alexa BlackBook: Designs on Acting: ‘Hard Sun’ Star Agyness Deyn Talks Drama with Writer-Director Alex Ross Perry

 

IF you found the bleak dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale terrifying, you’d better buckle up for Hard Sun. The sensational Hulu/BBC drama concerns a pair of British detectives who discover that the apocalypse is coming in five years — and that the government wants them dead for finding out.

Aside from providing cryptic conspiratorial thrills, the show boasts a riveting performance from lead Agyness Deyn as the intense Elaine Renko. The emotionally wounded deputy inspector is trying to save the world, resolve family trauma, and process a growing suspicion that her partner (Jim Sturgess) is corrupt.

A former model raised in Manchester, England, Deyn, 35, has proved to be a formidable actress with an excellent taste in film and television projects. The New Yorker named her one of the best actresses of 2016 for Sunset Song, the story of a young woman persevering through a brutal rural existence in World War I-era Scotland. It’s a long way from shooting ads for Dior, Burberry, Uniqlo and Vivienne Westwood and hanging out with creative collective the Misshapes (she’s been based in NYC since the early ’00s). Next, Deyn will co-star alongside “Handmaid’s Tale” actress Elisabeth Moss in “Her Smell,” an indie film about feuding female punk rockers by writer-director Alex Ross Perry.

Perry has made a name for himself as a sensitive and curious teller of women’s stories, via a quick succession of acclaimed, fantastically cast micro-indies: 2014’s nervous-novelist tale “Listen Up Philip” (with Moss and Jason Schwartzman), 2015’s deep dive into female friendship, “Queen of Earth” (Moss again), and 2017’s “Golden Exits” (with Chloë Sevigny, Schwartzman and former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz).

Deyn and Perry convened a meeting of their mutual admiration society on an April Saturday in New York.

 

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Alex Ross Perry: Do you remember how we met?

Agyness Deyn: We met at — what’s that place called on St. Marks? It was Cafe Orlin! Wow, this might have been, like, four years ago. We ended up sitting down for about two hours chatting — drinking loads of tea. I thought it was just so fun. I remember when you spilled the tea — about the project you were working on, about stuff we were both working on, about life. The two hours went by and we were like, “S – – t, we’ve been sitting here for a long time.”

ARP: I remember feeling exceptionally encouraged and excited by it. The meeting was for a big movie that I was trying to make that never got made. But because I ended up having a lot of meetings, now I’ve essentially been able to cast anything I’ve made since then with people I [originally] wanted to put in that movie. The following spring, I saw Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song” and was completely blown away by your performance. What path did that character set you on?

AD: I think about Terence [Davies] regularly, probably weekly. I finished that film and thought, “Oh, I suppose that I am an actor now.” I said that to Terence, and he said, “Well, of course, you are.” I remember thinking someone believed in me a million times more than I believed in myself as an actor and as a woman. He gave me a huge responsibility to carry a film he’s been trying to make for 15 years. Making that film, I went from being a girl to a woman. His projection of what a woman is helped me embody what I had in myself.

 

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ARP: How did that change the bar you’ve now set for yourself?

AD: I knew that I wanted to play strong women with a point of view who have something to say. “Sunset Song” and “Hard Sun” are so different, but it was kind of a continuation. Elaine [in “Hard Sun”] is this damaged but strong and enigmatic woman who seems kind of genderless and walks to the beat of her own drum. I have a very English way of being apologetic. I didn’t have that kind of “F you” attitude, and [the director] drilled that out of me very quickly. It was fast-paced, the story matter was intense. It almost killed me, but it was exhilarating to play her.

ARP: I don’t know how long the shoot for “Sunset Song” was, but with [“Hard Sun”], suddenly you’re a sprinter who has to run a marathon without training for it. 

AD: Definitely. It was such a shock. I remember saying to Jim [co-star Sturgess] after we’d done the first two episodes, “We’ve got to do this again, haven’t we?” And he was like, “Yeah.” Like a marathon, you’re not sure how you’re going to save your energy and your feelings because you don’t know how much you’ll need at the end.

ARP: Now, you can’t just say yes to some TV show that won’t be satisfying.

