exclusive: watch abbey lee’s new superga campaign film
i-D caught up with the Australian model-turned-actor about taking creative control of the Superga campaign, her upcoming fashion horror movie, the Hollywood diversity scandal, feminism, and climate change.
It is now a rare treat to see Australian supermodel and all-round cool girl Abbey Lee in a fashion campaign, as her move into acting has proved to be so successful. Appearing in the multi Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road as one of five runaway wives alongside Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington Whiteley last year, Abbey Lee also has a role in Nicolas Winding Refn's upcoming fashion industry horror story Neon Demon, and will star alongside Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower, based on the Stephen King book, which is expected in 2017.
However, she does make exceptions, and the chance to not only be the face of the new Superga collection, but to take full creative control of the campaign was a unique prospect that lured Abbey Lee back into the fashion frame. i-D exclusively premieres the beautiful atmospheric campaign film, below.
We caught up with Abbey Lee over the phone in New York to get the low down on the Superga shoot, how she used her experience as an international supermodel to advise Nicolas Winding Refn on aspects of the fashion industry for Neon Demon and the diversity scandal surrounding her new film Gods of Egypt, as well as feminism, climate change and global politics.
Congratulations on the Superga campaign! What was the idea behind it?
I really wanted it to have a boldness to it, and also a cinematic feel to it, and I wanted it to be by a pool. I was able to make a selection of who I wanted to style and photograph the campaign, and I chose two people whose work I know really well, who also happen to be close to me, [stylist] Shibon Kennedy and [photographer] Gina Gammell. I figured it would fun to collaborate with friends.
Is it important for you now that the fashion projects you take on have your creative input, more than just as a model?
I've been very conscious to pull away from modeling, I would go as far as to say that I don't really model any more. It's a very unique situation to have creative control over a shoot like I did with Superga. So if there are moments where I do decide to do a fashion story, it's unlikely I'll get the same opportunity to be creative as I did with Superga, because that's not how it usually works. That's why I wanted to take this one on, because that was a unique element of it.
Your role as one of the five wives in Mad Max also has a feminist message about taking, or rather regaining control. Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
People have this outrageous idea of what a feminist is. Really, all a feminist is is somebody who believes in the equal rights of women and men, so I'm 100 percent a feminist and I think that all men and women should be. It doesn't need to be as exaggerated as it's made out to be; it's a really simple concept.
Especially in [Mad Max], I had a lot of respect for George [Miller, director], for having the courage and the balls to put a bunch of girls in an action movie and make them, you know, tough! There's a lot of tough chicks in that movie and it's not often that you see that in cinemas.
When she accepted her Academy Award for the Mad Max costume design, Jenny Beavan said the film could be 'horribly prophetic' if we don't do something about climate change. Is that something you think about?
100 percent. I think that human beings have a terrible disregard for the environment and considering that this is our home, where we need to live, I think that people treat it very poorly. And on top of that, what's happening politically. The problems that we face today, in some form, have always been happening; unfortunately, human beings don't seem to learn from their mistakes. But you know, nothing lasts forever, and I think the world's probably getting pretty tired!
As in, it's the end of the world? Is there no hope?
I don't think there's no hope, that's incredibly dramatic. I just think things are changing, as they always have, but maybe just because it's my era, I feel like things are changing really fast. It seems that the damage we're doing is only getting worse.
The idea that Donald Trump could be the President of America is terrifying, you know, he's a chauvinistic, racist pig who doesn't deserve to be even considered for President. And what's happening with the wars in the Middle Eastern countries, and refugees all over Europe.
Your upcoming film Neon Demon is described as a "horror film about vicious beauty," set in the fashion industry. Was there anything from your experience of the industry that you were able to add to the film?
Yeah, Nick [Nicolas Winding Refn] the director was very grateful, I think, to have hired somebody who had been in the industry at the level that he needed, for such a long time, because there were a lot of moments where production would call on me to ask what types of people should be cast and what the set-ups should look like. Not particular experiences or situations, it was more like giving a glimpse into the psyche of a model and the treatment and behavior, the attitudes of designers and casting directors. It was more about personalities, rather than direct stories.
In the UK, the government recently held consultations about protecting young models. Is that something they ought to be legislating for?
100 percent. There's no doubt about it. There's no union for models, there is no protection for girls, and girls start obviously incredibly young and are often on their own. So you can be working until three or four in the morning, without being given a lunch break -- people don't understand the physical endurance of it -- and, you know, you get on set at 16 and you're working with fully grown adults and there's no one there to be your voice of reason.
I was very lucky; I worked in high fashion, so I did have a lot more protection, I would say, than some girls who get shipped off to Japan and put in a model house and expected to work. You know, I was fortunate. But even then, I don't think the treatment was perfect. If there was ever a time and a place where I could support the protection of models being a thing, then I would. I don't know what needs to happen, but I definitely think something could. There's definitely room for change there.
Let's talk about your role in Gods of Egypt. Can you tell us more about your character, Anat?
It's a very very small role, I'm only in one or two scenes. But I play an albino assassin and I ride a serpent: I'm a snake-riding albino assassin!
A female assassin! Another badass character. Do you deliberately pick roles that have a kind of power?
Yeah! I wish I could say that I get to just pick and choose the roles I play, and that I can say no to things, but there's not really enough roles to pick and choose, unfortunately! But I think that I will always try to find strength in the characters that I play. I think that it's important to play interesting characters, so yeah, I'm drawn to strong ones.
Of course, there was some controversy over the, largely white, casting. What's your take on that?
I mean, I went into this movie playing an albino, so…! But this is a big subject at the moment, and I do definitely think that there needs to be more room for not just black actors, but Asian, Mexican. I do think that there needs to be way more diversity in the movies that we see.
For Gods of Egypt, it's a big fantasy movie, it's not a real depiction of what happened in Egypt. But definitely as a broader issue there definitely needs to be change; that's something I'm fully aware of. I have friends who are black and Asian actors who have a really hard time, and it sucks, so I do hope that it changes.
Is there any one reason you can see why it's not getting any better?
I feel like it is slowly getting better. I think all that needs to happen is for somebody to have the balls to hire a lead role for [a non-white actor].
You know what, I just got cast for a movie called Dark Tower; it's a huge franchise film that's based on a Stephen King book, and Idris Elba's been cast in the lead role and it's written as a white guy in the book. To me that's a huge leap forward. For people to just look outside the box, that's what more directors and casting directors need to do, and realize that people are open minded, and just actually have the balls to do it rather than talk about there needing to be change.
You could say that fashion has the same problem.
100 percent. There's never been enough diversity on the runway.
But why is that? Surely everyone's aware now that there isn't enough diversity on the runway.
Because, I think, people are sheep! What I was saying about directors needing to have the balls… I think people have such an easy time pointing the finger, rather than being the one who makes the change, and I think that if all the designers and the casting directors, I don't know, just made the decision to look past the color of somebody's skin and just at their beauty then everything would be fine, because there's just as many gorgeous white girls as there are Asian girls or black girls. I don't even know why in this day and age people are even having a thought process around it. It baffles me. But I think mostly it comes down to that people are pussies a lot of the time.
Finally, can you tell us any more about Dark Tower?
It's in the very early stages of having a new draft written up. I actually know very very little about my role. I'm very fortunate, it's a great movie to be a part of. You know, if you get hired to play a role alongside Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, you kind of don't ask that many questions!
You can find out more about Abbey's Superga campaign here.
Text Charlotte Gush