Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia (January)
“Lightness Of Being: Dianna Agron” by Aisha Hassan
Dianna Agron and I are in bed together at The Plaza Hotel New York, with a bowl of popcorn balanced between us. Our legs stretch out over pristine white sheets and we face each other as if the secrets at a sleepover are about to pour out. Clothes bags are piled at the foot of the bed, and from the bright-pink Eloise Suite across the corridor, the bustling murmur from the photoshoot seeps into the room.
It’s funny to think that the woman beside me in languid repose, looking snug in a striped sweater and munching on popcorn, is the same person who moved so expertly in layers of embellished tulle, studded suede, and embroidered silk for the BAZAAR cover shoot just minutes ago. It’s even stranger to think that this was the same person who catapulted to stardom as cheerleader Quinn Fabray in the hit TV series Glee, and that she recently played the conflicted Sister Mary Grace in Novitiate, an already critically acclaimed period drama about nuns in the 1960s.
Yet, they are one and the same, and with shining green-brown eyes and a voice the texture of red wine, Agron opens up about the different aspects of her character. For instance, trading pom-poms for rosaries or couture—and not to mention all the other style paraphernalia Agron’s diverse repertoire of characters have possessed over the years—is just part and parcel of Agron’s favourite fashion pastime: metamorphosis.
“As an actress, it’s fun to put on different clothes and transform,” Agron muses. “When you’re promoting your film and putting on different dresses and things like that, I kind of like to go as far away from my own self as possible, because it’s an opportunity to do so.”
Even during today’s cover shoot, clothed in Louis Vuitton Resort ’18, Agron glides from a steely gaze in sculpted suede-on-suede to grinning in a sequin dress. The shifts are partly driven by finding delight in the collection (“Louis Vuitton took me to my first fashion show in Paris in 2012 and it’s always a joy to wear them”), but they are also fuelled by a chameleonic impulse. “My fear is that everything looks the same, and there’s no difference between you in real life and you on set,” she shares.
It seems fitting that since childhood, Agron has been constantly in motion. “I’ve been dancing since I was 3, and it started with ballet,” she recounts. Furthermore, her father was a hotel manager, which meant a nomadic experience that remains with the actress even now. “I grew up living in hotels, and I feel oddly, really the most at home in them,” Agron says. And despite her television debut in 2006 on CSI: NY, followed by appearances in series such as Veronica Mars and Heroes, it was in Agron’s true moving and grooving rhythm that stardom came in 2009 in the form of Glee.
In the near decade since then, Agron has done everything from travelling with the United Nations to starring in a Sam Smith music video (“I’m Not the Only One”), and more notably, acting in a range of independent films. Tucking her blonde hair behind her ears and pulling her knees towards her, Agron speaks warmly about one of her most significant projects last year, Novitiate, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film, whose details director Margaret Betts executed with journalistic precision, shows the Roman Catholic Church grappling with radical reforms to modernise. Playing a celibate character, however, became a little complicated when Agron’s now-husband, Winston Marshall, proposed just one week before shooting began.
“It was wild to be of the mindset that I was committing to somebody, and then playing a nun,” Agron remembers with a laugh. The coexistence of her newly engaged self—to the lead guitarist of Grammy Award-winning British band Mumford & Sons no less—with a character who had sworn off human relationships for the divine, soon became emotional capital.
In [Mary Grace’s] moments of struggle, she wants to have a life and connection that is outside of a world that has changed drastically for her, and that she doesn’t recognise any more. I just kept thinking, the happiness you’re feeling off set for [Winston] is what she hopes for,” Agron elaborates.
As Agron’s evolution on camera continues, so does her expertise behind it. She will be one of only two female directors in this year’s upcoming film, Berlin, I Love You. It is not her directorial debut, but perhaps her most major foray into the craft to date. With a categorically star-studded cast appearing across 10 romantic storylines set in the German capital, so many moving pieces may seem intimidating, but Agron stepped up to the plate.
“I pitched in as a director, and we managed to hire Luke Wilson, who is such a dream,” Agron explains. “I feel very differently on set when I’m getting to wear the director’s hat … My favourite thing is crafting a performance with an actor, identifying what the objective is,” she emphasises with widening eyes.
This sense of intuition is clearly a guiding principle: “Even if a project might turn out really well, if itdoesn’t feel like something you can fully grasp onto and give something new to, or build from where you’ve been, your gut knows.”
There is clearly a sense of self-assuredness that radiates off the actress, and whether speaking casually with me in bed or performing and posing in front of an entire camera crew, her confidence is unmistakable. Even when stumbling over her words for a behind-the-scenes video, Agron manages to wittily, warmly declare, “Hello, I’m an actor, and I can’t remember my lines!” before breaking into a smile. “The thing I’m most excited about now is that I have a really strong compass to guide me and I don’t feel afraid to stick to that,” she reveals.
This same feeling guided Agron towards her successful run at the renowned Café Carlyle in New York’s Upper East Side late last year. Accompanied by guitarist and friend Gill Landry, the setlist featured songs to suit her naturally lower register, which was never really nurtured in Glee. “There was a long time where I wasn’t comfortable speaking and singing in my actual register because I was teased so heavily for it when I was a teenager,” she continues.
But if the honeyed tones of Agron crooning “Dream a Little Dream of Me” betrayed anything about her earlier years, it wasn’t insecurity, but a deeply rooted love for the arts. “Music was really my first love. In my house, my parents were blasting Rolling Stones and The Who, and there was so much education with music that then turned into my love to dance, because I wanted to move to the music that I love,” Agron says. Even now, dance remains “the best kind of medicine”. Watching Agron whip her hair back and forth for the cameras seem testament to that. “Whatever way you cope with life,” Agron comments, “therapy or a glass of wine or whatever, I can go to a dance class, and five minutes in, all of the best things in the world don’t compare to that feeling.”
Since moving to New York—“It’s been a long time coming”—the best things are likely to keep rolling in. It’s not just what Agron calls “interesting things happening on a daily level,” whether that’s admiring a girl belting out Rihanna songs on the street, watching a man drink out of a gallon-sized ice cream tub, or catching glimpses of private lives across high-rise windows. Rather, it’s arriving and stepping into the new year, city, and stage of life with excitement and certainty.
“There were so many preconceptions about what my path was, but I always knew what my path was,” Agron says. “I just want to keep on pushing my own personal boundaries because I want to access everything that I can access, and it has to be organic.” And when it comes to new beginnings, which have never been restricted to the new year, Agron remembers that autonomy rules.
Her last words during the interview asserts, “I feel no responsibility to anybody but myself, and that is a fun place to be operating from.” As we roll out of bed, take a propriety selfie, and she asks me about my own dreams and aspirations, it struck me again how remarkably comfortable she has made everyone in the room feel, and how at ease with her own self she seems. Dianna Agron isn’t just operating from a place that’s fun, but somewhere that’s free.