“I have spent my life making people unhappy and feel like it’s gone quite well,” declares Cara Delevingne. Unhappy? I query. “Well, not making people unhappy,” she clarifies. “But not doing what people wanted me to do. I have such a problem with authority… [But] if I do want to do something, I chuck myself in head first. And sometimes I can’t see what’s on the bottom.”
Moments earlier, Delevingne had arrived on set, wearing Balenciaga sweatpants, heavy lace-up boots and a military overcoat – to Malibu State Creek Park, California, where it is 86F in the shade – and attacked her breakfast of frittata, bacon and potatoes with such gusto that she bit her lip, drawing blood. Now, in a mercifully air-conditioned mobile home, I’m doing my best to keep up with the 27-year-old as she skips, dervish-like, from topic to topic, a whirl of unfiltered, fast-talking, toe-tapping charm.
“I would have done anything to play her,” she says, this time of her major role as Vignette Stonemoss in the Amazon Prime show Carnival Row, where she appears alongside Orlando Bloom. Following her lead in 2015’s murder-mystery Paper Towns and supporting parts in Suicide Squad and Tulip Fever, it’s the latest project in her increasingly successful transition from runway to screen. To land the role, Delevingne seemingly left it all on the floor in the audition room: “I don’t remember what happened, but at some point I just broke down. I find it quite hard to be vulnerable anyway, but I just kind of lost it,” she says. “I don’t know if it was anger or sadness or despair or grief, but something came flowing out of me. I’ve never got to that place before.” She pauses. “I just remember looking up and nobody was saying anything. I was like, ‘Oh God. F***.’ I was so worried everyone was going to be, like, ‘Well, that was embarrassing.’ Nightmare.”
“I was taking so much from MYSELF and giving it to everyone, but I wasn’t making a DIFFERENCE, and I wasn’t giving anything BACK”
As it is, Delevingne is perfectly cast as the enigmatic, magical fairy in the Victorian-esque fantasy. “[Vignette] has lost so much, but she never plays the victim. She still has compassion and forgiveness for people who’ve hurt her. We can all learn something from her.” The show, while fantastical, has pertinent points to make about immigration, outsider status and who you’re allowed to love. “I’ve called my character pansexual, but I’m not good with the terms – she’s a queer one,” she shrugs. Ousted from their homeland, the fairies are oppressed and treated as freaks. In an early episode, a human forcibly binds Vignette’s wings to curtail her freedom. “It’s like what women were forced to go through,” cries Delevingne. “I had to wear a corset every day, and you lose your voice. I wonder, in the past, did men just sit round thinking, ‘What can we do? A muzzle? Is that a bit obvious? OK, we’ll just wrap something round their waists so they can’t breathe or speak.’”
Hard though it is to imagine today, Delevingne says that, until recently, she didn’t feel she had a voice either. “As a model, I didn’t really have any self-identity or self-worth. I was just like, ‘Supermodel?’” She pretends to type something into an imaginary computer. “That’s what they look like, feminine, OK, I can do that. But it was a struggle,” she says. “I was taking so much from myself and giving it to everyone, but I wasn’t making a difference, and I wasn’t giving anything back.”
“ACTING has made me REALIZE that I really HAVE no IDEA who the f*** I am”
“Of course, not every single piece of art is going to change the world,” she says of her acting roles. “But at least what I choose to do has some sort of positive message.” Do you feel like acting has helped you find your voice, I ask? “Well, it’s made me realize that I really have no idea who the f*** I am,” she laughs.
Delevingne grew up in London, the youngest of three sisters – Chloe is 34 and fellow model Poppy is 33. Their father is Charles Delevingne, a property developer, and their mother, Pandora, used to work in fashion and has struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction to heroin for most of her life. Throughout her daughters’ childhoods, she would spend long periods absent from home.
Delevingne, who was diagnosed with dyspraxia, fell into her own cycle of self-destruction and depression as a teenager. She left school for six months and began medication, which “saved my life for sure,” she nods. In 2014, aged 22, having just won Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards for the second time, she had another severe bout of depression. She escaped to LA, wrote poetry and songs, but this time refused medication. “I think it should be used for initial help but not be completely relied on – my mum can’t survive without meds now. It’s just putting a plaster over a gaping wound, because usually it has something to do with trauma, something that someone isn’t dealing with.”
“I’ve been to SO many dinners where PEOPLE are like, ‘So, what ARE you? L, G, B, T, Q?’”
“I work f***ing hard and I love what I do,” she says, back on the subject of her acting career. “I’m not just winging it. But I didn’t know I was a creative person until I was allowed to be.” Alongside acting, Delevingne also sings, plays the guitar and drums, and has written a novel for young adults. Does she feel pressure, I wonder, to define herself more clearly, to ‘be’ one thing or another? “I f***ing hate it,” she cries. “The labels for everything bum me out. I hate to label myself.” That includes her sexuality, which she has long resisted defining, for herself or for others. “I’ve been to so many dinners where people are like, ‘So, what are you? L, G, B, T, Q?’ I’m like, ‘Guys, really? This is what we’re talking about?’ I change every day.”
“I loved men from when I was very young,” she continues. “I fell in love with my sports teacher at five. He married my other sports teacher, and I cried for weeks. I had a boyfriend for four years and then he left, and I got with his best friend. But continuously, over and over again, I was hurt by men.”
“Not that that’s why I became gay,” she adds, hastily.
“One of the FIRST things Harvey Weinstein EVER said to me was, ‘You will NEVER make it in this industry as a GAY woman – get a beard”
Whether being open about her fluid sexuality has impacted her career, she’s not sure. “In the beginning, I don’t think it helped,” she says. “One of the first things Harvey Weinstein ever said to me was, ‘You will never make it in this industry as a gay woman – get a beard.’” This was, she says, “a long time before he tried to touch me”. (In October 2017, she alleged that Weinstein had made sexual advances towards her and tried to get her to kiss another actress in front of him.) In the earlier encounter, “when I’d just started to audition for films, he was naming people [women] I’m friends with – famous people – and asking, ‘Have you slept with this person?’ I just thought: this is insane.”
Weinstein’s ugly prediction, clearly, has not come to pass. She has been dating 29-year-old fellow actress Ashley Benson for over a year now, after they met on the set of Her Smell, playing members of a girl punk band, alongside Elisabeth Moss. “I’d never truly let anyone in before, for fear of them leaving,” confesses Delevingne. “I never really trusted people, or felt worthy of it, and I always pushed them away. She’s the first person that has said: ‘You can’t push me away. I’m going to be nice to you, I love you.’” Delevingne pulls a face of faux bewilderment. “I’m just like, wait, so all I have to do is just let you be nice to me? Why have I never done that before? OK.”
But Delevingne’s commitments for Carnival Row meant a seven-month filming season in Prague; Benson is based here in Los Angeles. “Long-distance relationships are always tough,” shrugs Delevingne. “We make it work, though. We have to. And it definitely makes me a better, happier person.”
The day after we meet, she will fly to New York to speak at the UN Nexus Summit. “For 30 percent of the people who will be in the room, it’s still illegal to be gay in their countries, so I’ll be talking about my experiences as a queer person, and I’ll be talking about climate change. I’m trying to cover a lot of things in 20 minutes,” she smiles wryly.
“What I said about making people unhappy, it’s more like ruffling people’s feathers,” she says. “People spend too much time combing their feathers. They’re meant to be ruffled.”
Carnival Row is available on Amazon Prime Video now
How does Cara Delevingne deal with life’s most embarrassing and awkward situations? The actor shares some rather unusual advice in this exclusive video…
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