The fact that she has a starring role in a film directed by Luc Besson is definitely not lost on Cara Delevingne.
“Being a female heroine in a Luc Besson film – that, to me, is something that I still can’t quite get over,” she told CBR. “It still freaks me out that I’ve even met the man, let alone worked in his film and played one of the lead roles!”
Inded, the actress and model is well aware that the visionary filmmaker long-ago pioneered putting actresses in roles as complex and capable women of various ages at the center of his frequently groundbreaking films, from Anne Parillaud in “Nikita” and Natalie Portman in “The Professional” to Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element and Scarlett Johanssen in Lucy.
Playing Laureline, the cool-headed and competent partner to the daring titular space/time agent in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Delevingne took the opportunity to star in the otherwise fanciful sci-fi romp quite seriously, particularly as it was a longtime passion project for Besson, inspired by his youthful fondness for the enduringly popular French comics series. And as the former Suicide Squad star revealed to CBR, she was absolutely ready to take on the challenge.
CBR: Laureline has all these physical strengths, and that is often defined what a strong, empowered woman has been in a Hollywood movie, but there was a lot more to her that was strong and empowering.
Cara Delevingne: Very much so.
She’s confident, she’s clearheaded. Tell me about that side of her, rather than just her being able to pull off the fighting side.
Of course she’s physically capable, but she’s also, again, as you said, mentally very clearheaded. She’s a leader. She knows exactly what she wants, she knows how to get it. But also in terms of the universe, and all the different aliens, and the environments, she knows everything. She does her homework. There is not one book or page that she’s left unturned, basically.
Which is why she is Valerian’s best partner. They make each other better, because he is the kind of brute force, the kind of no fear, run head first into things. She knows her whole way around every single map. That’s why they kind of are that pair that can save the universe, I guess.
And definitely, she gives the emotional depth to that partnership. I think that’s where she is extremely strong, because she isn’t scared to say no and disagree with him, because she wants to follow her heart. She’s not scared of doing the right thing, but also going against the grain, going against what everyone else is doing. I think that’s what makes her so strong.
Did you look at the original French comics, the source material? There are reams and reams of it.
Years and years worth. Did you sample it and figure out what you could take inspiration from, or did you rely on Luc to point you in the right direction?
Of course, I’d never heard of the comic book before. Obviously, when Luc introduced me to it, I was so thankful, because it really was such an amazing gift to be introduced to this incredible comic. Also, a lot of the comics are in French, so I kind of relied a little bit on Luc to tell me more of the stories. The ones that were in English, of course I read.
The fact that this movie is so visually rich, these comics are the most amazing source of inspiration for that, because the comics are so beautiful and well-drawn, and you can obviously tell it’s from the kind of ’60s, ’70s era, because they’re incredibly kind of trippy and mad. So like, this movie is the perfect thing to kind of draw from that.
But again, I wish there was more source material, to be honest, from these comics. There’s a lot, but still. These worlds you can just dive into. There seems to be endless creatures and environments that you just want to explore.
What’s interesting, too, is that as the series went on, from what I understand, Laureline gets more empowered, for lack of a better word, and he gets a little more simple-minded. He needs her more. You see that dynamic played out in this film as well. She’s got a little bit more of a hand on the steering wheel.
I just think it’s more that he realizes that he needs her. Whereas, I think before, he always thought of himself like, “Oh, I don’t need her. She can just pick up where I left off, clean up my trash,” instead of that he actually needs her to move on. I think he’s always known that, but he didn’t want to give her that.
It was more of like a power dynamic, I guess. He kind of still wanted to be the major when she was the sergeant. But I think by the end, he’s like, “Alright, you’re right. I need you. I couldn’t do this without you.” It’s that nice balance that I think that we all need sometimes in life in terms of partnerships in work, or in relationships, when you’re like, “Oh, we both actually need each other.” There doesn’t need to be this kind of power struggle, I guess.
Was there a day on set where you were looking around and going, “I think I actually am in a comic book right now?”
