Elizabeth Debicki on Her Gold-Painted Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Villain

By
Elizabeth Debicki.

Let’s get it out of the way: Yes, Elizabeth Debicki is tall and glamorous. That’s how most profiles of the Australian actress tend to start, and since Debicki is a six-foot-three gamine, you can’t blame a person for being struck by some of the same qualities that helped her get cast in The Great Gatsby, The Night Manager, and now Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where she plays gold-skinned antagonist Ayesha. When I met up with Debicki recently, though, I was charmed to find her in an unexpected position, her tall and slender frame hunched over a Baby Groot doll that had just been messengered to her hotel room. “Groot, you’re coming everywhere with me,” she cooed to it. She may be a formidable presence in the flesh, but even Elizabeth Debicki goes gaga for Groot.

(Note: Some spoilers will follow.)

I love that you’re in the movie, yet you’re still as enamored of Baby Groot as almost anybody else would be.
Baby Groot? Is the best thing I’ve ever seen. I love it when Baby Groot gets so angry, I find it so endearing. And I think that opening-credit sequence with him is the best thing I’ve ever seen, too.

Your character Ayesha is something of a gold supremacist, but I’m curious: How gold were you on set? Did they put dots on you and add the gold in a computer, or were you paint gold from top to bottom?
Completely gold. Down to my fingernails. Gold wig. Gold skin. Gold contacts, even!

Was it like body glitter, where you were still finding gold on your body months after the shoot?
It’s exactly like that. A month later, I’d be in an airplane and find gold in my ear. Or even up my nose! It’s so bad.

What was the process?
They paint you with proper brushes, and it’s about five layers. If it dries and gets crinkly, you do it again. And then there’s a little baby airbrush that does the hard-to-reach places like up your nose.

Was it hard to deal with?
For me, the contacts were probably the most invasive thing. They make you quite blind. If you need to engage with someone who’s a few feet away, you’re fine, but beyond that is a bit blurry. Pom Klementieff, who plays Mantis — God, she’s so gorgeous — said that her contacts gave her a kind of tunnel vision, but that was okay for Mantis because she’s in her own little bubble.

Ayesha sort of is, too.
She kind of sees what she wants to see, doesn’t she? And she zones other things out. She’s quite compartmentalized like that.

Even her costume is pretty impressive.
The gold dress, I thought was extraordinary. Juliana Makovsky, our costume designer, is really a master. It’s all metal, and very heavy. They built it up around me, and it takes about three women to move the bottom of it, with me shuffling around.

That is so Met Gala.
It is. [Laughs.] Ayesha is in her own Met Gala all the time.

What is it like to watch your own performance when you’re playing a character with such a different look and vibe?
I’m actually terrible at watching myself, but this was different. I mean, the movie is not about Ayesha; she’s a vital piece of the story, but I loved watching everyone else’s performances so much that I could deal with my own. But also, when I look at myself as Ayesha, I don’t really recognize myself. She’s sort of alien-looking. I’m glad that what I was trying to do came off. She’s in this sort of gray area where she’s not really a villain. Yes, she’s a supremacist and she’s very strained, but she’s imperfect and quite vulnerable. She has this slight mania to her, and that’s because of James [Gunn]. He’s so onboard with you as a director, so when you see it all edited together, you’re like, “Thanks, James! You got what I was trying to do.”

I’ve heard from actresses in period films that once you put on the corset, you can’t help but get into character. Is it the same when you’re painted gold and put in that dress?
It informs the way you move, it informs the way you speak, it informs the way you breathe. I realized after a few fittings that in most costumes, there would be limited mobility, but you just make it part of the character.

Which is why it’s delicious when things don’t go Ayesha’s way, and she becomes a little bit undone.
In the tag, when you see her and she’s sort of disheveled and manic, I loved that! She has this sort of fall from grace that’s interesting, and I love to play that as an actor.

What was the process of secret-keeping like?
Oh, it was so disciplined. I was terrorized by NDAs! It’s so nice now that people have seen it and I can talk about it. For the longest time, I couldn’t even say what color I was going to be!

But now you can say a little bit more. The closing-credits tag implies you’ll be back for Guardians 3. Have you had a conversation about that?
Umm … if I was to tell you about the conversation, I would get in trouble.

Not telling me about the conversation is basically a clue about the conversation, Elizabeth.
I’m going to let you write what you want. [Laughs.]

This article has been edited and condensed.

After Guardians 2, Elizabeth Debicki Was Terrorized by Gold