AD: Exactly. I have the same sensation about the movie [“Her Smell”] you and I are doing together.

 

“Making that film, I went from being a girl to a woman … It almost killed me, but it was exhilarating to play her. ”

 

ARP: We’re not asking you to come in and be this mysterious, elfin, British model-type woman. There’s music lessons involved, there’s a certain theatricality involved. We’re setting up a series of extreme challenges. 

AD: I can’t wait. It’s funny because I know I’m so excited and so terrified before a job when I start dreaming about it. I woke up this morning after having a nightmare about actually being in the band: “Oh my God, oh s–t. I don’t know the song.”

ARP: The sort of all-encompassing logistical panic of this movie is something I’ve never really experienced. 

 

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AD: Where did you get the idea of making this film?

ARP: I wondered, what could I be doing that no one else would be doing right now? A lot of people can make something inspired by an era 50 years removed. Maybe I do a music movie about a disreputable genre no one’s really romanticizing in the same way yet. But it’s so much more about [the] identity of all these women in this movie — motherhood and sisterhood within these bands, and addictions and addictions to people. 

AD: I always say ’79 was such a great year for music in England, with the Clash and all these brilliant bands. It was amazing to be a young person and introduced to them by different friends. It shapes you as a person. So, it’s a fun way to explore it all again and also hear everyone else’s stories.

ARP: I’ve jokingly said this is a role you’ve been preparing to inhabit for your entire life, via modeling or acting. Maybe “mysterious, ethereal rock goddess” was a career path that may [have] eluded you, but now you get to use your lifetime’s worth of knowledge to be in this character.

AD: I remember seeing images early on of the Slits and the Raincoats — these young women just doing what they wanted. It was just so exhilarating to think like, “Oh, I can be that.”

 

 

ABOUT THE SPACE

We photographed Agyness Deyn at a lower-Manhattan pied-à-terre tucked inside the 1879-built Robbins & Appleton Building, with interiors designed by Mark Zeff. Commissioned by a Miami-based couple, the Bond Street residence showcases the duo’s diverse collection of special artworks by renowned creators such as Andy Warhol. The designer was charged with maintaining the raw loft’s distinct character while also creating intimacy for the couple and their teen children. Using ribbed glass and blackened steel, Zeff partitioned the 4,500 sqaure-foot space into wonderfully dramatic tableaus, including a glass-box study and an airy kitchen designed for entertaining.

 

 

On the cover: Blazer, $1,695, and pants, $1,295, both at RosieAssoulin.com; “Elsa” earrings, $740 at AgmesNYC.com

Photos by Martien Mulder; Styling by Danielle Nachimani, Hair by Seiji using Oribe Hair Care for The Wall Group; Beauty by Gianpaolo Ceciliato using Chanel Plaette Essentielle for Tracey Mattingly Agency; Bond Street Photo by Eric Laignel

 

‘Queers’ To Air on BBC America

BBC America is set to air the hit British gay drama miniseries Queers later this year. The show was curated by Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss and consists of eight monologues delivered by different renowned actors.

The show originally aired in the United Kingdom as one part of the larger “Gay Britannia” series, which was created in celebration of the Sexual Offences Act that decriminalized homosexual behavior in the region fifty years ago.

Each monologue is up to fifteen minutes in length, delivered by some of our faves: Alan Cumming, Russell Tovey (Looking), Ben Whishaw (Spectre), Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones), and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk), to name a few.

“I’m thrilled and delighted to have been asked to curate this exciting series from both established LGBT writers and a whole host of new talent fresh to the screen,” Gatiss explained in Variety’report. “At this challenging and fluid time, it’s a marvelous opportunity to celebrate LGBT life and culture, to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go.”

Take a look at the trailer below:

Will the BBC Play ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ in Honor of Margaret Thatcher?

First of all, the pop music charts in England are fucking nuts. Do you remember the crazy frog ringtone? That was, like, a number-one single in England. I don’t understand it, but you do whatever you need to do, U.K. Anyway, even though there are a handful of anti-Margaret Thatcher songs out there, those who are especially pleased about her death this week have turned to an old, universal favorite to express their glee: "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz. Yes, the song from the 1939 movie has hit the top of the charts, and now the BBC may have to awkwardly play the song on the network’s Official Chart Show.

