Fashion

Agyness Deyn on Becoming an Actor, Early Retirement, & the Beauty of Stripping

Fashion

Agyness Deyn on Becoming an Actor, Early Retirement, & the Beauty of Stripping

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Agyness Deyn invented the hip supermodel. In a sea of faceless waifs, she was all peroxide pixie cut, rock and roll boyfriends and generally not giving a shit. Aggy always had the attitude to propel herself far beyond the “seen and not heard” category. It therefore comes as little surprise that she owns the role of Flo, the heroine-addicted stripper in Luis Preito’s British reboot of the Danish cult film, Pusher. Generously laden with sex, violence, and, of course, narcotics, Pusher follows a week in the life of a drug dealer, a career that if you had any interest in pursuing before you saw the film, you certainly will not afterwards.

Deyn plays a raunchy train wreck so convincingly that Nicolas Winding Refn (director of the original and later, Drive) recently announced he would be making a sequel that focuses exclusively on her’ character. It’s enough to make us reconsider all our preconceived notions regarding supermodel-turned-actresses. Deyn recently announced her retirement from the world of modeling, but don’t expect her to be playing shuffleboard and doing pool aerobics in Miami anytime soon. She has films roles lined up from now until the end of time. We caught up with the quick-talking Manchester beauty to talk about the film (which is currently available “on demand” and in theatres on the 26th), hanging with strippers, and her finest model moments.

Tell me how you got the role of Flo. Did someone approach you or did you go after it?
Well I have an agent and I auditioned. I originally auditioned for the role of Danaka, which is the drug mule. I sent them a tape; my sister taped me on her mobile phone. The director really liked it so they brought me in. I thought I would be reading for Danaka, but they asked me to read for Flo. I was really happy about that because I had fallen in love with Flo when I read the script. I was like, Wow, that’s the main role. Shit. I’d actually have an arc, which was really great. I was just so happy to be given the opportunity. I had done short films before and I was just really excited because I knew that this was what I wanted to do. To be given this opportunity, for someone who has no experience, you need that person that believes in you. Luis is Spanish so he didn’t know that I was a model, and he told me that when we started shooting. I was so relieved. When he told me that I thought, wow, I’ve totally earned my place on the team. I did have a thought that maybe I just got this because I’m known for something else. It was great.

Yes, most people know you from your modeling. Do you think that helps or hinders your transition into acting?
I think it could go for me or against me, depending on the person. I think that at the end of the day if you don’t deliver the work that’s a problem. If I just deliver and work hard I don’t really have to think about that. If people have these preconceived notions it doesn’t matter as long as I can deliver.

I heard that you shadowed an erotic dancer in preparation for this role. What was that experience like?
What I came away with was that these women are athletes. It’s so skillful. It’s a job that requires thinking on your feet and making bold decisions, and I found it, in a way, to be so courageous. The moment you try that you realize, oh my gosh, it’s not that easy. I just came out with a lot of respect. It is about art. People pay to cherish a woman’s body and I think that that’s a nice thing. I came away with it not having to be a sleazy thing.

Were you familiar with the original Pusher going into it?
I knew it but I hadn’t watched it when I got the script. It’s a cult classic. I knew Nicolas’ work, he’s done really amazing films, so that was a really exciting factor as well. And Luis told us not to watch it before we started shooting. There are so many things that are different about Flo and the place, it’s set in London but the backbone of the story is the same. Also you don’t want to replicate someone else’s performance. I think it was good that I didn’t watch it.

Have you watched it since?
I haven’t yet, but I’ve meant to. I’ve just been doing my stuff but I’d love to go back and see the differences.

I’ve heard there’s going to be a sequel that focuses on your character. Can you tell me about that?
It’s kind of funny because at first it was just a conversation. Nicolas actually said that to an English newspaper in London, which blew me away, really. I have so much respect for him as a filmmaker and his taste, and for him to want to produce a film that’s kind of original, it’s such an honor. In the original trilogy they didn’t follow Flo. I feel really honored that we’re going to do that.

That’s a real testament to how successful you were with this role.
When you enjoy it so much you just want to keep on doing it. I get so much enjoyment from the job so I do want to just keep on doing it. To have projects lined up for the next year, one after another, it’s like woah. That’s why I’m doing this, because it’s exciting.

I read this morning you have “officially” retired from modeling. Can you talk a bit about that decision?
It makes it seem like I’m in retirement, which isn’t the case. It’s really funny. There’s so much crossover. Like filmmakers do fashion commercials. There’s just some real crossover. I’m not retired, it’s just that I’m not doing it much because I’m doing something else. I’m not going to do fashion weeks, but it’s not like I’m never ever going to model ever again, that’s quite a bold statement. If you wanna write that that’s hilarious. My agent called me and was like, “You’re retired!”

It must feel empowering to even be able to retire from an industry where girls are usually forced into retirement.
Over a few years I’ve slowed it down just in the fact that I’m pursuing a different career. I feel so lucky that I got the opportunity to model. I got spotted on the street. I don’t know what I would have been doing if I hadn’t modeled. I loved it but I think after 12 years of whatever you do, you would like to mix it up a bit.

What do you think of the industry now? I think you kind of paved the way for more “alternative” models with personality, and now it seems like there’s loads of models like that.
Wow, that’s nice. I don’t really know to be honest. I do know that when I started, when I’d go to castings and stuff, I’d feel a lot different, especially because I worked for five years before I started working with Steven Miesel and those kinds of people. I was working for five years before I got a New York agent and then I started doing different types of work. And for five years it was a struggle and I wasn’t getting the work. I’d get maybe one show a season and it would be like Vivienne Westwood, who uses girls like me. I suppose it does feel different. I feel like the next generation everywhere young women are starting to stand up, but if you think about someone like Stella Tennant, she was always different.

When you look back on your modeling career, are there any specific experiences that really stand out?
Working with Steven Miesel I suppose because that was creating a fantasy world. It is acting, it is like playing a role. I remember doing a story for Italian Vogue that was an insane asylum shoot.

I absolutely love that shoot.
Right? It was incredible. It was so fun to do it because you got in this role. That’s the part that I loved. Acting for me is like taking something like that and taking that to the next level. That was the most enjoyment that I got out of my job, being involved in this vision of creating this girl and this world.

Do you find your experiences as a model helped to prepare you for an acting career?
I don’t know whether they helped prepare me, I just think that they helped me realize that I love doing that. I love getting into the headspace of somebody else.

Other than the sequel to Pusher, what else is on the horizon for you?
In the New Year I start Terence Davies’ new film. I play the lead in his movie Sunset Song, also starring Peter Mullan. I’m so excited. It’s pre-war. It’s based on a really famous Scottish literature book. It’s funny really, some of my Scottish friends studied it in school. I’m excited to start working on it.

It’s a totally different role for you.
She’s such an amazing woman, such a heroine, and she’s overcoming so many things in her life. That’s what I love to watch in a film. You know, roles like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice.

I want to cry just thinking about that movie.
I know, right? It’s so intense watching that film. I love movies like that where women are conquering something in themselves or conquering their situation. I feel like positive role models in culture and movies are so important for young women. For me, that’s what I seek, to be inspired by other women. That’s what I want to do in my roles.