In the last several years Paris-born Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki has had a near overnight rise to success in her acting career. A lucky break thanks to Baz Luhrmann and being cast in The Great Gatsby has resulted in a number of other large scale Hollywood productions to cast her also. However her latest project launches her into the metaphoric galaxy, in the new Marvel film Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2. We quizzed Debicki on her role in the film, its challenges and whether she had ever pictured herself getting this far.
You may have seen the stunningly golden High Priestess in the trailer for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 but you may not have caught her name. That is Ayesha (pronounced “eye-ee-shah”) portrayed by Debicki. For those unfamiliar with the comic history of this character or just wanting some elaboration, Debicki provides a little non-specific non-spoilery explanation.
“Ayesha is the high priestess of The Sovereign. The sovereign people are genetically modified to be a perfect race of aliens. they are manufactured, so to speak, to be impeccable. They are, however, not without certain character flaws. She rules over her planet with an iron fist and believes herself and the Sovereign people to be vastly superior to any other race in the universe.”
Since we’re not given much of an explanation as to Ayesha’s and The Sovereign’s role in the film, except that they become involved with the Guardians. It’s curious that a race of such perfect aliens even need help. So opting to get a little more insight into Debicki’s performance we delve into what drew her to the role, if she had any particular influences and also whether she got some enjoyment out of portraying an elitist character.
“When I think back to the process of developing her it was a blend of great female rulers throughout history I was drawn to, for instance, Elizabeth I or Boudica. Her intensity and her merciless world views drew me to her and appealed to me. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to inhabit someone so extreme and find the humanity in her. It is always a pleasure to play someone who is fundamentally unlikeable or unempathetic, who appears to be a “villain”. The challenge is drawing out what is human and vulnerable in a character who is a true autocrat and morally ambiguous. For me the question was always what is driving her to act this way, everyone lives abiding by their own set of beliefs and Ayesha is no different.”
When it comes to a character as visually unique as Ayesha and her fellow members of The Sovereign, it seems that head to toe gold is the only way to be for a genetically modified super race of beings. This of course for an actor results in lengthy time spent in makeup however for Debicki it added another way for her to be able to get into the right mindset for the character.
“It was relatively involved, however nothing on the prosthetic characters make up timings. It is a lot of sitting still and letting the hair and makeup magicians work their magic. The gold paint is quite heavy and needs steady upkeep, but I found the whole process pretty wonderful, coming out of a makeup trailer as a whole different creature is a new level of transformation.”
In regards to transformations, Debicki is one of a number of women pushing the #askhermore campaign. The campaign seeks to address and expose the underrepresentation of women in positions of power in mainstream media and culture. One of the ways they seek to achieve this is by encouraging journalists and media coverage at events such as award ceremonies ask the actresses more than say what fashion label they are wearing.
“I am a big supporter what the #askhermore campaign represents. I think the best way to further the cause is to make sure your voice is heard authentically and also to make it clear when a certain line of questioning etc is not going to further the dialogue. In that way, yes I will continue to support this movement, as I believe actresses everywhere intend to do in order to best represent the women in our industry in front of and behind cameras.”
As has been mentioned by Dave Bautista in our interview with him, as well as others that have worked with director / screenwriter James Gunn, he is known for allowing his actors the opportunity to improvise some of the dialogue. For a character as straight-laced as Ayesha it’s refreshing to see that this trend with Gunn’s directorial style has continued.
“I loved James’s writing for Ayesha, It was always completely in line with my instincts of where the scene needed to go. James and I did often workshop the tone and temperature of the scene and it would often evolve in a surprising way. He has wonderful ease and generosity as a director, his set is an open lab to work in.”
Growing up in Australia commencing her career in theatre and then moving into film, Debicki has had a fairly consistent upward trajectory over the last few years. At only 26 years of age she still has plenty of time to keep that steady. Including a forthcoming Steve McQueen project that she will commence filming very soon. But this seemingly overnight success is something we wonder had she ever actually pictured herself achieving. And of course what it’s like now being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“My next project is Steve Mcqueen’s new film ‘Widows’, which I begin filming in May. I am very lucky that I am able to find balance in my life by coming back to Australia in between projects whenever I have the chance. I certainly did not think I would be able to work in the industry perhaps in the capacity I find myself now, I had dreamed I would be able to work with inspiring people on inspiring projects, but I don’t think I pictured life like this no. That is one of the fascinating things about life in this industry, you never know what is around each bend.”
“It’s a huge privilege as an actor to be part of film that is so hugely anticipated by audiences. Making the movie was a trip and a complete joy and I’m very excited for people to see the finished product.”
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 is out in Australian cinemas from 25 April 2017 through Marvel Pictures and Disney Pictures Australia.