Of course, this is creating some controversy over there.

John Whittingdale, a lawmaker from Thatcher’s Conservative party, told the Daily Mail tabloid that many would find the ditty "deeply insensitive."

"This is an attempt to manipulate the charts by people trying to make a political point," he said.

In a statement, the BBC said it had not yet decided on whether it would feature the song on its show — which normally plays all the week’s best-selling hits.

"The Official Chart Show on Sunday is a historical and factual account of what the British public has been buying and we will make a decision about playing it when the final chart positions are clear," the taxpayer-funded BBC said.

Not all Tories agreed that the song should be yanked.

"No song should be banned by the BBC unless its lyrics are pre-watershed," said former Conservative lawmaker Louise Mensch, referring to British restrictions on adult content.

Mensch, a prominent Conservative voice on Twitter, said in a message posted to the site that Thatcher, famously known as "the Iron Lady," would not have wanted it any other way.

"Thatcher stood for freedom," she wrote.

Yes, she sure did love freedom almost as much as bombing Argentinians. But did she love Ella Fitzgerald? This is a tough one. 

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Jane Campion Talks About Her New Zealand-Set Mystery Miniseries, ‘Top of the Lake’

In a world full of Law and Orders and CSIs, the story of a pregnant twelve-year-old’s disappearance and the female detective obsessed with finding her isn’t a particularly shocking premise. What is surprising about Top of the Lake, a seven-part miniseries that premiered on Sundance Channel on Sunday evening, is the woman behind the project: Jane Campion, who is best known for films like The Piano, for which she received an Oscar for Best Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director. Campion, who co-wrote the series with longtime collaborator Gerald Lee, brings the mystical vibes of her native New Zealand to the West, and along for the ride are American actors Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter.

I spoke with Campion over the phone recently about her process as a director and how working in an unfamiliar medium allowed her room to explore a longer, full story.

What drew you to the medium of television to tell a story rather than a feature film?
It’s pretty simple: time and space. I think the current situation… I wanted to tell a story that would take about six hours, and I wanted the space to develop those characters and have longer scenes. The novel is probably my favorite form [of storytelling], and the idea of a six-hours series is as close to a novel as I can imagine. I also think there’s a lot of freedom right now in telling stories on television; we were commissioned by BBC 2, whose charter is to work with filmmakers and take risks and be adventurous. They kind of said to me, “Do it if you want and make it as long as you like!” So I told my writing partner [Gerald Lee], “We better do something wild!”

I know you’ve worked in television before at the beginning of your career. Did you worry, after dedicating your work to feature films, about returning to this format? Was it an easy transition?
I certainly felt more relaxed. I knew that what we were going to do, if we did our best, would be pretty good television, and I say that knowing that the bar is very high for TV these days. The most difficult thing for me, really, was the schedule. We had to do ninety minutes in about four and a half weeks, so it was very fast going. I’m used to taking twice as long. [Laughs] But my crew definitely helped me move along. We were just, like, running the whole time. I didn’t have time to chat with the crew; we worked together for several weeks and I have no idea what was going on in their lives!

Was it the same amount of time you’d usually spend on a two-hour film project, only with a seven-hour series?
What was interesting to me is that we were pretty divided and working on different parts. My co-director, Garth Davis, was there doing his episodes, which gave me some time off. Even though there was a fast schedule, we still had time to take breaks. What really puts me off doing television in general is the horrible schedules and the fact that you can’t produce anything interesting in that time because you’re trying not to fall over. I think that’s the problem with most TV—shooting is so fast, that’s the standard.

The strange thing with television is that there’s a very broad idea that a series creator wants to pursue, but a story can go all over the place in such a collaborative environment. Was having a second director working with you a challenge?
It was a bit scary! [Laughs]

To put your story in someone else’s hands like that?
Yes. But the thing with Garth is that he’s a very enthusiastic, great director. I learned a few lessons from him. I’d watch him and think, “Oh, that’s awesome!” He loved the material, and that made me feel great, and he also said in such plain terms, “I’ll do anything you want. Tell me how to divide the work up and I’ll do anything you tell me.” There was no ego. I did want to look after him, as well; he hadn’t done much drama. But I do think he’s one of the best commercial directors in Australia. He’s got a great personality and sensibility. He is also a fantastic photographer—we gave him a lot of landscape work because no one can do it better. To answer your question more directly, I was a bit nervous about how he might handle the more complicated tones of the piece. But we workshopped quite a bit and I was comfortable that he wouldn’t make it too broad and keep it very real.

