If you’re not already familiar with this incredibly versatile actress, you’re about to be.
There are lots of reasons to be excited about the new trailer for Widows. Viola Davis is in a kick-ass lead role, Steve McQueen is back with his first film in five years, and Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn has written another thriller. If you’ve been paying attention to movies over the last few years, you’ve also hopefully picked out a familiar face among the supporting cast — that of Elizabeth Debicki. Widows is one of six (six!) films starring the Australian actress that has been or will be released this year. If you’re not a fan yet, now is the perfect time to become familiar with her work.
Debicki’s breakout role came in 2013 as Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for which she won an AACTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. After taking a year-long break from the big screen to star in an Australia production of the play The Maids alongside Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert, she returned with several films in 2015.
Debicki had a small role in the 2015 survival adventure film Everest and she portrayed Lady Macduff in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth. Though Debicki’s role as Lady Macduff is somewhat minor, her performance is essential for Kurzel to execute his vision, as it is her death that causes Lady Macbeth’s (Marion Cotillard) mental stability to shatter. Her performance is raw but restrained, communicating the unimaginable cruelty that Lady Macduff endures, but never going over the top.
2015 also saw Debicki portray the villainess Victoria Vinciguerra in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Similar to her role as Jordan Baker with its emphasis on flapper fashion, Guy Ritchie’s 60s spy thriller was brimming with style. This gave Debicki an opportunity to show her slick and dangerous side as Victoria plays a game of cat and mouse with Henry Cavill’s CIA agent Napoleon Solo. Though Victoria is often presented in elaborate 60s costumes and heavy makeup, this never overwhelms Debicki’s portrayal of her. The surface might be rather gaudy in a way that could be comical, but Debicki’s ice-cold performance always reminds us that we should be taking Victoria seriously as a threat and that she could indeed be capable of anything.
Since then, Debicki had a supporting role in the BBC miniseries The Night Manager, for which she received a Critics Choice nomination. She also starred in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 portraying the high priestess and villain Ayesha. Even under the head to toe golden makeup, she wore as Ayesha, Debicki’s talent shines through as she is perfectly powerful and menacing, an effect no doubt buoyed by her wearing platforms to increase her height, already at 6’2, to 6’7. The Guardians post-credit scene indicated we haven’t seen the last of Ayesha, and I really hope that’s true.
And that brings us to 2018. Debicki stars in Breath, Simon Baker’s directorial debut that played at festivals last year and was released June 1st. She also voiced the role of Mopsy in Peter Rabbit earlier this year. While The Cloverfield Paradox was disappointing in many regards, it wasn’t because of Debicki’s performance. She and Gugu Mbatha-Raw sold the film as best they could, each portraying a worker on a space station who is faced with the unimaginable when an experiment makes the earth vanish. The film was a mess of different plots happening at once while failing to commit to any of them. Even the best actors can’t make up for these problems. If this film had been as good as the two previous Cloverfield films, we’d all probably still be freaking out about it. Debicki took a risk on the film and it didn’t pay off the way a lot of people hoped it would, but it’s good to see her take risks nevertheless.
A risk that did pay off tremendously was Jennifer Fox’s The Tale. The film is a self-reflexive fictional account of Fox’s own experience coming to terms with having been sexually abused as a child and stars Laura Dern as the fictional Jenny Fox. The film employs documentary techniques and plays tricks with formal elements to create a truly unique chronicle of one woman’s personal and traumatic experiences. Debicki’s role as Jane Gramercy, the woman who groomed Jenny as a child, is haunting and deeply disturbing. There’s little cinematic precedent for examining women as abusers, no doubt making this a challenging role to take on. As Jenny sorts through her own memories, Jane turns from supportive mother-figure to predator and Debicki handles this journey perfectly. Laura Dern delivers one of the best performance’s of the year and deserves all the praise she’s gotten for it, but the film also wouldn’t be what it is without the supporting cast and Debicki in particular.
In November, Debicki will be seen as one of the four titular widows in McQueen’s heist thriller. The film already promises to be a showcase of powerhouse acting as Debicki stars alongside Viola Davis, Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, and Michelle Rodriguez. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn collaborated on the script based on an acclaimed British series from the 1980s. Between the cast and crew — not to mention the fact that it’s about time we had more female-led crime dramas — I imagine this movie has skyrocketed to the top of everyone’s ‘to watch’ list. It certainly is high up there on mine.
If that isn’t enough, Debicki will also be returning to the world of period dramas with Vita and Virginia in which she will play Virginia Woolf. The film is co-starring Gemma Arterton and Isabella Rossellini. It will follow the true story of Woolf’s love affair with socialite and author Vita Sackville-West (Arterton). There’s no word yet on when the film will be released, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up at a few festivals this year. The film will explore a side of Woolf’s life that is rarely seen at the forefront of her depictions in popular culture. It is directed by Chanya Button and written by Eileen Atkins, who wrote an adaptation of the Woolf novel “Mrs. Dalloway” in 1997. With talented female voices in front of and behind the camera, Vita and Virginia is primed to be another home run in Debicki’s filmography.
At Cannes this year, Debicki was awarded the Trophée Chopard, an award recognizing young, emerging actors. Between her outstanding performance in The Tale and the potential of Widows and Vita and Virginia, I won’t be surprised if it becomes one of many accolades received by her this year. They would be well deserved.
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