Tall, poised, and porcelain, Elizabeth Debicki has looked every bit the star since she appeared in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, in 2013, as the thoroughly modern Jordan Baker. (She's currently in talks for J.J. Abrams's next epic.) In AMC's The Night Manager, a miniseries adapted from John le Carré's 1993 novel that first aired in the U.K., the Australian actress plays Jed, the American trophy girl of a billionaire English arms dealer named Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) who sweeps her off to dizzying series of exotic locations, from Marrakech to Majorca to the Swiss Alps. Along the way, they acquire an outsider amid their ranks, a capable charmer named Pine (Tom Hiddleston), who has a sizzling sexual tension with Jed. Of course, this being le Carré, he is not what he seems. Then again, neither is Jed.
Much of the show takes place on this incredible estate in Majorca. What was it like shooting there?
It was like a small country: a series of villas, with a big central one shaped like a turret. Majorca is this destination where, you know, you have a lot of money but you want to go somewhere quite exclusive. And the culture of the island is still traditionally Spanish. It hasn’t been infested by tourists. I think in the 20's or something an extremely wealthy person built this little kingdom of villas. We would walk all around the coastline and swim in the ocean; there are, like, six pools, 12 guesthouses. It was crazy. But I think one of the amazing things about Night Manager is that we went to all the locations you see. They weren’t magicked in with a green screen. The opening of the show—when Tom [Hiddlestone] is walking through the streets of the Arab Spring—we actually shot that in Morocco with hundreds of extras. And later, we actually go to Cairo. So that for us as actors was very real on the set. When we were in the desert, we were really in the desert—it was 50 degrees Celsius. But Majorca was so beautiful, luxurious, glamorous.
Some of your more notable films, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Great Gatsby, also feature exotic, lavish locations. So in that sense you’ve really lucked out.
[Laughs] When someone offers me a job, I say, “Where’s it shooting?”
Jed, your character, is very generically small town American, though.
I think we had a map and we just picked a place like Iowa, somewhere in the Midwest. Sort of generic, I suppose—not that there’s anything wrong with Iowa. But in the book, she’s British, the archetype of the Catholic school girl who rides ponies and has a banker dad. But we wanted to make her American to create this backstory for her.
Why did you want to make her American?
It’s actually a very important thing. This is how I thought about it, as the actor playing it: Jed is an outsider the way Pine is an outsider. But making her American is a sort of different tone in the voice of the show, and it also makes her an outsider culturally. She’s surrounded by all these tony British men who have all been to Eton and then Cambridge for generations. And Jed is so not from that world. She’s constantly paddling beneath the surface to keep up with these men. What I love about her is her street-smart savvy. I don’t mean street-smart as in she can show you where the best corner is, but I think she’s very quick on her feet and can fit into any situation.
You could imagine her as the spy instead.
Yeah, that’s funny, people ask me that. I think that’s something that plays in our show, as well. I think you definitely become aware that Jed is not what she seems, this flawless Bond girl persona she’s created. She’s very good at playing that role. But as soon as you realize she’s not who she says she is, and that you’re watching le Carré, then you start to question her agenda. Which I love.
Everyone has their own hidden agenda on the show, which is the joy of it. And I think people will see more of Jed’s great rapport with Roper’s right hand man Corkoran, who is played by Tom Hollander.
I cannot speak highly enough of Tom. He’s so brilliant in our show, with his sardonic wit. All the relationships were so rich, but I was sad that the relationship between Jed and Corky wasn’t even more developed. We just didn’t have time. But what I do think you understand is that they do love each other deeply. And they’re very loyal to each other. Corky’s sort of her protector. He makes her laugh. In the book, he supplies her with what he calls Mother’s Little Helpers—it's Valium. It’s sort of alluded to that Jed’s slightly addicted to something. I loved playing that with him. I just wanted to pet him and pat him and hug him and kiss him all the time. Because I’m six-foot-two and Tom Hollander is … slightly … not. [Laughs] I’m being very careful how I word this. I always wanted to pat him on the head. I tried to convince [director] Susanne Bier that we should write a scene in the show where Jed and Corky, to deal with the boredom of being on the island when everyone is away on business trips, sing musical theater. They get really drunk, and Corky gets on the piano and they do a rendition of Porgy and Bess. But she didn’t go for it!
I would buy the Blu-Ray to see that. Are you also taller than Tom Hiddleston?
We’re actually the same height, identically.
Have you ever had a romantic co-star who was shorter than you?
Who was that?
Oh … um, well, you’ve seen my films. [Laughs] It’s tricky territory, height and co-stars. The only thing I can say is that it’s never been an issue in my life. And people ask, “Does it bother your co-stars?” And I always say, “Well, I would be the last person to know if it did.” And I would hope people are bigger than that.
No pun intended, I’m sure. I also wonder if you’ve encountered the cult of Tom Hiddleston?
I have. We were shooting this show in such remote locations that we were quite left on our own. There were no paparazzi in the desert in Marrakech. Which was lovely, in a way. The first time I really encountered it was when we started doing press for the show. When you get out of a car on the red carpet, there’s always a trail of people around him. And Tom gets out of the car, the decibels increase; there are these waves of sound. And during Q&As after screenings, people would have to be told not to directly ask Tom any questions unrelated to The Night Manager. I’ve also just done a Marvel movie, and there’s an interesting following with those films as well. People are very, very passionate.
Are you scared of saying the wrong thing in front of those fans?
No, because I wouldn’t know what the right or wrong thing would be, anyway. Look, I’m sure they have very particular ideas about everything, but generally they’re just passionate and excited about the material.
Your character on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 so far is unnamed on iMDB. Is it a secret?
It’s so secret.