The setting became its own character in a way. In American culture, there’s not much of an awareness for New Zealand beyond The Lord of the Rings, in which it’s more of a stand-in for a more fantastical world. Did you want to bring an awareness for New Zealand to a wider audience, to see it existing as the way you see it?
In a way, yes. I thought Peter Jackson did a great job with those films. I certainly love the wilderness and that area of the world—it’s sort of the end of the earth. I’m very affected by it, the atmosphere of being there. I think a lot of the crew even felt a culture shock when they got back to the rest of the world. I’ve been to Iceland, too, and there’s a similar feeling there. It’s quite a similar culture.

It reminded me a little bit of the Pacific Northwest, even with a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe to it. I thought it was an interesting place to set the series since it sets a tone even for the characters’ personalities, as well.
They’re people on the edge: people who like to run the world themselves. They’re outsiders. It’s also the mentality of grasping for a paradise. Everyone is very sensitive to the beauty of the place, no matter how raw or rough it is.

After working on a larger narrative like this, do you plan on doing more longer projects? Do you want to balance this sort of work with shorter, feature-length films?
I’m ready to get back to those shorts. [Laughs] In terms of directing, yes, it’s a lot of work. I don’t know how to do things at half-pace. Even a three-hour film is a lot of work, because once you’re done shooting you have to do all the post-production. But I was thinking that I would love to work with Gerald again. We had so much fun writing this, and I’d love to work on another project together, and maybe I wouldn’t direct it or would only direct one episode. I also enjoyed working with Gus, and I can see the opportunity of working with other directors quite happily. But for now I’m really thinking of taking a break. [Laughs]

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You Should Probably Sign This Petition to Keep ‘The Hour’ Alive

Earlier this week, we reported that one of the most intelligent and compelling television dramas in recent memory was getting the axe before its intended third season. BBC’s 1950s-set The Hour has proven—in its mere 12 episodes—that not only can it contend with anything on AMC or HBO, etc., but it can easily surpass. Written by the brilliant Abi Morgan, there’s never a dull moment with The Hour, always packed with a smart mix of pleasure and intrigue— I mean, even visually the show gets more stunning as it goes along.

Cutting The Hour before its third season makes you question what the BBC could really have been thinking? Why make such an alienating decision on a show that’s not only domestically but internationally loved! It’s almost as if they have never seen the thousands of fan-made videos of Freddie and Bel. But seriously, why? And on top of every other reason why it’s so wonderful and rare, it has some of best female characters in television or film nowadays. They aren’t always perfect but they’re intelligent and strong, always staying true to who they are and not allowing anyone to mold them. 

With some beloved shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, etc you can understand why they should end—they’ve had their time, they’ve run their course. You can’t keep something alive just because you love it if the material is not there. Once a show’s well has run dry, it’s time to close up shop and that’s fine. But The Hour hasn’t run dry and with the way the last series ended, there’s still so much territory left to explore. 

But anyways, now you can put your hand in trying to save The Hour. With over 7,000 fans signing thus far, a petition has been issued to the BBC to commission a third series. Here it is:

bbc

You can read more and sign HERE. I know, it’s just television—it’s only entertainment, right? But when so much utter crap is being shown left and right, you tend to treasure the good bits. And this is a whole lot of good.

Addendum: How can you cut a show just when a painfully neurotic and wonderful Peter Capaldi joins the cast?! Blasphemy.

Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West Next to Assume the Roles of Taylor and Burton

Back in November, a little movie premiered on Lifetime called Liz & Dick, starring Lindsay Lohan as the legendary Elizabeth Taylor (and getting the look down, at least) and depicting her tumultuous relationship with actor Richard Burton. This movie had a metric ton of hype surrounding it, and everyone and your mother probably live-Tweeted it (except for our own Tyler Coates, who preferred to enlighten us on all the things he watched that weren’t Liz  & Dick). And it happened, and it was bad. And not even, like, so-bad-it’s-good, Rob-Lowe-as-Drew-Peterson bad—it was just dull.

