Saturday 21 October 2017

Rise and fall of the 'slashie' - Cara Delevingne's Hollywood career crash

Cara Delevingne might have the confidence and those eyebrows but it seems modelling success doesn't necessarily transfer to the silver screen or to the pop charts

Vulcan salute: Cara Delevingne as Laureline in Valerian and the City of of a Thousand Planets
Vulcan salute: Cara Delevingne as Laureline in Valerian and the City of of a Thousand Planets
Lead role: Caitriona Balfe has made the transition to acting successfully
Cara Delevingne on the catwalk for Chanel during her modelling days
Ed Power

Ed Power

With her new sci-fi romp Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets facing a less than stellar reception, is Cara Delevingne's Hollywood career in danger of crashing to earth?

Valerian is just the latest flop for the once impeccably cool "slashie". The model-turned-actress was the worst thing in last year's terrible Suicide Squad. While critical reaction to her turn as a cynical action heroine in Valerian has been mixed, Luc Besson's $200m turkey is nonetheless set to become the outstanding disaster of the summer.

Likewise nosediving at the speed of sound is Delevingne's awful new pop single, which she has just unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

"You make me feel so crazy, I've never felt so sane," whispers Delevingne on the bonkers-but-not-in-a-good-way 'I Feel Everything'.

Cara Delevingne on the catwalk for Chanel during her modelling days
Cara Delevingne on the catwalk for Chanel during her modelling days

Accompanied by a video in which she wears an androgynous suit and a series of cheap-looking wigs, the track reeks of bargain basement Amy Winehouse.

More than that, it is fatally naff, with the model/actress/singer coming across as self-conscious and skittish. Of her previous youthful irreverence there is not a twinkle.

Suicide Squad aside, Delevingne isn't a dreadful actress - and brings a welcome rock 'on roll swagger to the plastic world of Hollywood. Recall the gloriously grumpy figure she cut promoting her 2014 movie Paper Town. One yawn-stifling interview with an American morning show attracted more viewers than the actual film ("I work really really hard and love what I do, I don't feel like I need to apologise for being human," was the closest Delevingne came to a mea culpa).

But confidence and amazing eyebrows can only carry you so far and there are grounds for worrying Valerian might be the point at which Cara's Hollywood run goes south.

That will be a blow to the star, who has insisted that acting is a calling rather than a lark. Having achieved ubiquity as a model while still a teenager, she has stated the big screen represents a force of stability in her life. Just a few years ago, she looked to be on track to become her generation's Kate Moss, but, she complained, modelling "was killing her soul" - and left her feeling like "a squeezed lemon".

Hence her decision to cut ties with the agency that discovered her, Storm, and book jobs on a more ad hoc basis. "I didn't like myself as a model," Delevingne said in an interview last month. "I didn't like what I stood for. I didn't like what it was turning me into. Not that I was focused about how I looked all the time, but it is kind of about that."

Lead role: Caitriona Balfe has made the transition to acting successfully
Lead role: Caitriona Balfe has made the transition to acting successfully

She has also expressed frustration at the idea she is a dabbler. There was nothing half-hearted about her modelling, and she says she is equally committed to acting.

"This 'slashie' thing is killing me right now…people are like, 'So you're the queen of the slashie,' and I'm like, 'What does that mean? Queen of the slash? Huh?'"

Still, a talent as self-aware as Delevingne will surely know that to get even as far as she has, represents a triumph over daunting odds.The curse of the "slashie" is that people generally see you as a dilettante, floating between callings without ever committing fully.

It's true that Hollywood is full of former models. Monaghan-born Outlander star Caitriona Balfe, for instance, modelled for 10 years for the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Victoria's Secret before landing a part in the cult fantasy show. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron spent a year modelling in Europe, while Angelina Jolie began working as a catalogue model aged 14.

The crucial distinction is that, unlike Delevingne, their modelling flew beneath the radar. They arrived at the gates of Tinsel Town free of baggage. For 'It girl' models - a category to which  Delevingne unquestionably belongs - the transition is far tougher. Consider Agyness Deyn, the catwalk star who recently returned to part-time to modelling after four years as an actress. She won acclaim for her parts - but never got to the next level.

Kate Moss, in much the same vein, will never be able to step outside her persona of mysterious waif. Similarly, the post-catwalk reality TV careers of Heidi Klum (Project Runway) and Tyra Banks (America's Next Top Model) have served as tacit acknowledgement that sometimes you have to embrace your past rather than trying to wriggle free of it.

Even in the less illustrious world of Irish modelling, the lesson holds true. Roz Purcell may have sought to reinvent herself as "cookery author and entrepreneur" but amongst the general public she is still best known as a model.

Ditto Thalia Heffernan, who failed to make an impact guest-hosting Xpose and Nadia Forde, whose turn on I'm A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! did not lead to further reality TV work.

One way Delevingne differs from all the above is that she was born into immense privilege.

She grew up in wealthy Belgravia and attended one of London's most elite private schools (Joan Collins is her godmother). To Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, modelling offered escape from hardscrabble beginnings. Delevingne's life has, in contrast, always been full of open doors.

Her father is a megabucks real estate developer; her maternal grandfather was Eton-educated newspaper executive Jocelyn Stevens.

With a background like that, the world was her caviar tray (though sister Poppy has also worked in modelling, her other elder sibling, Chloe, is training to be a doctor). Next up is the teen film Life in a Year, where she plays a cancer sufferer, a role she has called "the most difficult" she's ever played.

And yet, it's not altogether clear that Delevingne, having already knocked modelling on the head, has settled on acting as a lifelong choice either. Should Valerian indeed deliver a death kiss to her screen aspirations, she's already weighing up alternatives.

"If I wasn't an actress or in music, I'd be a therapist," she said recently. "People are so interesting."

Irish Independent

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