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Elizabeth Debicki

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When Elizabeth Debicki swept into the room to talk about her role in Guy Ritchie's latest reboot The Man From UNCLE, we mistook her for a studio publicist. At 6'2", with a short, stylish blonde hairdo and dressed immaculately, the 24 year old is a Glamazon.

'Elizabeth who?' you might ask, and many others do too until she opens her mouth and the Australian lilt (and the famous Australian self-depreciating nature) issues forth.

Debicki last played vacuous golf enthusiast Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, and now she's the latest in a long line of names like Courtney, Hemsworth and Robbie set to explode globally. Helping her along will be the role as villainess Victoria Vinciguerra in UNCLE, with two more high profile roles to come this year – as Lady Macduff in Justin Kerzel's (Snowtown) Macbeth opposite Michael Fassbender, and in mountain climbing adventure drama Everest.

Tell us about your character.

I play Victoria Vinciguerra. She's English. She's a sort of self-made woman who's married into the Vinciguerra fortune and her husband has no idea what she's doing with their money. She's an antiquities dealer where she also meddles in nuclear weaponry, as you do. She's kidnapped her father, Gaby's father, to build weapons she's going to sell. She brings the evil in The Man From UNCLE, so the spies are really trying to stop her plot.

How was the set and shoot?

Oh it was dreadful. It's so hard being in Italy.

No, it was completely lovely. It was like one of those ones where you have to pinch yourself because it's just 'oh thank you, and the coffee was excellent'. There was a wonderful vibe on set. I think we all worked pretty well with each other.

What was exciting about working on this film was that we felt like we were making something fresh and unique. Guy [Ritche, director] has such a wonderful ease about him. He's really spontaneous, got a fabulous sense of humour, he's really witty. He loves you improvising.

Did you put some of your own personality into the characters?

[Laughing] Yes, well, I wasn't acting at all.

Guy opens up a space for you as an actor where you can be spontaneous. And then I think when you are being spontaneous or improvising lines sometimes you say 'actually maybe I think she wouldn't do that, she might do this', I think you end up coming out more in the character. I mean, you have to draw on your own experience or your own sense of humour, so I think our individual senses of humour are represented in the characters.

Did you have any familiarity with the TV show when you signed on?

No, I got the job and called my mum and said 'I'm doing this movie called The Man From UNCLE'. She went ' The Man From UNCLE? I used to watch it when I was a kid'. So I had never heard of it.

Did you wonder to yourselves at any point how you're going to sell a 35-year-old TV show remake to audiences today?

No, I didn't have any doubt that it would be fabulous because I think when we were making it, we knew it really pays homage to the '60s spy genre. It has so many wonderful stereotypes and clichés which we owned.

I mean we go and see the movie guys because you want to see those things, you want to see a villain in a swivel chair, you want to see things blowing up, you want to see that because it's fun and it's what you love about those films. But it's with Guy's vision so it's slightly unorthodox and a matter of cutting things together or mashing up an image with a sound track you wouldn't expect. So I always knew we were going to make something that was going to be entertaining and fun but grounded.

So how do you have to make the film relate to the trappings and clichés of the genre?

I think you want to embrace the clichés. When I started making this I think you go through process where you might doubt yourself, you really question who this character is you're playing when you're rehearsing and preparing things.

I told myself not to reinvent the wheel. There's a reason those things are so enduring. There's a reason why we want to see those things. There's a reason why so many spy films are out this year because it's a wonderful genre and it has its calling cards. If you can embrace those and put your own spin on it that's when I think it gets interesting and that's what I feel like we've done with this film.

Talk about the fashion in the movie, it seems to be a real touchstone.

There's much less fabric than A Royal Affair, which made it easier to move. I've always had a romantic view of the '60s and the fashion. My mum was young at the time and I always look back on our photos and I loved the idea of playing the kind of role.

To be doing this film was amazing especially seeing all the clothes and dressing firsthand. We had about 200 extras dressed up in period clothes, all the shop windows were period, all the beautiful vintage sports car. To get that chance to step out the doors and turn around and be transferred into another time, it's a pretty amazing feeling.

Were you comfortable playing the villain?

Yeah, too comfortable [Laughs]. The really great thing about playing a villain is you're always one step ahead, so that twist is fun, it's quite thrilling to play. And then, you know, obviously villains have the best lines. But she's a really strong female character with a great sense of humour and I think she's kind of aware of the absurdity of who she is and her profile in the world that she uses to her advantage.

Who had the better wardrobe between you and Alicia's character?

They're so different. What's wonderful about Alicia's character is you get a burst of youth culture. That fantastic, really cute kinky cool 60s sexy thing and it's so young and fresh. I mean it's wonderful that we have such different representations of women in the same film in the same era but they, you can't really like compare them because they're just completely different creatures.

How was the hair for you?

I don't know how women did those beehives. I've actually sat in my trailer holding my head up from the weight.

You're 6'2", it must have been nice to work with some tall co-stars.

Yes, it's lovely.

Is that usually a problem for you?

I'm actually working on a project at the moment potentially, an AMC series called The Night Manager with Hugh Laurie and Tom Middleston and we're all 6'2" and that has never happened in my life.

Is it ever a problem in auditions?

Yes, that happens and I sort of go 'well there's nothing I can do about that'.

What's your best memory of the whole project?

But one of the most remarkable things about making this film was being on location in Naples and Rome because I fell completely in love with Naples, it was the most incredible city.

The pigeons and the gelati and the pizza. Eating pizza on the church steps were completely sacrilegious but one of the best days of my life. It was amazing. When you see the film Italy is really a character.

So often when you're shooting something that looks remarkable at the end project you knew it was on a green screen in a studio somewhere and it's incredible they can make it look like that. This film really felt like what it looks like, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

How does that change your performance on the day?

There's less acting required in a funny way. I mean we were shooting in some pretty remarkable places –buildings where you're looking at frescos on the wall that are 400 years old and that's just someone's bedroom. It influences you, it stimulates you as an actor, stimulates your imagination. It's sort of like another layer on top of it.

Anything else make you really want to be part of the movie?

For me it was working with Guy. I really am a big fan of him and I just jumped at that opportunity to play an old school villain. I wanted to explore those stereotypes and see why they last and why they work and why they're fabulous and then put my own spin on it make a strong female villain. So that was, you know, a unique opportunity kind of doing that.

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