it’s not as if I wanted to be a model, I got spotted on the street, and then I started doing it and was like, ‘I’m going to give this a shot.’ -Agyness Deyn
It’s hard to believe that Agyness Deyn hasn’t done much modeling lately. Just a few years after being discovered at the age of 18 while shopping on the streets of London, Deyn, originally from Littleborough in Greater Manchester and the daughter of a nurse, became one of the most striking faces in recent memory: the funky girl with the peroxide bob who infused the world of high fashion with a downtown sensibility. She became, in effect, a 21st-century version of Edie Sedgwick—albeit a less damaged incarnation—and, in the process, established herself as the face of Burberry and Shiseido.
A self-described dervish of restless energy, she’s lately turned her attention toward acting, receiving encouraging reviews for her work on the London stage, in The Leisure Society, an acerbic tale of upper-class ennui, and, more recently, in the drug thriller Pusher, a remake of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s 1996 film. In the movie, Deyn plays Flo, a strong-willed, if wayward, stripper, in a performance that so impressed Refn that he’s currently developing another feature built around the character.
In conversation, Deyn, 30, is amiable, unpretentious, and, at times, charmingly indecipherable for those without Mancunian roots. These days, she has replaced her once rollicking life in New York with a far more placid existence in Los Angeles. There, in Hollywood, she lives with the actor Giovanni Ribisi, whom she married last summer. Our chat touched on a variety of topics, including her foray into film and her new life as a wife.
DAVID AMSDEN: We were originally supposed to speak at about 10 a.m. your time, and I was thinking, 10 a.m. is awfully early and goes against all my clichéd ideas of people like you living very decadent lives and not waking until three in the afternoon.
AGYNESS DEYN: I wish it were different, but my body clock wakes me up between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. I was even talking yesterday about how, if I want to get enough sleep, I have to be in bed at 10. That means I’m totally a grandma.
AMSDEN: What’s mentally stimulating you these days?
DEYN: Work. Just moving into this whole acting thing. I’m starting to work on projects for next year, and that excites me. I want to discover the characters I’m playing, and it just makes me feel alive. I’m up, wanting to do it.
AMSDEN: With modeling, you rose to a level that not a lot of people ever get to. And now you’re starting with this new profes- sion. Is there anything nerve-wracking about that?
DEYN: When I started modeling, I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing. Actually, I still don’t know what I’m doing while modeling. But at the beginning, it was like, “Oh, god, is this right? Is it not?” So I’m kind of going through that again, but I think it’s a discovery, which is fun.
AMSDEN: I’ve read various articles that say you’ve retired from modeling. Is that true?
DEYN: I wouldn’t say that. I don’t really model that much, but I just did this thing for Interview, which was amazing!
AMSDEN: You have to say that, Agyness.
DEYN: [laughs] No, on my way to the shoot, I was like, “Can I remember how to model?”
It was like going to the zoo. or as if I’d never seen a human being before. Like, women and sex and sexuality—it was all there, and i was like ‘Oh, yeah. let’s have a look at all that.’ -Agyness Deyn
AMSDEN: Was there a moment in modeling where you felt yourself caring less about the work?
DEYN: Yeah. I felt I lost a spunk that I had when I first discovered it. It’s not as if I wanted to be a model. I got spotted on the street, and then I started doing it and I was like, “I’m going to give this a shot. I’m going to work hard and go for it.” That was exciting and I felt really spunky, but I kind of lost that. I couldn’t fake it. I got to the point where I couldn’t go and just be, “Oh, yeah, this is so great.” I lost the ability to pretend I was okay.
AMSDEN: When was that?
DEYN: Between two and three years ago. It was like, “I have to figure this out because I can’t do it.” I can’t do modeling disconnected. And I thought, “What do I like? What do I love about modeling?” And what I love is that it’s such a creative process, with a bunch of people, and I wanted that more, which is how the acting thing came about. When I started to get successful as a model, working with Steven Meisel and photographers who create this world and allow you, as a model, such creative freedom—I wanted more of that.
AMSDEN: The other day I watched Pusher, in which you play a stripper. I was curious about what went into preparing for that role?
DEYN: Oh, so much stuff. I read a lot of books, like biographies of strippers and addicts, and I worked with a girl in the London scene who was so incredible. She taught me how to dance.
AMSDEN: Had you spent time in strip clubs before?
DEYN: It’s incredible. It was like going to the zoo, or as if I had never seen a human being before. Like, women and sex and sexuality—it was all there. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, let’s have a look at all that.”
AMSDEN: As a model, you had a very signature look. When people say your name, something very specific comes to mind. Having established that in modeling, does it help you in acting, in a world where you’re supposed to be a little more of a chameleon?
DEYN: I don’t think it helps or hurts one way or another. I don’t really feel like that image so much, you know? After all, I’m 30. [laughs]
AMSDEN: That’s right! You’ve worked in a profession that is so geared towards youth. What are your thoughts on turning 30?
DEYN: It’s exciting! I really feel like I’ve gotten to a place of acceptance, with being a woman and being okay with that. Not just in modeling, but in society, there’s so much pressure about what a woman should be, and, of course, it’s just so unobtainable. You can never become that thing, because it’s such a projection. So I suppose, being 30, there’s a sense of relief. Just being like, “Oh, fuck yeah. I can be myself.”
AMSDEN: What brought you to move out to L.A.?
DEYN: Just a change. I have a lot of friends who live here. I lived in New York for six years, and I was craving a change. I don’t think I could do a New York winter again.
There’s so much pressure about what a woman should be, and, of course, it’s just so unobtainable…it’s just such a projection.-Agyness Deyn
AMSDEN: Do you miss New York?
DEYN: I was just there last week. It was really nice to be back. It’s as if you were seeing an ex-boyfriend or something.
AMSDEN: Speaking of all these adult changes and milestones, you got married this summer. Tell me about your wedding.
DEYN: I’ve always been really private about my personal life. I don’t talk about it. But it was really amazing, a really cool day.
AMSDEN: It’s funny, what you just said about being private about your personal life. I was looking through various interviews of you before this conversation, and one of the things that came up was a Vogue piece that you did with an ex-boyfriend, [Strokes guitarist] Albert Hammond Jr. I wondered if it was weird having those things permanently out there in public. When I have a new girlfriend, I can make sure all my photos of me and my exes are thrown under the rug.
DEYN: I suppose it’s kind of hard. Your life’s being documented. But I get on with all my exes, so there’s nothing I need to forget about. I don’t know—life is shorter than it seems.
AMSDEN: One thing the press has made a big deal of since you were married is that your husband is a Scientologist. People are wondering: Is she converting? Does that issue bother you?
DEYN: I just think it’s funny because no one really ever asked me about religion before. No one was like, “What’s it like going out with a Christian?” Now people ask me about it. Maybe it’s because it’s a new religion and people are curious about it. I don’t know—my husband is an amazing man.
AMSDEN: Here’s an easy question: Have you been able to quit smoking in L.A.? It always strikes me as a good city for that.
DEYN: Yeah! I’ve given it up for nearly a year. I did a West End play, and during rehearsals I was obviously feeling nervous and smoking a lot. Then the director mentioned that it might be a good idea to not smoke as much because I’d have to be on stage. That made me give up.
DEYN: [Two ] Thanks. Even though I still romanticize it when I see someone smoking. I think, “Ah, I used to do that. I used to love doing that.”