Agyness Deyn loves to become someone else. It’s a funny concept for someone who, from a distance, quite obviously has it all: a successful career as a model, a brand new marriage to Giovanni Ribisi, and stunning good looks.
But for her, there’s a thrill about assuming disguise, and fully entering into the world of a character. “It’s amazing to learn to be someone else and get in touch with what they’re feeling,” she says. “I just want to do it all the time.”
Deyn is practically a household name by now—even though she’s new to the acting world. Over the past 12 years, she has been anointed the leader of the new crop of supermodels, appearing on the covers of Vogue, Time, and Vogue Italia, and appearing in ads for Burberry, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Giorgio Armani. She has walked on countless runways and made tabloid covers for her string of rock-star boyfriends. Now, she stars in the first big film of her career, Pusher, out Friday, and produced by Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive). It’s a remake of a British cult film from 1996 (which Winding Refn directed himself), and follows a drug dealer, Frank (Richard Coyle), who maneuvers cocaine around London’s dark underbelly—until a deal goes awry and he finds himself in a bind. Flo (Deyn) is his trusting girlfriend; herself an addict and a stripper.
To study for the role, Deyn shadowed a stripper named Jen around her London club, learning her moves and dissecting the way she thinks. She read memoirs by strippers, and she interviewed drug addicts, to visualize their highs—and to understand the physical consequences of withdrawal. As a result, her Flo is sweet-natured and wide-eyed like a child, but inherently nervous, with the jitters and a deeper anxiety.
It’s strange to see Deyn as a stripper: gyrating down a pole with red glittering nipple pasties and a red wig. In real life, hers is an androgynous beauty: a punkish style, curveless body, and bleached boyish short hair. She has a gentle, lilting accent from north England. On the street, she wears sneakers a little boy might wear playing soccer; Doc Martens, baggy jean shorts, or oversized flannel shirts.
Recently, there were reports that Deyn had officially given up modeling to pursue her acting career—which, she now says, isn’t entirely true. “It’s really funny that it’s all around saying I’m retired,” she says. “Someone asked me if I’d stopped modeling. And I said, ‘Well, I actually haven’t modeled in a long time—so I suppose at the moment I have.’” But, she says, she indeed plans to continue modeling in the future. “I’m definitely going to model again—just not as a full-time job,” she says. “I did it for 12 years, and it’s a full time job. You get a phone call for two days and then you’re gone for three weeks, to China, Tokyo, you know. I know it’s not going to be the same way as it was.”
Much of Deyn’s modeling work has prepared her for life as an actress. More than other models, it seems, she constantly transformed herself and became a different side of herself. One week her hair was grayish pink, the next it was black with bangs, then pixie-cut, then Marilyn Monroe–like curls. She loves the role-play of modeling—something she plans to continue. She cites the photographer Steven Meisel.
“That’s the work I love doing the most because it is kind of like character modeling,” she says. “And I can be creative. There’s a woman in it, in a situation, in an environment. It’s not just a picture of creating a character—it’s actually creating a real person.”
Next, she will star in Sunset Song, an adaptation of a 1930s novel directed by Terrence Davies, in which she plays the kind of person she has always wanted to portray: a strong woman. After that, she says, she and Winding Refn plan to team up for a sequel to Pusher—but this time, the story will center around Flo. “For him to think that I can deliver that,” she says, “it’s like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”