Actress Elizabeth Debicki is making waves across film and television thanks to her string of high profile collaborations with Oscar nominated director Christopher Nolan (Tenet), writer/director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Emmy winning “The Crown” writer Peter Morgan.
Currently, Debicki is in the trenches with Morgan as he brings his landmark Netflix series to a close with its sixth and final season. Morgan has had a constant presence at the Emmy’s each year, rejuvenating his series every two seasons with a time jump in the storytelling of the royal family.
These time jumps are accompanied by a fresh set of faces as Morgan casts new actors for the aging roles. For its fifth season, Morgan has built an incredible ensemble led by Imelda Staunton as the Queen Elizabeth II, Dominic West as Prince Charles, and Debicki as Princess Diana.
Debicki felt a mix of responsibility and pressure when it came to the role of Diana and joining a show with over two dozen statues and counting. At the 2021 Emmy ceremony, “The Crown” made history as the first drama series to collect statues for Best Drama Series, Best Writing, and Best Directing as well as winning (technically sweeping) all four acting categories (Anderson, Colman, O’Connor, and Menzies all won).
The dissolution of Charles’ marriage to Diana and his fresh romance with Camilla is at center stage as the royal family navigates a messy public situation in season five. It’s a particularly stressful time for Diana and Debicki captures that quiet intensity quite brilliantly.
Particularly powerful is episode seven, where Debicki’s Diana sits down with BBC journalist Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) for the current affairs program Panorama at Kensington Palace.
The shocking interview saw Diana discussed her self-harm, bulimia, and some very blunt details of her marriage to Prince Charles. Debicki’s performance is layered with the incredible details of the real life moment, thanks to the incredible wardrobe and hair and makeup teams.
This summer also marks Debicki’s return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, once again donning the gold body paint of the Sovereign people in writer/director James Gunn’s space franchise. Debicki plays the leader of the Sovereign, Ayesha, in both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and now Vol 3.
With Vol. 3, Gunn introduces the Superman-like character of Adam Warlock, played by British actor Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, “Dopesick”), as the laboratory-grown son of Ayesha. The duo have a close relationship in the film, and the actors enjoyed a real life bond through the torturous makeup process.
“I will say, it was helpful to have another gold person on set,” Debicki shares with a laugh. “Will (Poulter) and I were equally uncomfortable and we laughed about how ‘crunchy’ we both were from the costumes and gold paint.”
Debicki spoke to Awards Focus about her brilliant work as Diana in “The Crown” season five, her recreation of key moments in Diana’s life, and bonding with Will Poulter on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Awards Focus: You’ve had great project after great project and worked with some amazing filmmakers. Have any of these collaborations with filmmakers affected your process as an actor? And what was it like embodying a character over two seasons versus a film role or limited series role?
Elizabeth Debecki: Thank you. Let me see, how do I answer this? I enjoy acting, because I never really know how to do it. I always believed one of the great blessings of my career was, as you said, working with great actors and directors, like Steve [McQueen] on Widows, I get to observe people who are much better than me.
They’re smarter, more experienced, more confident, and that’s how I’ve learned. I believe in always pushing myself so that I can reach that bar. For something like “The Crown,” it was the longest job of my acting life, over two years so far. When you’re working something that long, you’ve got no choice but to adjust and learn how to do your job on the spot to new challenges.
AF: With the subject matter of “The Crown,” you’re creating iconic looks and historical moments in the show. With crafting the character of Diana, can you speak on the hair and makeup team as well as the costume designer and those collaborations?
Debicki: Yes, and it’s two-fold with “The Crown.” You feel these historical moments from the characters imprinting on your subconsciousness when you’re performing as them to the point where it feels like memory-recall.
When this happens, you’re giving the audience the illusion that they’re in this point in history when you’re reenacting and interpreting it. Take the revenge dress; there are so many holes, layers and shapes made from so many different people.
And when it comes time to put it on, it’s my job as an actor to be the canvas for that history to be painted on. But I’m also experiencing what it was like for them, such as when stepping out of the car onto the set in the dress, I’m feeling what it was like to be wearing this, and it’s a unique sensation.
AF: When you’re reading a scene and envisioning the shoot in your mind, were there times this season where something evolved when you got to set and the scene took on a new life? Perhaps a discovery with a costar or the director?
Debicki: There was a very long scene, about six to seven pages, when Charles came to visit Diana. There was this sense of love and nostalgia baked into the scene, and we sort of just ran with it. As an actor, you always wish that everything goes smoothly on the day of filming, and that your ideal vision of the scene becomes the final product.
Of course, you never really know what you’re gonna do with it because there’s always something new about the scene to discover.
AF: With the two years on “The Crown,” you were also working on other productions such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. What’s your process of bouncing between projects, and adjusting to them when the scheduling calls for it?
Debicki: I did Guardians between the two seasons, and I actually just wrapped on Ti West’s MaXXXine as well. What happened was that I finished working on “The Crown” and got on a plane to zip over to that set, and I had a glorious time making it. It’s really good for me to do other things that are very different, because I like how it forces me to use different muscles.
But of course, I find myself missing playing the character of Diana. I invested a great deal of time preparing for the role, and experiencing the world as she did, and it was a wonderful feeling. And the fact many people were able to connect with her only made it more rewarding.
AF: With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Ayesha’s relationship with Adam Warlock is maternal in such an interesting way as he’s mentally and emotionally developing while having the powers of a demi-god. How did you find working with Will Poulter and what is it like getting to work for James Gunn again?
Debicki: I loved the first Guardians, and I was so happy to be on the second, and when I got the call to come back for the third, it was great. When it comes to Marvel you aren’t given a script and so all the context is coming from James (Gunn). With Will (Poulter), I’ve always loved him from afar.
I watched We’re the Millers and I thought this kid is so brilliant, funny, charming and gorgeous. And then all of a sudden, I’m told he’s my son, and he’s playing this hilarious role. We kind of just jumped in when it came to working together. We just had so much fun, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much while making a production. And I watched the LA premiere and it was such a delight to see the joy that we had in filming this come through in the completed film.
The whole cast was great… it’s really amazing how they can be so hilarious, but also make you feel something. I just think they’re amazing at what they do.
AF: I’ve talked to Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Romijn about putting on the blue paint for X-Men and those tedious hours. How was your experience with gold body paint for Ayesha?
Debicki: Not comfortable (laughs), it’s just something you have to endure. I will say, it was help to have another gold person on set. Will (Poulter) and I were equally uncomfortable, and we laughed about how “crunchy” we both were from the costumes and gold paint.
AF: As “The Crown” is poised to close with season six, what do you make of its legacy and the fan base that’s loved your portrayal of Diana?
Debicki: I had no idea “The Crown” would be as successful as it is, or that people would be talking about it so much, and I’m incredibly grateful for what a gift this journey has been for me.