“I’m convinced I’m surrounded by an orbit, which sucks all my belongings into it and spits them out somewhere, and when I die I’m going to get them all back,” Abbey Lee—who appears, as she describes, “hungry and thirsty and on the run” in the long-awaited Mad Max: Fury Road late this spring—will later tell me when asked if she considers any particular item from the outstretched locales of our crazy planet dear to her. It’s no surprise, really, after my discussion with the Australian-born 27-year-old—who’s got charmingly gappy teeth and a little septum piercing; who was a tomboy as a kid and did jiu jitsu and boxing—gathers some momentum, she could give a fuck less for material objects, despite a decade of being draped in luxury and photographed by top teams, be it a personality trait or a condition of circumstance.
“I lose phones all the time,” she continues. “I’ve lost like six credit cards in the last six months. I’ve lost three passports [Note: that same publicist from earlier sent an email asking if anyone had scooped up Abbey Lee’s shades on the photo set the day prior]. For me to be down with something like a fabric or a stone there’s no point because every time I get attracted to something, every time I fall in love with something, I just fuckin’ lose it anyway.” She smiles and adds in the tone of the self-aware, “I do like nice bedsheets.”
Ah, attraction. Attraction and its relationship to loss. I tell her about another feature in the issue of her cover-gracing, that of The Great Attractor, a cosmological phenomenon whereby our sun, and the entire galaxy that houses the satellites that service ourselves, ID-PR, and the like, is being gravitationally sucked toward it. Lodged between all of space and The Great Attractor is what’s dubbed a Zone of Avoidance, disrupting visibility and therein understanding, like a fat person in front of you at the theatre. Science in this case, like the movies, tells the story of ironically being drawn toward that which we cannot, or should not, have. For the interview’s purposes, I liken Hollywood to The Great Attractor, her leap from modeling across a Zone of Avoidance of sorts, and she considers the obstacles, taking time with her words, speaking in a way that reveals a natural fear but also a self-possessed come-what-may cool.
“Firstly, my attraction to acting is not something I particularly chose,” she considers. “It sort of chose me in a sense. Sounds very cliché, but the process feels too natural to be something I’m not meant to be doing. Obstacles? I’m still working those out. So far, at this point in my career, I don’t have any films out yet [three, in addition to Mad Max: Fury Road, on the way, including: Ruben Guthrie, The Neon Demon, and Gods of Egypt]. My fashion reputation doesn’t matter—in the film industry, no one knows who I am—so I can’t transfer that over and use that as a tool to get me in, because it doesn’t work. So trust from others I can pull through is an obstacle. People put a lot into a film and to pick someone who’s relatively unknown is a leap of faith.”
It’s true. Abbey Lee’s transition, at least until there’s some celluloid to prove it tenable, won’t cruise by without at least some scrutiny. In general, models are seen to be granted born characteristics—namely beauty—that exceed the populace, and the logical converse is that they must be short other faculties, be they smarts or talent for other endeavors. A late 2014 interview feature with her in the weekend culture supplement of The Sydney Morning Herald sees journalist Tim Elliott take what feel like some rather limp pot shots, opening the article with commentary on her “unremarkable breasts,” and later suggesting her personal presentation postured or contrived. While it’s obvious Elliott is aiming to thread a playful tone throughout his article, it’s apparent he was not only a little unnerved by her disinterested demeanor [this can be subconsciously cultivated in fashion, particularly when you’re kicking ass at it and not mentally stimulated, as Abbey Lee suggests further on in his piece], but also perhaps that someone with such striking features might also have an interestingly layered personality.
And while modeling may have enabled Abbey Lee—now a decade in after being discovered by Kathy Ward, the director of the Sydney-based agency Chic Management—to hone a powerful physical presence, confidence, accustom to rejection, and sharpened instincts, to a certain extent it may actually stack the deck against her even more.
