With striking facial features and an elegant, graceful stature, reminding us why she was such an instantaneous hit with the fashion industry, Agyness Deyn talks Camden, her new film, Sunset Song and whether or not she has left the catwalk for good
Words: Stephen Milton
The Agyness Deyn who sits in front of me today is a far cry from the supermodel wunderkind of the late Noughties. Gone is the rebellious peroxide mane, the posed pout and awkward, angular symmetry that inspired a generation of entranced fashionista disciples. Sitting here in a sparse Central London hotel suite is a muted version, though no less beautiful.
Ashen blonde hair hangs loose past her shoulders, while minimal make-up presents an elegant blank canvas. As a supermodel she starred in campaigns for Burberry, Mulberry, Prada and Vivienne Westwood, but now she has reinvented herself as an actor, earning favourable write-ups for powerful, impulsive performances in Bryn Higgin’s Electricity and a successful stint on the stage at Trafalgar Studios for Francois Archambault’s The Leisure Society.
Is she making a concerted effort to leave modelling behind? The 33-year-old pauses and slowly inhales. ‘Not really. I don’t think I am, but it’s all up for interpretation. I mean, yes, as an actor, you need to be more of a blank canvas so you can morph into different people. It’s putting myself into a position where I can move more freely, with more flow from one character to the next.’
As an actor, you need to be more of a blank canvas so you can morph into different people
‘Discovered’ whilst browsing in a vintage store in Kentish Town with close pal, Henry Holland, Deyn was signed on the spot with Select Models and set about charming and dazzling the fashion industry while working for Armani, Diesel, Shiseido, Blumarine and Cacherel, to name but a few. Her face covered Elle, Pop, i-D and Harper’s Bazaar, and she hung out in exclusive dive hangouts like Boombox in Hoxton Square with Pixie Geldof, Daisy Lowe and Alexa Chung.
Near the turn of the last decade, however, she grew weary and sought a change in trajectory. Was acting always the goal? ‘No, it wasn’t. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was younger, but as I went through my career as a model, obviously it had elements of that on a two dimensional level.’
I’ll always love the pace of Camden, the amount of people, the shops, the culture, it’s so vibrant.
After supporting experiences in narcotics thriller, Pusher, and a brief role as Aphrodite in blockbuster, Clash of the Titans, she has taken on her first lead role in Sunset Song, a screen adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s famous Scottish classic. Directed by Terence Davies, Deyn captivates as heroine, Chris, a spirited farmer’s daughter searching for independence away from her father’s isolated Aberdeenshire land before and after World War I.
A sweeping romantic epic, it chronicles the joys and turmoils of her life, toiled and tarnished by conflict and loss, but ultimately victorious and resolute. Deyn felt drawn to the story. ‘I was dying to play Chris. I fell in love with her. She’s so strong and brave and inspiring and in charge of every aspect of her life, and I was just so honoured that Terence wanted me to play his Chris. It was a dream. And, obviously, I wanted to do the story justice because it means so much to so many and I wanted to work hard to do that. All you want is to live up to the expectation.’
I was dying to play Chris. I fell in love with her
Has the expectation worked against her though? Are directors blinded by her flashy previous incarnation? She rolls her eyes slightly. ‘I just know that, if you’re going to do it, you have to deliver. You’re not going to be able to get a part if you’re not able to do it.’
Previously married to actor Giovanni Ribisi, the pair called time on their relationship last year and Deyn left their marital pile in LA to move back to Chalk Farm. Regularly spied at her favourite Greek restaurant, Lemonia in Primrose Hill, she seems happy to have swapped the tanned abs and pearly whites of the sun-charred Hollywood Hills for the greener, hectic climes of North London.
‘I’ll always love the pace of Camden, the amount of people, the shops, the culture, it’s so vibrant. And I love how lush the city is – the parks are so beautiful. Regent’s Park, no matter what time of day, whatever the weather, it’s inspiring. I love LA, the lifestyle there is amazing, but you don’t get those smells and feelings anywhere else that you get at Columbia Road Flower Market.’
Does she get the same sensations with acting that she did with modelling? The glamorous highs, the screaming applause? Last year, after a lengthy break, Deyn made her catwalk return for YSL SS16 show at Paris Fashion Week. Is she back? ‘Hedi Slimane is my friend, I love his creations. I thought it would be fun but that’s not me “going back to modelling”,’ she states. Is she really done with fashion? ‘I am, for while at least,’ she says. ‘In the last few years, I did a few acting jobs here and there and then did a play so I couldn’t do anything else. I suppose, yes, I am.’
You don’t get those smells and feelings anywhere else that you get at Columbia Road Flower Market
Surely her model agency laments her absence? ‘I’ve been with them for years, they want the best for me. They’re like my family, they’re my best mates. They understand.’ But if she got the call – ‘Agyness, Calvin Klein wants you for the next campaign’ – what would she say? ‘They know me so well,’ the actress chuckles. ‘They send me emails, “I just want to let you know…” They know what I want to do.’
Changing her birth name, Laura Hollins, when she first joined Select, I wonder would a reverse alteration help the transition from fashion to film for good. Deyn pulls a twisted smirk. ‘Everyone has got so used to it. It’s been years, the majority of my life I’ve been Agyness, I changed it when I was 17 and I just… I feel like Agyness now,’ she states. ‘It’s who I am. I’m not going to change that.’