Christopher Nolan Almost Passed on Debicki for ‘Tenet’ Because She’s So Good in ‘Widows’

Elizabeth Debicki insisted she audition for Christopher Nolan, even though he offered her the part.
Elizabeth Debicki in "Tenet."
Warner Bros.

Not much is known about Elizabeth Debicki’s character in “Tenet” other than she’s the estranged wife of the film’s antagonist, a Russian oligarch played by Kenneth Branagh, but one thing we do know is Christopher Nolan almost passed on considering Debicki for the role. The filmmaker told Variety that Debicki was so convincing in Steve McQueen’s “Widows” as an American that he took her off his list of contenders for the “Tenet” role.

“I was looking for a very, very British characterization, an English Rose kind of character,” Nolan said about the “Tenet” role and why Debicki’s performance in “Widows” tricked him into thinking she wasn’t the right fit for his new project. It wasn’t until Nolan’s producing partner and wife Emma Thomas suggested Nolan cast Debicki and informed him the actress wasn’t from the U.S. that Nolan came to his senses.

“Elizabeth’s one of these great actors who, when they’re brought to your attention, you realize you’ve seen them in a lot of things but not realized it’s the same person,” Nolan said, adding that he was blown away by Debicki’s range after he went back to watch her in “Widows,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Night Manager.”

Nolan continued, “For somebody as striking and interesting to look at as she is, the idea she has a chameleon-like ability speaks volumes to her skills as an actor.”

Watching Debicki’s work resulted in Nolan offering her the part, but the actress insisted that she audition. “I certainly wasn’t asking,” Nolan said. “There’s a certain level of actor who, as a director, you don’t necessarily want to ask them [to audition]. But she wanted to. I think it was important to her to know that she could do what I was looking for. And she came in and just blew everybody away. In my mind, she was only confirming what I already knew. What she did with it is far beyond my hopes even.”

As for Debicki’s character, Nolan described the role as being “very difficult” to pull off because “she has to be extremely vulnerable and put upon, and yet there has to be this strength, this depth, these reserves that come forward.”

“I think that’s very difficult for an actor to pull off without resorting to the unrealistic or resting on the simplistic version of the character arc,” he added. “She finds a way to play vulnerability and strength at the same time, which is very human and very real.”

Warner Bros. is opening “Tenet” in theaters nationwide August 12.

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