News & Runway

Exclusive Abbey Lee Interview: Ditching the Surname, Battling Model Stigmas and Taking On a New Path

Abbey Lee in Ruben Guthrie

Photo: Madman Entertainment

You might recognise Abbey Lee, excuse the Kershaw, as that Melbourne face who won Australia’s prestigious Girlfriend Model Search in 2004 and went on to grace countless high-fashion runways and Vogue covers over the last decade. Forget that, because Abbey Lee’s new career path as an actress, although in its early days, is astounding, and if she’s going to be recognised for anything it’s that. Not because her work as a model wasn’t insanely applaudable, but because, after sitting down with the girl herself, we get the overwhelming feeling that the modelling industry just wasn’t where she wanted to be.

theFashionSpt: You go by Abbey Lee now, no Kershaw. Why did you decide to take away your last name?

Abbey Lee: I like the sound of it, I like the look of it. I like it. It’s been very difficult, though. People keep printing my fucking last name, it’s very hard. People don’t listen. When I first started modelling as a 16-year-old it was always supposed to just be “Lee” and not “Kershaw”. My first comp card as a model only had “Lee”, but eventually media find out and it just kind of ruined it, really.

tFS: So it wasn’t a name change because of your new acting career?

AL: No, it was supposed to be that as a model too and it never happened. Now that I have more control over my own image than you do as a model I guess it’s just being pushed more for people to actually listen.

tFS: Are you finding a lot of people are calling you a “slashie” now that you’re a model-turned-actress, and how do you feel about the term?

AL: I don’t pay attention to people who call me that [a slashie]. I think it’s bizarre that people decide to focus on your past and your present and say that it’s turned into something. I haven’t turned into anybody. I just made a different choice. I’ve just changed directions in my career path and in my passion path. I don’t know, you can call me a slashie if you want.

Abbey Lee

Photo: WENN

tFS: Do you want people to eventually forget about your modelling career and just say you’re an actress?

AL: I don’t mind people bringing it up because it was a big part of my life and it’s what got me to acting so I don’t have a bad taste in my mouth with it. As long as I’m being respected and noticed for the work that I’m doing as an actress, then I don’t mind how they take the modelling part of it.

tFS: Do you think being a model has helped or hindered your acting career?

AL: It depends on who’s approaching me and what they’re approaching me for. For the most part I think that it’s been a benefit because generally, before I had any films, I’d walk into a room and for the most part they’re expecting the worst, so all I had to do was a mediocre job at the least and impress.

Abbey Lee walks Chanel

Photo: Getty

tFS: Why do you think people are “expecting the worst”?

AL: Because of the stigma of models being, I don’t know, braindead. I just think that there’s a stigma that models are generally seen and not heard. It’s kind of shocking that they have half a brain or skill at something other than posing.

tFS: Are you still modelling?

AL: Only as an actress. I don’t do anything that an actress wouldn’t do, like campaigns and covers. My choices are different. I’m not a full-time model, I just model for what I have to do.

tFS: If you were to stop modelling altogether, what’s one thing you would miss?

AL: The money, and that’s about it.

tFS: What’s one thing you would never miss? Something that you’re happy to say goodbye to?

AL: That’s such a long list. The no-union policy. There’s absolutely no protection of models and I think that’s rubbish. I like being treated like a protected human being as an actress.

tFS: Your latest film, Ruben Guthrie, is an Aussie production, what was it like to work with local talent from your home country?

AL: It was really important to me to be involved with an Australian production because I think that Australian film can be really interesting and has done really well in the past. Good Australian films are really brilliant. I really wanted to be a part of it. It’s just nice to work with Aussies in film. It was a new experience, I enjoyed it.

Abbey Lee in Ruben Guthrie

Photo: Madman Entertainment

tFS: You play Zoya in the film, Ruben’s fiancée. Was there anything about this role that you could personally relate to from your own life experience?

AL: I have, in the past, made some bad decisions when it comes to men. I’ve dealt with difficult men before.

tFS: Ruben Guthrie also makes a point of drinking being a big part of Australian culture. Having lived in Australia and abroad yourself, do you think this is true and why do you think it is the case?

AL: I think it’s unfair to assume that we’re the only culture that have this problem. I’ve travelled a lot and from what I can see it’s true of every country. The French love their wine, the British love their cider. It seems to be common within most cultures. I think drinking in general around the world is like an epidemic.

tFS: You play a model in the movie, which you can obviously relate to. How was it to not be able to completely detach from your life as a model in this role?

AL: She just doesn’t actively model in the film. The idea is that she’s a model, she’s not actively a model and in terms of detaching I don’t think that you should ever fully detach yourself. As much as you’d like to hear that, you delve straight into a character and you can’t find yourself anymore, it’s still physically and mentally you as a human being so I think I just saw it as a benefit that I’d had a similar background to her.

Abbey Lee in Ruben Guthrie

Photo: Madman Entertainment

tFS: Has anyone in the fashion industry, like models or designers, reached out to you after seeing your acting work about possibly heading down the same path? 

AL: I haven’t seen her for a long time but I had a conversation with Joan Smalls who’s interested in acting. I love the girl, I hope it works out for her.

tFS: What would your dream acting role be?

AL: Some of my favourites roles are the the girls in Girl Interrupted, Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. But then also Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings. I’d like to play witches and elves and I’d like to play a drug addict and a prisoner. I’ve got different interests.

tFS: Who would be a dream director to work with?

AL: I’d love to work with Harmony Korine. I’d love to work with Quentin Tarantino. All the greats that are still alive.

Megan Gale attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures'

Photo: Getty

tFS: What’s coming up for Abbey Lee? Any exciting projects you can share with us?

AL: Currently I’m just auditioning. There’s a lot of auditioning happening at the moment. Obviously in August in America everything shuts down. Right now there’s just a lot of auditioning happening and there’s a few things in the pipeline. Whether one of them comes through or not, you know, hopefully I’m working at the end of the year but currently I’m not sure.

tFS: We heard you were moving to LA. Has that happened yet?

AL: I moved to LA about six months ago. By myself, I’m a terrible roommate.

Photo: WENN

Photo: WENN

tFS: How are you finding it so far?

AL: I love it. It’s good. I lived in New York for a long time so it’s a nice change.

tFS: Can we ever expect to have you back in Australia?

AL: I don’t really make plans to be honest. I really, really can’t say, it depends where my life takes me.

Ruben Guthrie hits Australian cinemas from July 16.