Spy dramas have historically marginalised their female characters into non-existence, says Hollywood star Elizabeth Debicki, who feels fortunate to portray an authentic woman in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller Tenet.
Debicki said spy films of the past treated their female characters as mere extras but women have started pushing through this “marginalisation” in movies today.
“I do think that we are pushing through the marginalisation and these stereotypes, the kind of in-built limitations of women within that genre. So often women are adjunct and kind of objectified and idealised into a non-existence. You can watch a film in that genre and at the end of it have no idea who those women are,” the actor told PTI in a Zoom interview from Sydney, Australia.
Elizabeth Debicki said when the genre is loved by both men and women equally, it should represent both the genders in a meaningful way.
“It’s important that we keep creating content within that genre and frankly, all genres where women evolve in front of our eyes and women get to experience the same thing that men have, teach us something about the human condition,” she added.
Billed as a globetrotting game of international espionage with a time-bending element at the centre, Tenet also features John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor Johnson and Clemence Poesy.
In her short career, the actor has received the most praise for her work in Steve McQueen’s Widows (2018), where she played Alice, who, after the death of her abusive husband, fights for survival, and Susanne Bier’s The Night Manager (2016), in which she portrayed Jemima “Jed” Marshall opposite Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.
Now in Tenet, she plays Katherine “Kat” Barton, the estranged wife of Kenneth Branagh’s villainous Russian oligarch Andrei Sator.
Asked about her affinity towards roles where female characters are fighting to emerge out of bad relationships, Elizabeth Debicki said the idea is to showcase their stories of survival with utmost honesty.
She said, “I have a kind of a theory about acting. It’s such an interesting thing to know how much you summon the roles to you and how much they find you and you find them. I think that the conversations those roles have about women, patriarchy, strength, intelligence, belief and trust in the self really engages me and it’s one that I constantly have and a lot of other women have in the world.”
Debicki said the women she has portrayed on screen have their roots in reality.
“It is a kind of an endlessly interesting but also necessary conversation to have because there’s a huge amount of reality to all those characters, even though sometimes they’re very heightened or not naturalistic. But I think that they all are kind of grappling with similar demons.”
Like her characters in The Night Manager and Widows, the actor said Kat in Tenet also felt “authentic” and Christopher Nolan had written “this complexity” into her.
“What I loved about her was that, yes, she goes on this incredible mission and she finds herself in these positions in these places that she never would have imagined that she would be capable of being in, but she internally goes through this psychological journey of kind of releasing the restrictions she has psychologically put on herself about what she’s capable of,” the actor said.
Elizabeth Debicki was both nervous and excited when she decided to take a plunge into the cinematic world of Nolan, who is a god-like figure for many cinephiles across the world.
The director is known for fiddling with the concept of time in his high-concept, big budget, big screen movies such as Memento (2000), Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Dunkirk (2017).
Debicki, who has also followed Nolan’s exceptional filmography as a fan, found him to be quite mythic as a filmmaker.
“He certainly existed in my mind in a kind of a mythological way. I think that’s what happens when you admire somebody’s work for so long and they have produced such exceptional films. You think that you might meet that person one day in passing, but you don’t necessarily ever presume you’re going to work with them,” she said.
The director, in reality, was “warm, interesting, obviously genius and very funny,” she said.
“He sort of put me at ease, but then the rest of the nerves, in terms of leading up to working with him, was definitely my own manifestation because it just felt so surreal that I would be playing that role in that movie.”
Tenet is slated to be released in Indian theatres on Friday in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.
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