When you watch Abbey Lee on the big screen (see: Mad Max: Fury Road and Gods of Egypt), it’s quickly apparent that her acting career is no flash in the pan. But it’s this month’s fashion thriller, The Neon Demon, that gives us the Australian beauty’s best work yet. Tapping into a world she knows very well, Lee delivers a scarily good performance as Sarah, a model wrought with jealousy when a fresh face (the über-talented Elle Fanning) lands in L.A. and earns the admiration of everyone in the fashion industry overnight. The main takeaway: Beauty is dangerous.
As a former model who has worked with everyone from Terry Richardson to Karl Lagerfeld, Lee was not naïve to the repercussions that could come from doing a film that puts the harsh realities of the industry all out on the table. But that’s what we love about her: Whether it’s her edgy style or choice of roles, she’s not afraid to take a risk.
Here, we chat with Lee about revisiting her former career onscreen, the positives and negatives that come from the world of modeling, and what’s next. Keep reading for our exclusive interview.
WHO WHAT WEAR: How close to home is this film for you, in terms of your own career as a model?
ABBEY LEE: I think a lot of what she was going through emotionally resonated with me on a real level. I’m playing an old washed-up model; I don’t think in my career, I ever washed up. So I don’t relate to that part of it, but I definitely think a lot of the struggles she goes through is a real thing for most people in the entertainment industry.
WWW: At what point reading the script did you realize you have to play this character?
AL: Pretty much as soon as Sarah’s character came into the script. I was given the script and asked if I was interested in auditioning for either Gigi or Sarah, and I really immediately was drawn to Sarah. I was like, I’ve got to do that role. Every scene of Sarah’s I loved.
Amazon Studios/Broad Green Pictures
WWW: Were you ever worried what the fashion world would think?
AL: Oh, completely. I thought, This could be career suicide, but I knew I had the support of someone like Nick. He was really open to and interested in having an open dialogue with me about the details of the film, and how to make it as true to the fashion industry as possible so that we were being respectful of the industry.
WWW: While Neon Demon focuses on the harsh realities of the modeling world, what do you think are some positives that come out of the industry?
AL:I think that there are a lot of creative people in the fashion industry, and I’m always supportive of that. As a model, I think you become very tough; you learn how to take care of yourself. You grow up fast and get to see a lot of the world, and it pays well too.
WWW: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
AL: I just hope that they’re affected by it. I hope it makes them think about perfection and beauty, and the lengths people are going to these days to attain it. I hope it makes people think twice about it, I suppose.
Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Amazon
WWW: Looking to the future, what would be your dream role?
AL: I’m not sure; I’ve done so little so far. I have lots of dream roles and would love to do; lots of little things. I don’t have one particular role. I’m still discovering what I like and don’t like.
WWW: What can we look forward to next from you?
AL: I just wrapped two films, and I’m in the middle of shooting another one. There’s another three films coming out in the near future that people will be able to see. There’s a comedy, a franchise film, and then a small independent film, so everyone can watch out for those.