Cara Delevingne set to bid farewell to catwalk as critics hail film role

Cara Delevingne

Supermodel praised as ‘real find’ by Hollywood insiders after rejecting stereotyped parts to deliver standout performance in Paper Towns

She was hailed as the new Kate Moss, but is Cara Delevingne about to find her true vocation as a Hollywood leading lady? The American release this weekend of her latest film, Paper Towns, sees the British supermodel cast in her first substantial lead role and could mark the turning point in her bid to become a serious actress.

Critics have already declared that Delevingne has found her true home on the screen. Justin Chang of Variety called her “the real find of the film”, suggesting that “on the evidence of her work here, this striking actress is here to stay”.

The 22-year-old model – until now best-known for her full eyebrows, for sticking out her tongue at the camera, or for her high-profile gay romance with the singing star St Vincent – has been judged convincing as the cool and apparently unknowable Margo in this adaptation of a novel for young adults by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars.

Delevingne, who grew up in London, left her agency, Storm Model Management, earlier this summer and has talked openly about her acting ambitions.

She has confidently rejected the sort of screen roles commonly offered to models, “the part of a Swedish model or an English one, where I die all the time, or stupid girls in, like, American Pie 27”. Instead, she has hung on for the right opportunity.

“It felt crazy to turn down roles because I thought I’d do anything to be an actress, but I realised my dignity’s more important than that,” she said. Modelling was “killing my soul”, she has complained, comparing herself to a squeezed lemon. Yet Delevingne still plans to take the odd catwalk job if she fancies it. “I love saying no,” she said. “Before, I didn’t, and it took a huge toll on my health and happiness.”

The path from model to actress is well-trodden, but is not often an easy stroll. Agyness Deyn, the supermodel from Rochdale, has returned to modelling part-time this year after four years of concentrating on acting and clothes design. She appeared as Aphrodite in Clash of the Titans and opposite Richard Coyle in Pusher in 2012.

Twiggy, who made the transition from figurehead of “swinging London” to star of The Boyfriend in 1971, did not subsequently land many major roles. But Delevingne says her role model is the former model and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron.

For some, modelling is the way out of a tough life, and the fortunes of Moss and Naomi Campbell certainly changed utterly when they were scouted. It was rather different for Delevingne and for her sister, and fellow model, Poppy.

Their father, Charles, is a successful property tycoon and their mother, Pandora, is a former society beauty, now working on a memoir about her battle with heroin addiction, who has worked as a personal shopper for Selfridges, helping the Duchess of Cambridge to select outfits for her public duties.

Although Delevingne can boast Joan Collins as a godmother and owes her middle name, Jocelyn, to her late grandfather, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, a former chairman of English Heritage, she regards her childhood as something of an ordeal. “I went through so much therapy as a kid, and I hated it, and because you get so used to saying the same thing over and over again, it just becomes a story,” she has said. She added later: “I always wanted to act, from when I was four years old. When I was younger, I hated myself, so I preferred being other people.”

Her sister, Poppy, was spotted by a modelling agency during Cara’s speech day at her Hampshire private school, Bedales. Their older sister, Chloe, attended Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, and is now training to be a doctor after studying biomedical sciences at University College London.

Cara made her modelling debut for Vogue Italia with photographer Bruce Weber at the age of 10 and her rise up the ranks has been speedy. It was not long before couturier Karl Lagerfeld had dubbed her the “Charlie Chaplin of the fashion world”, although it took a little time before she tried acting for real.

She has already won supporting roles in the 2015 adaptation of Martin Amis’s novel London Fields, as well as Pan, The Face of an Angel, Tulip Fever and Kids in Love, and she has featured in a Taylor Swift video. She is also to star in Luc Besson’s forthcoming science fiction blockbuster, Valerian, and recently played a supervillain in the DC Comics 2016 film Suicide Squad.

In Paper Towns, which is to be released in the UK on 17 August, she plays opposite Nat Wolff, who was also in The Fault in our Stars. She auditioned for the role in a scene in which Wolff’s character confesses he has loved her character, Margo, for years, clandestinely watching her across the street where they live. “You love me?” Margo answers. “You don’t even know me.”

The film’s director, Jake Schreier, asked Delevingne to improvise the rest of the scene and her performance reduced both actors to tears. “Obviously, in some outsized global way, Cara’s lived a lot of what Margo’s going through,” Schreier has said.

Powered by article was written by Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent, for The Observer on Sunday 26th July 2015 00.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010