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i-D Magazine

Thomasin McKenzie on embodying Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest twisted creation
After roles in ‘Old’ and ‘Last Night in Soho’, the New Zealand actor breaks even crazier new ground in the sapphic thriller ‘Eileen’.

When she was six years old, Thomasin McKenzie’s grandmother asked her what she wanted to do with her life. She listed every career you can think of — with one exception. “I said, I do not want to be an actor,” she recalls. “Little did I know.”

Thomasin is one of those actors so self-effacing and ego-free in the moment that it’s difficult to match her in person with her myriad screen roles. With her young face and sharp features perpetually etched with worry, she’s become a go-to dramatic foil for directors like Jane Campion, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. After her breakout role in Debra Granik’s grossly underseen Leave No Trace in 2018, Thomasin has bounced from one buzzy project to the next. She popped up in The Power of the Dog, was present on the beach that makes you old in Old, brought much-needed humanity to the contentious Jojo Rabbit, and starred opposite Anya Taylor-Joy in Last Night in Soho. You already know Thomasin McKenzie, but she would like for you to get to know her more.

She moved to London a few months ago for a film — Joy, about the world’s first IVF baby — but decided to stay. The long haul flights from the US to her home in New Zealand after every project were getting too much and it was time for a change. We’re meeting in a north London bakery in her new neighbourhood. “I’ve worked in London more than anywhere else,” she says. “It felt like the right next step.”

Filming Last Night in Soho, a movie enamoured by London’s cultural scene, was “a great introduction” to the city, she says, and she’s kept in touch with Edgar, who continues to show her the sights. “He’s the best tour guide possible,” she says. And, obviously, in between projects she’s acclimatised to the UK through the usual suspects: Love Island and The Great British Bake Off.
Thomasin, an actor since her teens, says she treated the job “almost like a chore” at first. Descended from a dynasty of actors — her mother, Miranda Harcourt, is the daughter of Kate Harcourt; both were made Dames for their services to theatre — acting is in Thomasin’s blood, but she wasn’t naturally drawn to it. “My dad has done it, all my siblings have done it, I think I was just a bit over it,” she says. She gave in and first started acting to earn pocket money, then quickly found that she was good at it. “I also realised that acting gave me a voice,” she says. “I think there is a little bit of an activist in me that wants to be able to share important messages, and acting is an amazing way of doing that.”

She finds herself at, as she calls it, “an interesting point in my career”. The pandemic put the kibosh on her usual schedule of three or four films a year and it gave her the time and space to reevaluate what she wants from her career. Now, she only does two carefully chosen projects. “My team and I have been more selective,” she says. “I’m not doing everything that comes to me now.”

Set in nowheresville, Massachusetts, her latest film, the dark, seedy and gripping Eileen is a nasty little powder keg of a thriller about a dejected young woman who becomes consumed by a new arrival in her town. (If you think you know where it’s going, you really don’t). It feels like a perfect stepping stone for her as she makes the deliberate decision to step away from younger roles. Though Eileen may be in her early twenties, an abusive upbringing has warped her development, making her unworldly and almost feral; at once, Thomasin is playing both an adult and a child. “It’s a coming-of-age film, in a way,” she says.
Adapted from the Ottessa Moshfegh novel by the author herself (and her partner Luke Goebel), the script for Eileen came to Thomasin not long after she, like most girlies, had read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the BookTok darling about a depressed heiress who sedates herself for a year. She immediately knew she wanted to play another of the author’s somewhat twisted creations. “Ottessa’s writing is almost… queasy,” she says, thinking of the right word. “It makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable.” Because of this, she says she was “a bit intimidated, at first” by the writer. “I tend to ramble and can be a bit… word vomit… but she’s really lovely, and her and Luke are just so smart.”

Eileen’s journey to the big screen retains all of the novel’s murky, mordant humour. We first meet Eileen discreetly ogling a couple making out and stuffing handfuls of snow into her pants to cool herself: her own Eileen-ish way of masturbation. At her workplace, a men’s prison, she hallucinates being ravished by the guards. She goes home to her shabby attic bedroom and mainlines candy like a sugar-addicted six year old. Though it didn’t make it into the film, novel-Eileen is addicted to consuming laxatives, getting off on, as Ottessa writes, her “oceanic, torrential” bathroom visits. “I would have done it if I had to, but I’m happy I didn’t,” Thomasin says, sounding genuinely relieved. But as grimly funny as Eileen’s unorthodox life is, Thomasin felt a duty of care towards the character.

But Thomasin’s thoroughness with Eileen was as important for her as it was for the character. “At the time I was going through my own mental health journey, and I’m the kind of person who really likes receiving diagnoses.” She spent evenings on set journaling her idea of Eileen’s thoughts and feelings in the following day’s scenes. “Sometimes I can maybe take it too far,” she says. “But it’s a great way to communicate with your director–” She breaks off, distracted by a woman at the table next to us, who’s opened a notebook and started scribbling down notes and drawings. “My journals were much like that,” she whispers. “But yeah, it’s a way for me to let the director know that I’m dedicated, and I’m passionate about what we’re making.”
Starring opposite Thomasin in Eileen is Anne Hathaway as Rebecca Saint John, a counsellor at their prison; a woman as glamorous as her name suggests, whose vivacity and charm breaks apart Eileen’s sheltered life. “It was probably the most starstruck I’ve ever been,” she says, a lifelong fan of The Princess Diaries. Given that Eileen is similarly awed by Rebecca, did this off-screen dynamic inform her performance? “It really helped a lot, actually. I just had to behave as Thomasin,” she says. “Usually you’re not allowed to stare at another actor, but Eileen was a great excuse for me to just stare at Anne.”

Following Last Night in Soho, I point out that this is the second time in Thomasin’s career that she’s starred in a 60s-set film opposite a glamorous blonde woman her character is obsessed with. “Oh my god, that is so true. I hadn’t thought of it like that,” she says. Perhaps she needs to do a third to close out the trilogy? “Yeah, like [Edgar’s] Cornetto Trilogy. Maybe [next time] I could be the blonde woman?”
While filming Eileen, Thomasin became conscious of the difference between her and Anne. “I definitely wouldn’t consider myself to be a glamorous person,” she says. “I don’t have that grace. I’m a bit awkward, a bit clumsy, a bit erratic. It was the same with Anya; that was great casting because we’re also very different people. Anya and Anne have this natural grace and elegance to them, and it’s nice to see that contrast.”
I tell Thomasin she’s being too hard on herself. She’s not looking for a compliment. She explains that she’s always been drawn to outcast characters hovering at the fringes, never quite fitting in, because that’s how she’s felt a lot of her life. “It doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I like that part of myself — I own it — and I get to play really cool roles because of it. I’m happy to be a bit awkward.”

Source: i-d.vice.com





Welcome to Thomasin McKenzie Fan, the latest online resource dedicated to the talented NZ actress Thomasin McKenzie. Thomasin has been in TV shows like "End of Term", "Shortland Street", "Bright Summer Night" and "Lucy Lewis Can't Lose". She has also been in films such as "Leave No Trace", "Jojo Rabbit", "Last Night in Soho", "Old" and "The Justice of Bunny King". This site is online to show our support to the actress Thomasin McKenzie, as well as giving her fans a chance to get the latest news and images.
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