After a successful career as a model, Cara Delevingne abandoned the podium for the sake of her CHILDHOOD DREAM OF BECOMING AN ACTRESS. August sees the launch of Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand
Cara Delevingne grew up in fashionable Belgravia in London. Her father was a big player on the real- estate market, while her mother is from an aristocratic family. “My family is high society, the kind of people whose purpose in life is to party and go racing at Ascot. That was never my thing.” Cara’s childhood was far from cloudless. Her mother, Pandora, a regular at wild London parties in the 1980s, was addicted to drugs and at a certain point became incapable of bringing up her children. Cara was sent to one of the best schools in England with a bohemian disregard for luxury. “Totally hippie-dippy,” Cara recalled later. “If you had a Chanel bag there, you'd be bullied.” Soon young Clara blossomed. She was hardly 16 when she went to audition for Tim Burton, whom she adored. “I was almost at my goal - I reached the final audition for Alice in Alice in Wonderland, but then they chose Mia Wasikowska from Australia! I was very upset - at that time I didn’t know how to be a good loser.”
“I was good at hiding my feelings. But when I got a bit older, everything hit me at once - the hormonal shift and pressure at school, where you had to make an effort not for yourself but for the people around you. I had a nervous breakdown. I realized how lucky I was, but still I wanted simply to disappear off the face of the earth.” At 16 Cara fell into severe depression. She was removed from school and went on pills so as to avoid having to go to hospital. “The pills I was taking all the time were stronger than Prozac. I stopped feeling anything at all. I laughed when other people laughed and was never sad, but for a couple of years I simply dropped out. I know the pills saved my life and were a great help to my mother, but I still hate them for being so addictive.”
Cara became a model almost by chance. At school she was a friend of the daughter of Sarah Doukas, head of Storm Model Management, where her elder sister Poppy already worked; soon she signed a contract with the agency herself. That didn't guarantee her work, however, and for almost a year she wandered from audition to audition without success, before getting noticed by Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry.
And then she became addicted - not to alcohol or drugs, but work. Gradually, her face became one of the most recognizable in the world of fashion, and yet at heart she remained a vulnerable child. Depression led to self-rejection, and overwork to physical breakdown in the form of a skin disease which forced her to cover her skin with a thick layer of make up before each shoot. “It was like the disgusting way I felt inside was transposing itself on my skin!” Kate Moss advised Cara to take a break and so she flew to LA and spent a week lying on the beach and writing poetry.
“I stopped taking pills when I turned 18 and can still remember the extraordinary freedom I felt. Like Kate Moss before her, Cara Delevingne became a role model for her generation. Her Instagram account had 40 million subscribers. She was the face of Chanel, and Karl Lagerfeld called her “the Charlie Chaplin of the fashion world”. But no sooner had Cara become famous in this world than she tore up its rulebook. She wanted only one thing: to wash off the false gloss and become real. She started positioning herself as an anti-model, repeatedly saying she hated Photoshop and wasn’t interested in brands or luxury clothes.
What she really wanted was to act. Once in the lobby of a Soho hotel her friend and colleague Rosie Huntington-Whitely boasted to her that she’d got herself a role in a film. “I love Rosie,” says Cara, “but at that moment I was ready to bite her head off from envy!” Cara’s own big-screen debut, however, was not far away - in Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley she had a tiny role as Princess Sorokina. “On set it was no more difficult than on the catwalk. I simply stood there trying to be beautiful.”
At the age of 22 she auditioned for her first Hollywood him. Paper Towns, playing Margo, an eccentric girl with whom the boy across the street, Quentin, is in love. At the audition, when Quentin declared his love for her, Cara had to reply, “But you don’t even know me!” and then improvise the dialogue herself. She put so much of herself into playing this scene that her partner, Nat Wolff, almost burst into tears. She got the role. Cara never learnt acting as a craft. Once she tried to take an acting course in London: “There was this Russian teaching there, a student of a student of Stanislavsky, and it was like therapy!” Nevertheless, even while denying that she likes the Stanislavsky method, Cara has always followed it precisely.
“I try to dissolve in my character, get into someone’s skin. Losing myself is exciting and frightening, and I like everything that frightens me.” Cara’s next big role was as Enchantress in the action him Suicide Squad, a role which didn’t require much acting talent, but cemented her place in the Hollywood hierarchy. After success at the top of the modelling business, Clara abandoned the world of fashion, ending her contract with Storm.
“I’m going to take part in some campaigns,” she says, “but I’ll spend most of my lime acting. I love saying ‘No!’, but in the past I didn’t say ‘No’ often enough - which affected my health and stopped me getting pleasure from life. I used to say to myself, ‘OK’ I’ll get work as a model and be happy’ - but I didn’t become happy. Then I thought I’d be happy if I started acting. But the roles I played never brought me peace of mind. If you’re looking for happiness in external factors in life, it doesn’t work! Because it has to be inside you - that’s something I’ve realized now.” ♦