plus, Lift Your Booty and I did none of them! I did one half of like a booty workout and I just yelled at the woman on my phone. Never opened that up again. It’s probably great. About a week ago, I unsubscribed from everything because I was like, ‘I am hemorrhaging money on these subscriptions.’
What I love about your character in TENET is that she’s really discovering her own power as she goes through the narrative. What have been some turning points in you discovering your own power and the faith in your own voice?
There’ve been so many really. I think in a funny way, lockdown, although it was incredibly difficult, the world has gone through such a reckoning. Time kind of slowed down and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t experienced time passing like that probably since I was a kid, since I was about eight or nine, where the day has multiple stages. All you actually have is the thing you’re in right now and all you can ask is, ‘how you can I learn from it.’ I’ve been working for maybe nine years and with each project I had something I had to get off my chest. I had something I had to say and explore. The times that my work really changed the person I was, was when the combination of the timing of my personal development and the role let me access something, say something or shed something. And with somebody at the helm that enlightened me really sometimes to my own habits, my own thinking to me being in my own way.
Also sometimes people just open a door and they go, ‘well, why don’t you just go that way to do that anymore, you don’t have to speak to yourself like that, you don’t have to hold on to that thing anymore just because it’s familiar!’ The main job that really shifted something in my thinking was The Night Manager, which was such a brilliant project to work on. Susanna, as a director, really gave me the gauntlet to run with on that role and playing that character really shifted something. I think working with Steve McQueen on Widows was a massive shift, too, by being in the cast of all those women and watching how that workspace could work so efficiently with so much love and so much support.
What do you think this role and playing this character taught you about yourself?
Resilience and I’m kind of fascinated by the concept of it because we have reserves that we don’t know we have. I’m a very impatient person and it’s always something that I joke about, but truly I would like to be able to shift it. But in TENET I had to go to my reserves to have the energy, the strength, the perseverance to get through a day, a week, a moment of travel whilst working through fatigue. This movie was a massive discovery of my own.
This is a really physical role and you need a strong sense of what your body can do. What did this teach you about the power of your own body image?
That’s a really interesting question. When I read the script I immediately thought on a really basic level, ‘I have to get really fit for this because I need to be able to make it through the day.’ I need to be able to do it 50 times if I need to but beyond the stunts sometimes with the emotional context, I really had to kind of wrench that out of me. I now have a real trust of my body that I didn’t necessarily before. We completely underestimate what we’re capable of doing.
One thing I definitely carried over into my real life from this movie is I have started exercising for fitness not for how I look or what I think I should look like. With that you turn the narrative on its head, and you realize that you may have been doing it for somebody else all this time and that’s wild when you realize that. You start to think, ‘I want to do it, I actually would like to do this, just for and you’re not doing it for anybody else.’ You actually just think, ‘actually this is my one body and I’m going to take care of it for me,’ and not because society says, ‘I should be this or look like that shape.’
I think the body image is something that’s highly complex, cause it’s never to do with intelligence and you can know better. But that doesn’t stop something being indoctrinated into you. It’s shocking how systemic it’s been, how it’s come in your thinking. When I broke it down to when I was younger, a lot of it was what I thought I had to be something for someone else. The root of that thinking is usually comparative thinking. I understand when you’re young, you need to model yourself on other people, that’s natural, like on your mother, your sister or your friends. The you come up into the world as a teenager and you need to look in some direction for inspiration and it can become very comparative, which is not always healthy.
If you keep people near you, who you respect for a myriad of reasons, who teach you and tell you the truth about yourself, eventually you realize what you need to do is to allow yourself to become yourself. But that’s a natural progression. I look back at me when I was younger now with so much compassion and I think I was just doing my best, I was trying so hard, I was so hard on myself. I think I’m only really just starting to come into that place of letting go of that.
TENET is complex AF – how on earth did you stay in touch with the storyline?
I got to take it one day at a time over the course of about seven months. The scope of the movie is enormous, and it operates, as Nolan’s films do, on so many layers. But I knew making it exactly what my piece of the puzzle was. The entire thing exists in his head, his own sort of reality and personal experience of the world. I am not a science brain so when I watch his movies like Inception, I have to watch them multiple times before different pieces of it dropped in. But sometimes there were moments where just before a take, I’d literally be in position and I would have this stumped panic. I’d run up to Chris and say, ‘exactly what do I?’ He was always so calm and so kind!
TENET will be released in cinemas on 26th August