Agyness Deyn stars in T&C’s spring issue

The model-turned-actress ascends Royal rooftops in the first ever story shot at Hampton Court Palace

Photographs by Richard Phibbs and styled by Miranda Almond. All clothing, hats, shoes, crowns and gloves throughout Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda; all jewellery Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria

When Agyness Deyn first moved to America, back in 2005, she hit a few roadblocks. “People would say, do you speak English?” she says. “And I was like, I am English.” Deyn had grown up with her parents and two siblings in a suburb of Manchester, and discovered, aged 22, that her accent was essentially unintelligible to the average New Yorker. “Just on a pure survival front I had to soften my Lancashire broadness a bit.”

What remains is a gentle lilt, and one of the only give-aways that the woman sitting on the other side of the table in the Rosewood London, eating nuts and drinking fizzy water (“Let’s go wild!”) is actually Deyn. The difference between the woman you might expect, and the reality of who you get, is stark. The first is probably based on the mediated version from the 2000s – the edgy young model who was the face of Burberry and Vivienne Westwood, and seemed to be permanently partying. The photo­graphs from that era usually showed the peroxide-cropped Deyn in the midst of some sort of escapade with her best friend from home, the designer Henry Holland. And so I’d imagined an extrovert, someone loud and attention- grabbing, who would naturally dominate a room. Instead, Deyn is almost an apologetic presence, lost to an enormous grey hoodie, her hair still cut short but now nut-brown. When I tell her how different she seems to what I’d lazily presumed, she nods, as if this happens a lot. And then she offers a partial explanation: “You grow up, as well.”

Velvet, silk and sequin dress; ruby, emerald and diamond earrings

Deyn modelled for 12 years, after she moved to London to live with Holland and got approached while they were out together. “And in that time, I mean, I’d gone on a rollercoaster. You get spotted on the street as a kid and you’re like, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’” She travelled the world, moved to Brooklyn, worked with everyone, and became sick of it. “I suppose you’re just playing one role, aren’t you?” In the past, she has said diplomatically that modelling was like a decade-long apprenticeship to becoming an actress, letting her explore a creative life that then determined what she actually wanted to do. But there’s no doubt she grew out of it. “You start something as a teenager and you become a woman,” she says now. “It was a very clear moment when I thought I have to figure out what else I’m going to do.” There were panicky moments in the trans­ition. “You think, ‘Who am I if I don’t have that?’” But also pure joy at the liberation. “I wasn’t severely unhappy but I did feel, what’s over that wall?“ she says. “It’s like when you have your first boyfriend and you can’t think of ever being with anyone else and then all of a sudden you get a bit older and you realise, there are other boys, and then, there are other men.”

Velvet, crystal and pearl corset; ruby and diamond necklace; aquamarine and yellow sapphire earrings

To everyone watching, it’s obvious that Deyn has become deeply committed to her new life. This has been no dip-your-toe-in-a-superhero-movie career change. Instead, she has played a run of unglamorous parts in art-house films that have been acclaimed but gone almost unnoticed. She cites two as the most important to her so far, the ones that gave her lead characters to inhabit and made her fall hard for the profession: firstly Electricity, directed by Bryn Higgins, in which Deyn played the epileptic Lily. “I just thought he was nuts for casting me in his film. Nuts,” she says. But the hunch paid off: as Lily, sitting on the end of a pier eating chips, dirty hair falling over her scratched face, Deyn dismantled any remaining vestige of model-ish poise.

The second was Sunset Song, in which Deyn was cast as Chris Guthrie, the daughter of a tyrannical Scottish farmer played by Peter Mullan. As an experience, says Deyn now, “it might just have changed my life as a woman”. She doesn’t just mean the experience of working with the director, the British auteur Terence Davies, but the self-discovery that came with playing the part. “I have always been a person who hated conflict. I hated arguing, was terrible at arguing – it just wasn’t in me.” Playing Guthrie, a young woman coming of age and fighting for survival in unforgiving rural Scotland in the early 20th century, Deyn had to unleash another side to her character. She learnt how to argue. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m off!’”

This is an extract from Sophie Elmhirst’s interview with Agyness Deyn in the spring issue of Town & Country, on sale from 22 February. Pick up your copy to read the full feature.

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