Elizabeth Debicki talks Tenet: "Everything is real: the props, the people, the sets"

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Tenet is incoming! Christopher Nolan's time-inverting spy thriller reaches UK cinemas this week – US theatres next – and we're celebrating by putting Total Film's exclusive cover feature online. As part of that, the team interviewed Elizabeth Debicki, who spoke about the new movie. Here's our interview with the actress – and be sure to read the cover feature here.

TF: How did you land the role?

Debicki: I had a cup of tea with Chris, and we had a chat. And there was a little pause in time. And then I read the part for him. And then after that meeting, I got the job quite quickly after that. So it was pretty simple, and a pretty normal read. You know, you meet the director for the part... Nothing hugely dramatic or anything. Of course, my emotional turmoil during that process was interesting. [laughs]

What was it like working on a set-piece with a real 747?

I think one of the things about working on a film with Chris is the scale and the scope of what they’re able to achieve. But I always feel like, as a director, Chris would rather actually film the reality of the situation. He doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to scale, or getting the shot or the stunt or the sequence. He was really interested in putting the reality of what’s on his pages on to the screen. He’s not a director who’s ever going to lean on any shortcut or any CGI or anything. Making a Nolan film, it’s sort of like there’s a real muscle and brawn and kind of grit to it. Everything is sort of real: the props, the people, the sets, the way that people are working.

On set, you and Emma Thomas were talking about baking cakes in your downtime...

I think we were sharing carrot cake recipes, and meanwhile there’s an enormous set-piece... [laughs] Yeah, Emma and I share a mutual love of baking and cooking and farmer’s markets. I think that it was psychologically a comfortable place to retreat to when the thing we were shooting was as far removed from The Great British Bake Off as either of us could get. We were finding a strange comfort in it. But actually it’s something I really miss when I’m shooting a long film, when I’m on location. I really, really miss my own kitchen, and I think that Emma does as well. So we’ll often swap recipes.

It looked like you were having a real laugh with John David and Robert between takes? 

We actually really did, and I love them both dearly. I think they’re wonderful actors, and they’re really, really excellent people. And I think that the combination of the length of the shoot, and the things that we shot together, and the kind of intensity of the work... I mean, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a cohesion, but it really did with us. I don’t want to sound horrifically cliché, but it really was like a journey together. And we came out the other side of it, and had seen incredible things together.

Tenet reaches UK cinemas on August 26 and US theatres on September 4. Before then, make sure you read up on our celebration of Inception's ending. This piece was originally in Total Film – never miss another feature by subscribing here.

Matt Maytum
Deputy Editor, Total Film

I'm the Deputy Editor at Total Film magazine, looking after the long-form features there, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.