All the time! Yeah, for sure. More when we were doing the actual set work, which wasn’t as much as obviously I would have loved to have been, because some of those sets we could not create at all. But when we were on those proper set moments, it was so surreal. Especially in the submarine, and stuff like that – going through that was incredible.
Like, some of those costumes, and some of the set designs, I can’t tell you! It was exactly how it looked in that movie. There was so much talent in terms of the set creators, and the designers, and the props. Everything was done down to a T. The props all worked, and that’s why it was so amazing.
And also, being in the actual spaceship. Everything was real. So when we first got into the spaceship for the first time, me and Dane were running around, picking up the guns, pressing the buttons. It was the coolest thing ever. It was like getting to play, and then Luc was like, you have to familiarize yourself with this, because you guys have been in this spaceship for a really long time. Of course we were in there like, “Oh my God!” But that was meant to be our home, so we had to, yeah, get used to it pretty quickly.
As you know as an actor working in Hollywood, a certain sort of conversance with comic book material helps, given the kind of roles that are out there right now. Do you have an affinity for graphics novels and comics? Have you found that that’s a genre that you’re enjoying getting to know better?
The thing was is, when I was younger, I definitely grew up in a generation of TV more, right? Obviously, unfortunately, I didn’t really discover how much I loved books, actual books, until I was older, because I was never one for school being told what to read. I didn’t actual discover the real magic of it.
But now I’m getting into comic books more. It’s just such an incredible – I actually wish I discovered more when I was a kid, because that kind of mixture of the visual aspect, and also the incredible stories that you can dive into, you can get lost for hours. Unfortunately now, I have less and less time to be able to play and escape in those sort of worlds and things. I do have to read more now, like piles and piles of scripts – which I’m not complaining about at all!
Working with someone like Luc on a project like this that he has so much passion for and such a personal, nostalgic, heartwarming connection to, tell me about having that aspect infect you, in a sense.
I don’t know why I just thought of it like this: when Luc first spoke about it, it was like he was talking about his own child, or someone or something that couldn’t be dearer to him. That’s why I first realized how badly I wanted to do it. The first moment that he spoke, he was like, “This project is something that I’ve been dreaming of as a kid.” As soon as he started talking about it, I could feel the love, and I was just like, “Whatever you’re talking about, I’m in. I’m sold. What do I have to do?”
Especially when he described the part. It was like it was a real person, because he knew Valerian, he knew Laureline that well. He could tell you everything about them. Even if they weren’t in the comic books, he had already thought about it all. So to have that amongst obviously all the comic books, the character was basically given to me. All I had to do was be it.
And honestly, every day on set, every day Luc would come up and give you the biggest hug in the world and be so happy. Even today in the first press conference, we were all talking, and you see tears in his eyes. You can’t imagine love like that, but we all feel it together. The last day on set, it was one of the most emotional days I’ve ever had on a movie. Because it was like, “This is over,” but it’s not, because it’s just the beginning.
As this side of your career gathers more and more momentum, what are the exciting things you’re looking forward to as you keep trying to challenge yourself?
So many different things. This movie, the start of this month is going to be incredible. We get to travel the world. To go on a press tour for a movie like this, I don’t mind talking about this movie every day, because it really was such an incredible experience. To be able to relive all the memories is a dream. So the next month will be incredible.
After that, I get to go on my summer holidays and have time off with my family, which will be really amazing. Get a nice well-deserved break, and hopefully soon get back to another film. My book’s coming out. I’ve got a few things in the pipeline, which I’m just very excited about.
Tell me about your novel, Mirror, Mirror. For you, what was the best thing that came out of that process of putting it down on paper?
Apart from the book itself, I think the characters, really. The story is incredible. It really helped me go back and bring back a lot of memories from my childhood, and growing up in London, and that feeling of what it’s like to be young, to be a teenager.
But honestly, the characters are the most special part of it for me. They feel like my best friends, or my siblings. They feel so real to me. I want this to be made into a film because I want them to come to life, even though they have on a book. I want to see this develop more and more. I want there to be more books. Now I want to follow their story forever, which is what I hope people get from it as well.
Opening July 21, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets also stars Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Herbie Hancock and Kris Wu.
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