After the success of The Night Manager and with four films in post-production, Elizabeth Debicki is meant to be “on holidays” right now in Sydney.
But the 26-year-old just can’t seem to get enough of work. Ahead of this Saturday’s Longines Golden Slipper where she is ambassador, Debicki spoke to Fairfax Media from Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens about why you know so little about her private life (she reckons she’s “daggy and boring”); growing tired of comparisons to Cate Blanchett and how she’s ready to start shouting louder about inequality in Hollywood.
When researching you, there is very little about your personal life. Is it a conscious effort to keep your private life just that? Is it difficult in this day and age?
For me, there is an unconscious choice to separate me from my work because I like people to just see the work, rather than being influenced by who I am. I am a private person, but I am think that acting is so much about the craft and it doesn’t have a lot to do with me the person.
I also don’t have social media or anything like that, which was a choice. At first, it wasn’t a choice as I am technologically incompetent, so I was sort of like, “what is Instagram?” Then it was too late, everybody had it. I remember thinking, “I’m really not that interesting. What am I going to post?” Then it became a choice, because I think you just have to keep some things for yourself too in this business. Also, I am really daggy and boring [laughs].
I know there is such an appetite to know about people personally and I understand that because I am often intrigued by people. Just the other day, when Viola Davis won the Oscar and suddenly she told this story that no one ever heard about growing up [in poverty]. It does light up different parts of your brain, and you think: “Oh my gosh, you came from that” and it helps you understand them as a person and as an artist.
One thing that did come over and over again when researching you was, “Elizabeth Debicki is the next Cate Blanchett,” who you worked with on Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Maids. How do you feel about comparisons?
What’s that quote – comparisons are odious? I think that it’s interesting that when women are coming up in the business they get compared to actresses who are more established than themselves and there is often this thing, “You are the next so-and-so”. I find it odd, because it indicates that that person you are being compared to, perhaps, you will fall into their place. It somehow harks to this idea, that I completely don’t agree with, it’s often thrown around that actors have more longevity. Men can be older in the industry and keep working. I don’t believe that. I think women only get better with age and actresses are the epitome of that. The more life experience, the better you are as an actress.
I kind of don’t agree with [comparisons], however, I adore Cate. I think she is an extraordinary human and actress. I know her, I’ve worked with her, I’ve had the absolute honour of watching her theatre performance.
[The comparison] is only flattering, but you do feel that Cate must be like, “Oh for God’s sake, she is nothing like me” [laughs]. I know how different we are, too, because I have worked with her so closely.
You mentioned that it’s not just men who have that longevity in acting. Is the belief system surrounding that in Hollywood changing?
I think it’s a slow-burning change, but I think that there is an awareness. There is an extraordinary thing that is happening at the moment anyway for women in the world. The women’s equality movement is picking up a lot of speed and I think that’s because of a deeper discussion of the world today and I think it is ricocheting in our industry so profoundly.
I think it’s because women, who do have that high-profile, are speaking out about it and are being very honest about gender pay gap, how they feel in the industry and the inequality of what is expected of them versus men.
Are you ready to speak up louder about those causes?
Oh definitely. The more experience you have, the more you experience it. Watch this space.
A lot of people are so excited for Peter Rabbit as it’s being filmed in Australia, but particularly for the stellar line-up of women on the bill – you, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Rose Byrne. That’s very unusual.
It is unusual. I am doing Peter Rabbit voiceover work at the moment in my “holiday” [laughs].
Peter Rabbit will be amazing, but it’s part-animation. It would be incredible to see you all on screen starring together.
Someone needs to write that film.
You often play strong, no-nonsense characters, is that a conscious effort?
I think I am drawn to them. I think actresses usually are because they are challenging and interesting to play. I am often drawn to women on the other side of the spectrum too. I did a show called The Kettering Incident and that character was so lonely and struggling against her own demons.
More and more [complex female character] roles are being written because the awareness for female stories and female driven drama is really high at the moment and people have an appetite for them.
What’s going on with The Night Manager? Will there be a second season?
The Night Manager is all done but there have been recent rumours of a second season. I have heard from people on the show, but no one believes actors, actors are always the last to know.
Obviously if they went again I would claw my way back in there. It’s my love. I am so proud of that show.
Your first role after completing your degree in drama at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts was a brief appearance in A Few Best Men. Then it was The Great Gatsby. No offence, but you have made cracking into the acting industry look very easy.
I am the first person to admit that what happened to me was really unusual and all because of Baz. It sounds as crazy as it was. It just doesn’t happen very often that you come out of school and you find yourself in a big movie.
Baz really wanted to find the right person for the role. He was very particular. I think it was a combination of my age and the person I am that fell into place at that point. Also, because he already had a number of high-profile actors, he could fight for the actors he wanted in other roles, which is unusual. I am forever grateful.
Is working with Baz again in the pipeline?
I’d do anything for Baz. I’d be on set serving him tea. Whatever he needed [laughs].
I’m sure you get offered plenty of ambassador roles, why did the Longines Golden Slipper stand out for you?
I am quite a racing rookie, but I have a learned a lot about racing in the lead-up to this. The race is so esteemed because of these two-year-old horses and their calibre. And also I think it’s a really elegant day for racing and fashion.
Will you have a little flutter?
I don’t know. Now I am learning all about it, maybe. Usually when I got to the races I just pick the name or the colour that I really like, but now I have a little bit of intel, so I might have a go.
What is your racing fashion tips and no-nos?
I don’t have any no-nos. I don’t believe in fashion judging. I think people should wear what they feel good in. It is autumn weather so my tip would be, I love a good blazer.
I do like a heel even though I’m 6ft 2in. With heels, wear something comfortable, there is nothing worse than being uncomfortable. It looks bad to take them off.
Again, I don’t think there are any rules. I am working with Nerida Winter to create the millinery for my outfit, which I am excited about.
It can be really small, like a headband, but then again I am also a sucker for a great big hat.
*Some responses edited for brevity.