Abbey wears Hoodie and track pants Vetements. Briefs model's own.

acting up with abbey lee

Abbey Lee’s role in 'Mad Max: Fury Road' saw the two-time i-D cover star begin the transition from model to actress. Starring in Nicolas Winding Refn’s forthcoming LA horror thriller, 'The Neon Demon,' the Aussie-born supermodel’s star is firmly in the...

by Francesca Dunn and i-D Staff
14 April 2016, 1:50pm

Abbey wears Hoodie and track pants Vetements. Briefs model's own.

Hoodie Champion. Top Supreme x Playboy. Sweatband Nike. 

Championbikini top customized by stylist's studio. Briefs model's own. 

Abbey Lee is sitting in her cold New York apartment, waiting for somebody to come and fix her heating. While these days she's more used to the sunnier LA climate, her old home will always have a special place in her heart and she's stayed in town for a few extra days after a job. Last night though, her crystal ball eyes were fixed firmly back on the West Coast as she watched her 2015 movie debut Mad Max: Fury Road win award after award at the Oscars. "I'm really chuffed and so proud of George, though I'm a bit disappointed he didn't get Best Director," she says. It was Abbey's role in George Miller's sequel to the dystopian classic that saw the two-time i-D cover star begin the transition from model to actress. Like beautiful Pokémon gaining skills and levelling up, it seems that models naturally evolve into movie stars these days - with varying degrees of success. But Abbey is an exceptional and shiny sort of character, one from a far off land who clearly possesses the talent to take her far in her new career. "My heart wants to act whereas my heart was never in it as a model," she confesses. "It was just something I did; I made some money, I got to travel the world, and it led me to Mad Max."

As modelling became increasingly frustrating for Abbey, the Australian beauty was left feeling uninspired. "Fashion is an incredibly artistic field for everyone in it, aside from the model," she explains. "It's everyone else's vision placed upon you. I feel too creative to be limited to just having my picture taken. It was like my brain was going numb." The first to admit that she has little background in acting, Abbey didn't exactly luck out in the education department, instead attending a Catholic all-girls school in Melbourne that she describes as less than inspiring. "I sometimes think about that actually…" she muses. "I would like to have seen what I could have done with myself had I gone to an artistic school."

As the dust settles on The Fury Road, all eyes are on Abbey's next move. Set to star in Nicolas Winding Refn's forthcoming LA horror thriller, The Neon Demon, she will play a washed-up older model struggling to make a comeback. It's the story of how the relentless pursuit of youth and beauty turns brutal. "There's something very enigmatic about Sarah," Abbey says of her character. "She's difficult to understand fully; she's tough but also very vulnerable." The story's close to home, and although she didn't particularly want to play a model or revisit her past, "you know… it's Nicolas Refn! It's not like I was playing some shallow bimbo… it's an artistic film, it's a deep film, it's a layered film. And so is the character. So I'm confident that I didn't make a bad choice there." The actors involved — Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone — also influenced her decision. "It was a really interesting experience. Because I've been a part of that world, I was able to help everyone understand what the roles were truly like."

Next up, Abbey takes on a small but mighty role in Alex Proyas' Gods of Egypt, in which the Targaryen-alike actress will play a badass serpent-riding assassin. During training Abbey learnt heaps of knife skills as well as the highs and lows of green screen acting. "I had no idea what my serpent even looked like," she jokes. "You need to have a really good visual imagination, and you need to be shameless, because it feels weird. You're standing in front of 200 people who are eating burritos while you're trying to do a scene with a tennis ball. You have to really not give a fuck about how stupid you look... and you do look stupid."

This year will also see Abbey star as Tiana in Nikolaj Arcel's film adaption of the Stephen King novel, The Dark Tower. "To be honest, I haven't even read the script," she says, laughing. "But when a director like that asks you to be in a movie with Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba…" Abbey seems genuinely grateful for the opportunities she finds herself presented with and it makes her completely likeable. "I think at this stage in my career I need to take chances and trust the industry. There's a crazy amount of competition and I've had a lot of heartache already," she opens up. "It's scary, you know? It's hard to get a job."

With otherworldly characters piling up on her IMDb, it's fair to wonder whether Abbey is being typecast a little, but she doesn't mind. "I like ethereal parts, but I'm also very excited at the chance to play a raw, meaty role that will let me really go for it," she says. She is currently working on a semi-autobiographical script about addiction, a project that is still in its very early stages. "It's a lot harder than I thought," she reveals. "I've never written anything before and it's certainly not an easy feat." She is hesitant to talk any more on the subject because, "it's not anywhere near being done and there's always the chance that it won't happen."

She might have battled demons in the past, but Abbey is clearly relishing being able to turn her experiences into something more positive now, something she couldn't do as a model. She's always had an artistic heart, and has always been a dreamer. And for a dreamer, it's unsurprising that she's always taken an interest in where your dreams take you. "I think that your dream state — where your mind goes where you're asleep — is just as important as where your physical body and mind go when you're awake," she muses. Abbey's appreciation of mind wanderings, nature, and the little things in life is one of her most endearing qualities. As is her relaxed nature. She's seriously chilled and a lot of fun.

As well as finding her acting feet on the set of Mad Max, she also worked with her bestie Riley Keough, who she was a bridesmaid for back in February. "I'm really grateful to have her because she's always there when I have to deal with the worries that come with acting," Abbey reveals. "She's my backbone within the industry." With an attitude more positive than most, Abbey leaves us feeling positive too — positive that she'll continue her ascent through the many otherworldly roles in cinema and out into the starry Hollywood ether. "Modeling was never a passion of mine… and I've been lucky enough to find my passion," she concludes. "I've just gotta keep on proving to people that I'm not a dud!"

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Photography Terry Richardson 
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm 
Text Francesca Dunn
Hair Cim Mahony at La La Land
Makeup Kanako Takase at Tim Howard Management using NARS Cosmetics 
Nail technician Honey at Exposure NY
Photography assistance David Swanson
Digital technician Rafael Rios
Styling assistance Lauren Davis, Sydney Rose Thomas
Hair assistance Brian Casey
Production Mary Clancey Pace at Hens Tooth Production, Julia Reis at Art Partner
Production assistance Eric Jacobson, Evan Schafer
Casting Angus Munro for AM Casting (Streeters NY)

abbey lee
mad max
Terry Richardson
The Neon Demon
Alastair McKimm
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