We catch up with the actress to talk darkness, death, and the struggles of an artist.
Best known for her role as popular cheerleader, Quinn Fabray, in high school musical drama Glee, Dianna Agron is by every account the all American girl next door. She has honey coloured hair, rosy cheeks, and a smile made out of sunshine. That she was cast as the dark and haunting Dahlia, raven haired and angst-ridden, in John Caird's theatrical production of McQueen, is about as bewitching as the play itself, and yet it's a role she pulls off seamlessly. Fictional in its telling, and fairytale-like in its blurring the boundaries of fantasy and reality, the play traverses through time and space, offering a patchwork of vignettes that depict the troubled designer's life, from his days at Saville Row to an otherworldly meeting with the equally troubled Isabella Blow. With the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show opening at the V&A earlier this year, it couldn't have been a more perfect time for a play about the designer's struggles as an artist. Then again, with a subject matter so controversial, it was never going to be easy, and true to form, the play has not been without its fair share of criticism, not that Dianna minds, though, especially when she has the support of the designer's family without whom the play wouldn't have been possible.
How did you get involved with the play?
It was back in December, I was meant to be doing a movie here but it fell apart, indefinitely. It gave me the idea that I wanted to do a play either here or in New York so I put word to my agent and that same week this came through as did something for Broadway, so I felt it like it was the right time.
Why a play specifically?
Well I did four indie films last year, which was wonderful but really taxing. Two of them I did back to back. So I wanted to try something new and challenge myself. I think it's about exercising those muscles. It's really different, you're able to really go through it with your director and cast mates and develop these characters and situations. You trust each other that what you're doing is right and then you put it on for people to love or hate. It's so great because you get this immediate sense of what the audience is feeling. What we've been really surprise at with McQueen is how funny people have found it. Everybody's been laughing so loudly and then during pauses you can literally her a pin drop because everyone's so attentive. It's a tough, tricky subject matter, though, that lots of people have very strong opinions about.
What did you think when you read the script?
I loved the take on it, I loved that we weren't trying to do a biographical play. I loved the themes. What I loved as an artist and which I found through researching Alexander and reading books and watching interviews, was that the struggle of an artist isn't something you'd wish on anybody, because there's no such thing as being nice and pretty in a box with a bow on it and everybody lauding you from start to finish. I think that's what the play deals with. When you look at his work in the V&A now or listen to what people say about his work, it's so funny because it's all niceties and overwhelming praise, and it's like well that's not what he had to deal with in his career.
Did you know anything about Alexander McQueen before going into this?
I did, but it wasn't to the extent that I do now. I really wasn't aware that he trained at Saville Row or went to Italy on a whim - all theses things. He was so determined; he knew the outcome he wanted. I was more aware of the highlights.
What about your character, what did you want to convey with Dahlia?
The thing with Dahlia is that she's very brazen, I mean you'd have to be to break into someone's house. I actually based it on this fan I met when I was in New York. She came over and said, "I'm a really big fan of yours, I'm just going to sit here for a second if that's ok." There was something about how bold she was, I was so taken by her but also a little bit scared, because I was like I don't know you. There was a little bit of this girl that I took with me for Dahlia. But what I love about it is that it's a fairy story, you'd don't know whether she's even real.
How much research into mental health did you have to do?
It's something we spoke about consistently throughout the whole process, and something which I've experienced over the course of my life just through knowing people who have struggled with these issues, so it didn't need that much prodding.
How easy was it to work with these themes from a creative standpoint? Was it a bit like treading on eggshells, I mean there's artistic license and then there's glamorising mental health problems?
Not really, to be honest with you. Granted we spoke about death and taking one's own life, but for Dahlia it's more a cry for help. There are scenes when she cries, it's when somebody is not crying and completely calm about it, then that's when it's at its final stages.
It's such a poignant time for Alexander McQueen at the moment - Savage Beauty just opened, books have been launched, there's a rumour he might be made into a banknote - taking part in a fictional play about such a controversial subject was always going to be challenging, how ready do you feel for the potential backlash?
I mean ultimately the family supports us and they're so happy and so moved by it so that's huge, they laugh with us, they cry with us. They are so overwhelmingly supportive and I don't think without that it would have been possible, otherwise it would have felt like a betrayal so that's what I'm going to hold onto. And then there's the audience, we've had standing ovations. All my friends have told me not to read things and to just go with the audience.
Aside from the play what are you working on at the moment?
I've just directed a short film. Tory Burch is opening up a store in Paris and they wanted to have something that showcased the capsule collection and also to have as a fun thing at the party. I had directed this music video for a band called Goldroom at the end of last year and they asked me what the budget was for that, and I said jokingly, "Well I could do your film for this amount." I ended up writing this treatment based on An American in Paris, the scene where Leslie Caron is on stage and she's dancing and there are these two guys who are sitting a café and they who go:
"Oh she's a great girl,"
"Oh so she must be moody."
"No, she's not moody, she's really intellectual."
"Oh so she must be boring."
"No, she's not boring, she's fun"
We ended up casting these two French actors and Margaret Qualley, who was in The Leftovers, she's darling. After the play is over I'll go to Paris and show it to everyone.
Photography Lydia Garnett
Coat Miu Miu
Makeup & Skincare by Lancôme UK Makeup Ambassador Alex Babsky @babskymakeup @lancomeuk