Based on the edgy and visionary trilogy by director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Pusher is an explosive race-against-the-clock thriller about a drug dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle), who grows increasingly desperate over the course of a week, after a botched deal lands him in the clutches of a ruthless crime lord. As the danger and chaos are heightened, there is less and less room for Frank’s relationship with his girlfriend Flo (Agyness Deyn) and his friendship with best friend Tony (Bronson Webb).
At the film’s press day, model-turned-actress Agyness Deyn spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how she came to be a part of this English-language remake, how she related to Flo, what made her want to transition from modeling to acting, why it was important to her that this was more than just a drug story, the research she did to bring a drug-addicted stripper to life, and just how intense this shoot was. She also talked about where she’d like to go with her acting career, possible directors she’d like to work with, the experience of making her debut on the West End stage earlier this year, and her next role in Sunset Song, a film about the daughter of a Scottish farmer who comes of age in the early 1900s. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did this come about for you? Was it something that was brought to you, or did you pursue the role?
AGYNESS DEYN: I did some short films that had been seen by agents. I had an acting agent, so I got sent the script just like any young actor starting out. You read a script, you audition and you hope you get it. I originally auditioned for Danaka, the drug mule, and then I got offered Flo. That was really exciting. I fell in love with Flo, when I was reading it.
Were there ways you found that you related to her, or did you want to play her because she’s so different from who you are?
DEYN: No, I felt like I related to her, so much and on so many levels. I think that any woman can relate to the fragility around love and relationships and doing what you want to do. She’s a stripper, who uses her body and her sexuality. She has all this circumstantial stuff, but still strives to get what she wants. You just want to grab her and carry her away. I loved how she was such a dreamer. She’s one of those people that is so into stuff and sees stuff in a different way, with the details. She’s hyper sensitive, but afraid of that, as well. She wants to feel and she’s so romantic. She takes drugs and she loves that whole feeling. But then, reality comes and she’s like, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore.” The conflict in that is so interesting. It’s real and it’s so truthful. I related to that.
Was it nice to know that the director, Luis Prieto, wasn’t originally interested in casting someone without much acting experience for Flo, but ultimately hired you because he thought you were the best for the role?
DEYN: I didn’t really know. I got offered the part. I’d gone in there andhad worked as much as I could on it. I was like, “This is what I’ve got. This is the best that I’ve got.” And then, getting offered it and was like, “Oh, my god, this is amazing!” When we started to shoot it, I had these nerves and excitement, and I communicated that to Luis. That’s when he told me that he didn’t know that I was a model, and that was reassuring. It gave me more confidence to play Flo because I did actually earn my place on the team.
Having had such a successful career, and then deciding to give that up and pursue something else, were people shocked and telling you not to retire from modeling, or were people supportive of you wanting to make that transition?
DEYN: I suppose my friends and family were supportive. To be supportive of myself, I have to go with what I want to do. I started acting and I was so mesmerized. I had this drive to keep on doing it and I felt like, if I didn’t do it, I would be taking the easy way.
Had you been thinking about acting, specifically, for awhile?
DEYN: I think it felt like a bit of an evolution of doing a job for 12 years. If I was a lawyer or something, and I was doing the same thing, then I’d want to go to the next level. You get promoted at work. Not that I got promoted, or that acting is any better than modeling, but I feel like this is the next step creatively, for me, personally.
On the surface, Pusher seems like it’s just a drug story, but then you realize that there are so many layers to it and it’s really more of a relationship story. Was it important to you that it was much more than just a drug story?
DEYN: Even reading it, you could tell that. The relationship between Flo and Frank (Richard Coyle) is so apparent, and they have that yearning for each other that’s like missing each other, all the time. They both want to be on the same page, but it’s like they don’t know how to be. It’s as if the dynamic that they have is what they want. There’s a fear of letting go and being like, “Okay, let’s fucking do this!” I love that about the film. And there’s the relationship that Frank has with Milo (Zlatko Buric), even though it’s this conflict in the story. He keeps on going back for redemption and Milo is like, “You’re like my son.” It’s really great like that. It’s not just a film that’s about drugs and idealizing that ‘cause it doesn’t, really. It shows the downfall of it and how that can destroy someone’s life and their decisions. I feel like it’s about relationships and decisions. At the start, it’s all glamorous, but then the fantasy wears off and it’s like, “This is what it really is.”
When you take on a character that’s an addict and a stripper, did you do any research into those aspects of her?
DEYN: I wanted as much reality as I could get. There was so much there in the script, and I read books and watched movies. I went to [a strip club] where I showed [someone] and talked to addicts. I tried to do as much as I could to create Flo and what she does, and her little quirks and routines, and the way she exists in the world. But then, at the end of the day, you’ve just gotta do it. You have to just be like, “Okay, I understand her. Let’s do this!” It was really fun, to work with Richard [Coyle], who’s such an amazing actor, and to feel that security of him being there and being so amazing and patient.