“My other obstacle,” she continues, “and I don’t know if this is me being paranoid or it’s the truth, but possibly my appearance. I’m six foot tall. You know, actors are short. I just feel like some of the characters I’d really like to play might not fit me physically…although I do think I’m easily malleable. People don’t recognize certain photos of me, for instance…but that ability to change yourself is a hard thing to convince someone of. I’ve historically worked with my instincts and with what other people are giving me, but in an audition you’re not really given much, and I’m not trained. So that’s a definite obstacle.”
Fashion to film is indeed a historically tricky rope to walk. Many of the known models-turned-screen leads, such as Cameron Diaz or Amanda Seyfried, were doing more to the tune of swimsuit or demin-driven shoots in their past lives, not Valentino couture shows, or in the case of Abbey Lee, eight campaigns with Gucci. And yet in this Era of the Influencer, the reach of models and the halo around their lifestyles has therein shape-shifted the model of the entertainment game, a model obviously in need of perpetual re-think.
“I got Instagram like a year ago,” Abbey Lee shares. “It was right after [filming] Mad Max, and I went public about six months in. I have nothing else. I don’t have Facebook. I never had MySpace. Social media, for me, is mostly from a work point of view. There are two reasons I decided to go public, even though it felt violating when I did it. It means a lot to people. If you have a following, the value of that is huge now. There are so few roles for females in film anyway and I’m not going to lose to a girl with like 100,000 followers. And secondly, its charitable power is very strong, so why not?”
Abbey Lee and I reflect on our opening moment a half hour prior, which is pretty hilarious: After I cease my hover over her dozing, we enjoy salutations and I settle into the booth across from her. We’re cruising on some small talk when we’re suddenly drowned out by a pair of guys who’ve just entered the bar, separately but now together.
“Hey, I saw you earlier by the pool,” one guy buffoonishly remarks to the other. “Yeah, you almost fell over. I saw you almost fall down!” The dude who almost fell down is, obviously, not so charmed that this was his distinguishing act for the afternoon. Abbey Lee and I also both expect him to be Robert De Niro or some such, but he doesn’t strike either of us as recognizable, and the whole exchange is chalked up as “really fucking weird,” according to our cover girl. We both agree that it was a good thing he didn’t fall in the end, because who needs that? Despite the interruption, the overheard comment has definitely teed up an obvious metaphor for being poolside in Hollywood, perils abounding. I ask Abbey Lee about falling down.
“I don’t necessarily think I’m attracted to resilience in people,” she says. “More so, I’m really unattracted to people who don’t have it because I’ve got it. So if you’re a pussy, then I’m not interested. I come from a hard family. My dad’s a 6-foot-8 countryman in Australia. Having been around that, I think that resilience is pretty easily spotted. Just how someone holds himself or herself you can generally tell. And I guess their invulnerability. At the same time, I feel like if someone is not vulnerable then they probably haven’t experienced much, which I just find boring. I’m attracted to people who have been through shit.”
At this point I rattle off a laundry list of the calamities and hardships I’ve endured, but Abbey Lee doesn’t seem all that interested. Instead, we’ve leapt back to Mad Max, a series rife with intensity, danger, and apocalyptic showdowns. Simply imagine you’re pummeling some sort of futurist auto through the future, the diseased and barren scape—apocalyptic, really, this scape—a whir to the peripheries, your once seemingly dramatic and difficult life once lived—actually rather joyous when you consider the shit heaps and chafing climes now in surrounds—but a dusty streak in the rearview, Abbey Lee at your side, struggling to escape that which chases. It sounds nice, in theory, but the filmmaking process [six months in the Namibian desert], which I suggest helped inform the drama of the picture, was pretty grueling.
