agyness deyn sounds off on her leading role in 'sunset song'

The former supermodel is on the cusp of breaking out into mainstream cinema success.

by Colin Crummy
04 December 2015, 9:24pm

Agyness Deyn is used to playing a part. When she guest edited i-D in 2008 at the height of Agy-as-model-mania, the Lancashire-born lass worked six different looks for six separate covers from fun to fierce. Now, having seamlessly transitioned from model to actress, she's playing her most challenging part yet: a classic literary figure emblematic of a nation.

In Sunset Song -- adapted from the 1932 Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel -- Agyness plays a young girl living in harsh conditions in rural Scotland at the turn of the 20th Century. Agyness's character, Chris Guthrie, endures despite her dysfunctional family and the hardships of life. In director Terence Davies' painterly adaptation, Chris comes to embody the land itself. In turn, Agyness has come into her own as an actress, winning acclaim on the film's debut at this year's Toronto Film Festival. She's also up for most promising newcomer in the Moët British Independent Film Awards next month. 

When you played the role in Sunset Song, were you thinking about how emblematic Chris was?
Definitely, because what is going on inside of her unbeknownst to her. She goes from being a girl to a woman, she maneuvers the masculine in such a way that she has integrity and she fits into this world in Scotland where the land runs you. Back in the day it was so harsh, it changed people. So you carry all of that with you. I was different from being able to play her.

'Strong women' in cinema tend to focus on those with masculine qualities. Do you think Chris is strong because of feminine qualities?
She stands in her own shoes, that's the strength. She inhabits herself as the story continues. Growing up everyone asks 'who am I?' She accepts that she doesn't know. The next event in her life informs that even more. She takes possession of herself in such a way that isn't aggressive.

How did you find yourself changed by playing her?
I mean by a confidence to do that myself, to feel inspired to be fully who I am as much as I can and even though I don't know what that is a lot of the time, to be OK with the discovery.

You've made the transition from modeling to acting look easy. Is that how you feel about it?
I don't think it's easy. It's easy in a way that I knew I wanted to do it so it was a very easy thing to decide. It's not an easy thing to do. There was something inside of me that knew this was something I wanted to do. I felt like it was important to take that risk rather than staying with something that I enjoyed but didn't feel electric.

Do you experience any of the same pressures about body image in acting as modeling?
Talk to any woman. She has to deal with body image and fitting into a projection that the collective world has of what a woman is. There are certain pressures to be a certain size, not overly thin; and there are a lot of models who are very healthy. But I suppose you have that in acting as well. The pressure to be a certain way, a certain look. It's everywhere. It's easy to point the finger at the fashion industry.

Did you experience any hostility as a model turned actor in casting?
No. Maybe I wasn't aware of it and that's very naïve of me, but I always try to look on the bright side anyway. I don't really give much energy to something that might deflate my excitement. I've not as naïve as to say it doesn't exist, but…

I imagine Jamie Dornan and you calling each other up and comparing model-turned-actor stories. Do you know each other?
No, I don't actually. I saw him in the security line in US customs when we were both going into America once -- this was when we were both modeling -- and I would have been like 'oh my god that's Jamie Dornan.'

Do you get starstruck?
By people I respect. People who are great at what they do are so inspiring.

Do you get people stopping you in the street?
Not really that much anymore, just because I don't look like I did. Sometimes someone will go 'are you Agyness?' Now it's kind of like 'oh I saw your film.'

You live between LA and New York. Do you see much of the old London gang like Henry Holland?
Yeah, yeah. I mean Henry and I grew up together. We'll always be best friends.

You guest edited an issue of i-D in 2008. What do you remember of the experience?
Yeah I did. The whole thing. Every single thing. It was amazing. It was such an honor. A magazine that you've cut out and stuck on your wall growing up and having that experience and kind of being like 'is anyone really interested in a whole issue?' [laughs]


Sunset Song is in cinemas December 4


Text Colin Crummy

Agyness Deyn
sunset song