Why ‘MaXXXine’ Star Elizabeth Debicki Took a ‘Leap of Faith’ With Director Ti West After Avoiding Horror Projects

Elizabeth Debicki, star of filmmaker Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” never saw herself in a horror movie, much less the highly anticipated conclusion to a slasher trilogy that began with 2022’s “Texas Chain Saw Massacre”-indebted “X.”

“Pearl” then came as a World War I-set prequel to “X,” and “MaXXXine” is its sequel in which the title character, played by Mia Goth, finds herself in 1985 Los Angeles on the verge of legitimate stardom while being stalked by a ruthless serial killer and the ghosts of her past.

“I’ve specifically avoided it for a while,” Debicki told TheWrap of the horror genre. But she was still drawn to “MaXXXine.”

“One of the things I love about this trilogy is that it’s so performance-driven. Ti and Mia have really opened up a space for that character and that performance to really live,” she explained. Debicki referenced other examples of wonderful female performances in horror movies – Toni Collette in “Hereditary,” Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby.” “This genre of film can provide a really expansive scope of acting, the possibility of what you do, the walls you can push up against are porous and great. I think it takes a lot of courage.”

Debicki described her collaboration with West as a “leap of faith.” In the film, Debicki plays Elizabeth Bender, a British filmmaker who is directing Maxine in her first legitimate movie – a mainstream horror fable called “The Puritan II” (which has more than a passing resemblance to another A24 horror favorite, “The Witch”). “You need to have such a sure vision of what you’re working towards. It’s a very vulnerable space to work in, because you’re going to such extreme places, and it has immense potential to create iconic performances,” Debicki said.

She admitted when horror movies she’s watched became too scary, she’s thought to herself, I don’t think I can do that. “I’m very suggestible and I don’t know if I could see it,” Debicki said. She doesn’t watch very much modern-day horror because she finds it “so gory.” “And it’s like, women are really suffering. I do not like watching that,” Debicki said.

When she got sent the script for “MaXXXine,” she opened it up and read it really quickly, “which is always this testament to whether or not I want to do the project, if it really grips me … It was just so vivid and cinematic and funny, it really made me laugh a lot, and I also felt like what Maxine is in the film is kind of radical and feminist,” Debicki said. “I also love that there were all these female characters built into the script, who were great. That’s why I wanted to do it.”

After signing on, she finally watched West’s earlier installments, “X” and “Pearl,” which she also loved. “They’re horror films and they’re not. You don’t feel like the purpose of the film is to scare the s–t out of you, [but] to really deeply explore ideas solidly of ambition and belonging,” Debicki said. “It’s really interesting themes they’re exploring.”

While she might have been reluctant to working on a horror movie in the first place, Debicki enjoyed inhabiting Elizabeth Bender, fearless filmmaker. “I liked playing her a lot. She’s a really powerful woman, she’s not very nice. It’s hugely refreshing to play [someone] who didn’t care what anybody thought. I felt very free in her. There’s definitely some catharsis playing a director,” Debicki said. “I’ve never had a director be Liz Bender-y to me. I’ve never had anyone like lean over and say, ‘Get this together, you’re out.’ But it was fun to do.”

It was also important to her that Liz actually cared about Maxine and supported her, along with characters played by Giancarlo Esposito (as Maxine’s agent) and Moses Sumney (as her bestie). “Liz is a champion in an almost maternal way,” Debicki explained. “You can imagine if the story goes on, Liz Bender is someone who will always be in Maxine’s life.”

Instead of looking at horror movies from the 1980s, which would be quite easy given “MaXXXine’s” conversation with movies from that period, Debicki did research into what it would have been to be a female filmmaker in the decade. Not that it was all that different from today.

“It’s still hard for women to get their work made. I didn’t have to dig deep because now we’re in some paradise where people are dying to tell female stories,” Debicki said. “You still have to work so hard.” She imagined a rich backstory for her character – “Did she come from money? Did she not come from money? How much of her career was self-funded?” –  and how that upbringing would impact what her accent would sound like.

Mia Goth as Maxine in "MaXXXine" (A24)

“I think that it’s important that you feel like this person, when she stands up and says, ‘I have worked hard to get here,’ that you don’t feel like [it was] handed to her. And so that’s why she justifies the harshness of the way she treats Maxine,” Debicki said. Debicki had visions of “radiators banging and her making little indie films in London in the late ’70s.” “I did like building a bit of texture for her,” Debicki said.

Debicki only worked on “MaXXXine” for five or six days. “I really didn’t want to leave,” Debicki said. She loved working with West, and when we brought up the fact that West is already making rumblings about an additional installment in the franchise, Debicki said she was game. “I would happily put the leather pants back on,” Debicki said.

Her experience on “MaXXXine” has also made her, somewhat begrudgingly, more of a fan of horror movies. But she still liked being on the somewhat serene island with Goth, free from the rampaging maniacs that populate other parts of the movie. “It was fun to play that dynamic and, and not be in he high-threat area. I didn’t want to do that,” Debicki said.

She added: “I always feel like if I had to run from something in a horror movie, I would keep running.”

“MaXXXine” is in theaters now.

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