“I found it really interesting,” she says of her return to civilization. “I was like socially fucking awkward as soon as I got back. I had to put myself in a cave for like a month. Because I couldn’t deal with the sensory overload. Silence is something we just never experience, and that was the first thing I noticed when we arrived. And I found that very beautiful at times. And visualize: while we were shooting, the first four months out of the six it was blistering cold. The sun was out but it was freezing cold. And the steel of the cars, and having to be wet so you look hot. You’re in houses that are in the middle of nowhere, right next to the ocean where it is too cold to put your toe in. So it was like we’re being teased by this beautiful ocean that we could barely even touch, and a sun that couldn’t warm us. I mean, it’s crazy.” She pauses for a while, looking off, considering the experience. “It made me kind of hate the land,” she jokes, “Which is a shame.”
Abbey Lee shares that she’s sure some of the production would definitely have not signed up for the Namibia experience had they known what they were in for. And while it does seem to have shaken her pretty considerably, now it’s just fodder for her mind and a story to tell, an apt test for what’s sure to be many more. It’s apparent this is the sort of thing that fuels the spirit of Abbey Lee. But as the roles, the travel, the press, the rejection, the introductions, the exposure continue to pile, she’s honest about what may be at stake.
“I think that what I maybe fear the most is losing relationships in my real life,” she says when asked about what she stands to lose with the possibility of further success. “Only because when I work, I’m a very focused worker. And working drives me. If I didn’t have work, I wouldn’t see the point in moving forward. It really does drive me. And I really do feel...I don’t fear it...I just need to work to manage it. The more I work, the easier it is for me to be alone.”
The philosopher/writer Alain de Botton, when assessing the seminal mid-20th century text, Edgar Wind’s Art and Anarchy, in his thematically titled read, Status Anxiety writes of the pursuit of art:
“Life is a phenomenon in need of criticism, for we are, as fallen creatures, in permanent danger of worshipping false gods, of failing to understand ourselves and misinterpreting the behavior of others, of growing unproductively anxious or desirous, and of losing ourselves to vanity and error. Surreptitiously and beguilingly, then, with humor or gravity, works of art—novels, poems, plays, paintings or films—can function as vehicles to explain our condition to us.”
Perhaps Abbey Lee’s obsession with work, with her professed “nomadism,” with pushing her understanding of our condition, and her relationships as they come and go, is illumined by this idea. Considering the apocalyptic fantasy she’s just been a part of, does she think that art, that innovation will ward it off?
“No, I think mankind is really going to fuck some shit up,” she retorts. “I do think despite people saying that with technology advances we’re going to be able to save everyone, we’re not. I’m just not sure that we’re meant to be here forever. I think there’s a force much stronger than machines and technology. I think we’re just going to combust, at some point.”
Surely. Nothing lasts forever, as they say, and we’re moving at a pretty ridiculous clip. In the process, though, we’re liable to see a real separation of spirits—that resilience that she spoke toward earlier, in some and not in others. As for her? Well, she’s a toughie. It’s evident after an hour requesting insights. But this doesn’t mean Abbey Lee does not exude a gentleness, a fragility that may see her leave her mark in ways not so heavy-handed. But odds are, like the tall, slender, gray-headed corn flowers of the American prairie, Abbey Lee is liable to soldier through the shortages, the drought you might call it, and rather than flop to the floor under duress, she’ll simply smell of anise when bruised a bit.
Photographer: Maurizio Bavutti for ArtlistParis.com.
Stylist: Ada Kokosar for ArtlistParis.com.
Art Director: James Timmins.
Hair: Adir Abergel for StarworksArtists.com.
Makeup: Rachel Goodwin for TheMagnetAgency.com Using Chanel.
Photography Assistant: Carl Duquette.
Styling Assistants: Sophia Phonsavahn and Marcello Gaia.
Beauty Notes: Le Blanc De Chanel Multi-Use Illuminating Base by Chanel, 'The Sculpting' Powder by Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, Aquarelle Face & Body Liquid Color for Eyes in White by Make up for Ever, Lait Luminescence Leave-in Detangling and Protective Spray and Serum De Soie Sublimateur Nourishing and Protective Styling Serum by Leonor Greyl and Shine Light Reflecting Spray by Oribe.