This film is very much Frank’s story, but Flo is still so layered. Which aspect of her did you find most challenging?
DEYN: I think the challenge was feeling the conflict that she’s going through. She has so much conflict and she’s so unconscious to a lot of things that are going on in her life. It’s like they’re running her. The need to be a stripper is her choice, and she’s making that choice to be seen in such a crazy way. She’s like a little delicate flower that’s so introverted, and yet she’s so extroverted at work. It was amazing to play that, and the confusion in that and the unknown that she has. It was funny seeing it for the first time. I had read the script, inside and out, and knew the storyline, but seeing the other half of it, she didn’t know that was occurring. She only had the fantasy of what was going on, not why this was occurring.
Did you think Flo really didn’t know what was going on with Frank, or do you think it was more that she just had blinders on because she didn’t want to see it?
DEYN: She’s such a romanticist. She’s like, “Let’s run away to Spain! We’re going to live in Spain and have kids and be on the beach.” She wants that, but she’s also not stupid. She knows what’s going on, but he’s not being open with her. That’s one thing where they’re both shut off, in some way, and maybe the fantasy they both have is what’s keeping the relationship going. She has all this hope that’s never going to be fulfilled.
How intense was this shoot?
DEYN: We had a lot of fun ‘cause we all got on so well. So, it was fun, but then it was intense because of the budget and the time frame that we had to shoot it. It was so snappy, and there were night shoots. There were points where we were all so tired. The pace was so much that that was carrying us. I feel like that’s what Luis circumstantially had in place, but he also wanted that pace in the film, so it helped.
Having taken on bigger roles in each acting project that you’ve done, have you thought about where you’d like your career to go?
DEYN: It’s about what I respond to. I want to play someone that many layers has, and is something that’s a challenge and a stretch and that I’m going to learn from. I don’t think I want to recreate something that I just did. I want to do something that broadens what I’m doing and creating. But, I like strong women who are iconic and inspirational.
Are there directors that you’d like to work with?
DEYN: You’ve got Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese, and those ones that you watch movies from. I grew up with Badlands being one of my favorite films, and Raging Bull and Paris, Texas, so working with those guys would be amazing. Getting the opportunity to work with Nicolas [Winding Refn] was amazing. I just want to keep on doing it. I’ve got itchy feet.
What are you going to be doing next?
DEYN: I’m doing Terence Davies’ new film, Sunset Song. We start that in the New Year, and Peter Mullan is playing my dad. I play a woman called Chrissy Guthrie. It’s pre-war and she’s a farmer who overcomes all these things in her life. She’s such a heroine. I’m excited to start that.
You also made your West End debut this year in The Leisure Society, which is really throwing yourself into the deep end of acting. What was that experience like?
DEYN: I just wanted to do it. I got offered the play and it was like, “Why not?! Let’s just do it!” And it was so great, working with great actors and doing eight shows a week. It was full-on, but so enjoyable. I personally felt like a different person, at the end of it. I started off as someone and ended up someone else, in a good way. That was really great. It was funny ‘cause I’d never been to drama school and I didn’t know what warming up was. So, I’d follow one of the other actors around the stage and just do what he did. All of the stuff that they were doing was so funny to me. But, it was so good. It was like a family, working with these people so intensely for months.
Was it scary to have that direct audience interaction, or was that something you really enjoyed?
DEYN: After awhile, you know it’s there, but it just becomes another character in the room. It’s such a high feeling that you’re so in it and so in present time. I remember the opening night felt like I didn’t even do it. It was an out-of-body experience. And every night was like a totally different play, with whatever was going on, for every single person. It was so good. Even at the end of it, we did the last performance and I was in the shower the next day like, “Oh, I figured this out! No, I’m finished!” It was this process, throughout the play, where you’re constantly discovering.
Are there things you’ve learned about yourself, through the process of acting?
DEYN: Definitely! I feel like every project that I’ve been doing, I’ve learned something about myself. It’s like I’ve cracked something, or my vision of myself has gotten wider. I’m just learning and growing, and overcoming the fear. With Pusher, I had this huge fear of the stripper aspect of it. I’m a bit of a tomboy and never really wore that kind of stuff. And then, when you go through that fear, you’re like, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. That was actually so beneficial and empowering.”
Has acting been easier than you expected it to be, more challenging than you expected, or exactly what you expected?
DEYN: In a way, it’s what I expected, but also not. I learn, more and more, that there’s no right way to do something. I suppose each project is a new thing, so there’s all this excitement and nerves about this new thing. Every single thing is like a new thing, so it’s never what I expect. I don’t know what to expect for the next thing. There are always different people. It’s interesting.
Pusher is currently available on VOD and opens in theaters on October 26th.