Anyway, there’s going to be another biopic about Burton and Taylor—appropriately titled Burton and Taylor—that will premiere on BBC4 this fall, with Helena Bonham Carter and BAFTA winner Dominic West stepping into the titular roles. Unlike the more comprehensive and montage-y Liz & Dick, Burton and Taylor will focus more closely on 1983, when, years after their second divorce, the stormy couple starred opposite each other in a production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, a play, incidentally, about a divorced couple reuniting. It’s an interesting time and place to focus on, maybe better than trying to cram such a dramatic real-life relationship into a Lifetime movie. You can already hear the Internet’s cries of praise and relief at an alternative to Liz & Dick. But this will probably get painfully overhyped too to the point where it’s not even worth watching the live-tweet stream of it.

Sadly, ‘The Hour’ Gets Cut Before Its Third Series

Well, this is certainly a damn shame. It’s been reported today that one of the most brilliantly written and executed television dramas in recent years has been given the axe before its third series. For its past two seasons, BBC2’s 1950s-set series, The Hour, has charmed audiences with depth and intelligence, driven by a narrative force that keeps us enthralled.

Set in 1958 and written by screenwriter and playwright Abi Morgan, the show has played out like an intimate drama wrapped in a much larger world of broadcast journalism, political scandal, and romantic entanglements. Starring the always wonderful Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Dominic West, the cast was what brought these incredible story lines to life and made each series’ six episode arc feel like a film you never want to end.

Compared to Mad Men—purely based on aesthetics, The Hour, was originally intended to be produced for three series but has officially been cut. "Sad and disappointed" was how Jane Featherstone, chief executive of Kudos Film and Television described her feeling on the matter, while the BBC said, "We loved the show but have to make hard choices to bring new shows through." The last series ended on such a devistating note that it’s tough to say where the show would have gone from there but I suppose now we’ll just be lingering forever in limbo, wondering whether or not Freddie is okay.

So let’s just watch some great moments from the shall and be sad, shall we?

All Of ‘Peep Show’ Series 8 Is On YouTube

We told you a while back to stream Peep Show, a mindbending British sitcom that lets you inside the heads of its loser narrators. Netflix may not have the eighth and newest season of the show, which aired in the U.K. last month, but YouTube does. It should take you all of three hours to blaze through.

I suppose the BBC is a bit more relaxed about this sort of thing? Anyway, enjoy it while you can. For newcomers, not much intro is necessary: Mark and Jeremy are long-time flatmates who’ve endured untold humiliation in their pathetic quests for love and success, and it only ever gets worse.

Series 8 focuses on their competition for Dobby, an attractive nerd, as well as Mark’s botched vanity publishing project, Business Secrets of the Pharohs, and Jeremy’s decision to become a professional “Life Coach” despite his ongoing failures. As always, life limbos right under the guys’ low expectations. Their twisted inner monologues, meanwhile, should make you feel a hell of a lot better about yourself.

 

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Last Days Of Beloved Alcoholic To Become BBC Film

The last months in the life of renowned alcoholic/British poet Dylan Thomas will be the new subject of a biopic on the BBC.

A Poet In New York will recount October and November 1953, when Thomas lived and eventually drank himself to death in New York City. The poet came to the city to oversee an adaptation of his "radio play" Under Milk Wood at the Poetry Center in NYC, the UK’s Guardian explains, which was intended to fund a trip to Los Angeles where he planned to collaborate with Igor Stavinsky on an opera. Thomas infamously died after consuming 18 whiskeys at a NYC bar.

The biopic is set to film on location in NYC and air in October 2014.

The Guardian reports that Toby Jones, who recently played lecherous pig Alfred Hitchcock in HBO’s The Girl, is in talks to play the role of Dylan Thomas. Personally, given Thomas’s boyish face and hard-drinking lifestyle, might I suggest Chris O’Dowd?  

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.