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Deyn strips for a new art
7:00am Saturday 20th October 2012 in Celebrity Interviews
Agyness Deyn has swapped the catwalk for the cameras as she plays a feisty stripper in Pusher, opening in cinemas on Friday, October 12. The Lancashire-born model, who recently married actor Giovanni Ribisi in a surprise wedding, talks about her biggest role to date, how acting is her new focus and why she loves being a wife.
By Shereen Low
For Agyness Deyn, big breaks have never been in short supply. At 13, she was an ordinary Lancashire lass, fitting part-time shifts at a local fish and chips shop around schoolwork.
Fast forward a decade, and Deyn was the hottest new supermodel on the scene, being dubbed "the new Kate Moss", gracing the cover of Vogue, strutting down runways around the world and starring in advertising campaigns for Burberry, Giorgio Armani and Shiseido, and making friends with the fashion elite.
Of course, luck had played its part - but hard work, ambition and a hearty dose of creativity (Deyn had abandoned her original name of Laura Hollins for something a little edgier and more exciting, and also knocked a few years off of her age when her professional modelling career was launched) certainly helped.
By her mid-20s, Deyn had made it. Her youthful, elfin face and white-blonde crop had become one of the defining looks of the Noughties.
Now though, she's onto round two - forging a career on the silver screen.
She's by no means the first model to turn her hand to acting, following in the footsteps of the likes of Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron and Liz Hurley.
But, just as with modelling, Deyn has a canny knack of making it look easy.
We first meet in the summer of 2011 when, in the basement of a popular London bar, Deyn is writhing provocatively on the floor, dressed only in skimpy black underwear and a red wig.
She's filming scenes for her first lead role as stripper Flo in the English language remake of Danish thriller Pusher.
Later, she emerges from her dressing room a different woman. Gone is the Agent Provocateur lingerie; in its place, a ripped white T-shirt, blue jeans, khaki jacket and maroon Dr Martens, and the bright, coloured wig is gone.
Initially guarded and hesitant, it takes a while for Deyn to open up, but when she does, she is chatty and animated.
"Every day has been brilliant. It's been a rollercoaster. It's such a great experience, you know," she says in her soft Lancashire tones.
Deyn has every reason to be positive. Landing a lead role so soon after her big-screen debut - which was as Aphrodite in 2010's Clash Of The Titans - is no mean feat.
"Clash was such a huge production and I had such a small part, but I was so grateful to have done it because it really opened my eyes as to what this is all about," Deyn says, explaining the transition.
"I feel I got so much enjoyment from modelling - it was so creative and I did it for 12 years. I got to a stage were I needed something a little bit more and I didn't know what or how I would get that.
"Acting made me feel like I was pushing the boundaries of myself, like I was taking it to the next level.
"Working and doing scenes with amazing actors like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes and watching how they work really planted a seed in me and made me think, 'I really want to do this. It's so creative'."
Deyn initially auditioned for the role of a drug mule before director Luis Prieto picked her as Flo, describing her as "wonderful".
The praise is reciprocated. "I love Luis's work, and after meeting him I fell in love with him. Luis is so patient, so nurturing and such a gentle, understanding guy," she says.
The original role of Flo in the 1996 Danish film, directed by controversial director Nicolas Winding Refn, was a small part, but Prieto decided to make it bigger to show off Deyn's acting prowess.
A self-confessed tomboy, Deyn chose not to see the original before filming, because she wanted to put her own take on the character.
"I always dress like a little boy. That's why it's really nice to play Flo because she's nothing like me," she says, giggling.
"Flo is quite a delicate flower, quite vulnerable and child-like. She's very feminine, sexy in an innocent way, sensual and delicate.
"She's just discovering herself really and she's tormented by her drug addiction. She's quite a dreamer and is like a beacon of light in the whole film."
Taking her clothes off for scenes didn't faze her.
"The stripping scenes were really fun because they were very liberating. That's why Flo strips - she doesn't want to be herself, she wants to be this other person because she doesn't know who she is. I really enjoyed doing that bit of her," she explains.
Deyn's performance has won compliments from leading man Richard Coyle, who portrays Flo's drug dealer boyfriend Frank.
She admits they bonded easily partly due to their northern backgrounds. "I didn't know him before but, you know, we're both Northern so it's as if we've known each other our whole lives. It's like I've met my long-lost brother!
"He's amazing. He's a bit hot, ain't he? So that makes it a bit easier, since Flo's madly in love."
In real life, Deyn is blissfully settled with actor husband Giovanni Ribisi, whom she married in June after a whirlwind romance.
"I love being a wife. It's so cool. Every day is a honeymoon," she says.
The 37-year-old actor - best known for playing Phoebe's oddball brother Frank in Friends - has inspired Deyn to continue acting, but she hasn't completely turned her back on modelling. "I never really class myself as a model. I didn't aspire to be a model, I just got spotted," she says. "But I don't want to say, 'I'm never going to model ever again', because that seems silly.
"I just want to do projects that I find creatively fulfilling and challenging. Acting has enabled me to go in a different way and challenges me: my fears, my creativity, my openness. It's been a real blossoming process and I'm learning so much."
Sure enough - she may be making it look easy but, characteristically, Deyn is certainly putting the hours in, and picking her roles carefully.
Since filming Pusher, she made her West End debut in Francois Archambault's comedy, The Leisure Society, and has signed on for another starring role as Chris Guthrie in Terence Davies's pre-wartime drama Sunset Song, based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel.
"She is such a heroine and so strong. She had such a hard life and the film looks at how she got through it. Peter Mullen is playing my father so I'm just really excited," she says.
"When I read the script I fell completely in love with the character and the story. I'm so honoured and excited to be working with Terence, he's such an incredible director.
"I can't wait to get started and just hope that I can do Chris Guthrie justice!"
Extra time - From style to screen
:: Cameron Diaz - The former teenage model, who had contracts with Calvin Klein and Levi's, has become the queen of romcom with roles in There's Something About Mary, My Best Friend's Wedding and Bad Teacher.
:: Charlize Theron - The South African model, who is the face of Christian Dior's J'Adore perfume, won an Oscar for her screen-stealing performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003's Monster.
:: Halle Berry - The ex-beauty queen won an Academy Award for her role in Monster's Ball, played a Bond Girl in 2002's Die Another Day and has also appeared as Catwoman and X-Men star Storm.
:: Frieda Pinto - The Bafta-nominated actress worked as a model for two years before being given her big break in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. Since then, she has worked with Woody Allen and Michael Winterbottom, and is filming with Terrence Malick.
:: Pusher opens in cinemas on Friday, October 12