We could see it coming from miles away.

By Alexis Bennett
Updated May 17, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Credit: Giampaolo Sgura/Chris Boals Artists

On an unseasonably warm February day in Milan, Elizabeth Debicki is sitting before a photographer. She plants her feet in a wide-open balletic pose that recalls her early training as a dancer. Sitting before a journalist the following day, she crosses her long legs in a closed-off double twist that suggests she might have once been a contortionist too.

“If I were a psychoanalyst, I might say I’m protecting myself,” Debicki says. “I’m very long. I guess I’ve just always been very languid,” she says with a laugh.

As much as the 28-year-old actress has become known for valuing her privacy (she avoids social media altogether), Debicki is also recognized for demonstrating remarkable physical fluidity in a string of standout performances. It is almost impossible to take your eyes off her as she glides across the screen portraying the confident but conflicted femmes fatales in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Night Manager or the downtrodden underdog–turned–glamorous criminal Alice in Steve McQueen’s Widows. In person it is the same. She sits through interviews with her head tilted slightly downward, signaling attentiveness or, perhaps, wariness. Yet it’s impressive that despite her height (Debicki is about 6' 3"), she invariably appears to be looking up.

“I don’t think it’s always conscious,” she says. “But the body is an incredible tool. When you watch actors onstage giving an amazing performance, you’re not necessarily aware that their bodies are completely consumed by what they’re speaking.”

Credit: Giampaolo Sgura/Chris Boals Artists

Her particularly mannerist skill was honed while growing up in Australia, where she spent years training in classical ballet, followed by a foray into contemporary dance around age 13 and then drama school at 16. Both her parents were ballet dancers, “so I think I’m probably genetically modified,” she teases. “As a child I was thrown on a ballet barre, although my mother will say no one forced me. It was a healthy form of expression because I have a pretty wild imagination.”

In recognition of her dynamic breakout, Debicki will receive the Women in Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award at the 2019 Women in Film Annual Gala in Los Angeles this month. She is the 14th recipient, joining a list that includes Rose Byrne, Katie Holmes, Kate Mara, and Zoë Saldana, each honored for their combination of talent and grace at a turning point in their careers. “Elizabeth encompasses all this and so much more,” says Maria Giulia Maramotti, the vice president of U.S. retail for Max Mara who’s also a granddaughter of company founder Achille Maramotti. “She is eloquent, intelligent, and a beautiful person.”

Credit: Giampaolo Sgura/Chris Boals Artists

This compliment would have once been difficult for Debicki to accept, but now she recognizes its symbolic value at this critical time for women in Hollywood. Through her own work with the humanitarian organization Women for Women International, which provides professional support to women in war-torn countries, she has seen the impact of women’s empowerment on societies. Debicki also notes that actors often disappear so deeply in a role that it’s important to pause at times and recognize the uniqueness of their individual voices. “I guess it’s about trusting that you are worth something just the way you are,” she says.

“I think this award is a responsibility,” Debicki continues. “I feel very affirmed and supported by it and seen, and I take that and move forward and ask, ‘What do I need to do now to be brave and bold in order to make the kind of work I want?’”

All this talk about how she presents herself to the world reminds Debicki of another early realization about herself that came from dance: She has always been a feminist.

Credit: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

“I did a lot of pointe in my life,” she says. “I remember asking, even when I was 12 or 13, why? It’s so counterintuitive to be so fragile and create the illusion of being on air. Why do the boys not have to suffer like that?”

For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 17.