Nobody puts Bebe in a corner – Glass meets the delightful actor, Bebe Cave

ABOUT three days before the UK was rocked by the referendum result, Glass got to meet Bebe Cave, who impressed us in her latest film Tale of Tales, as well as having starred opposite Helen Mirren at the age of 15 in Peter Morgan’s play The Audience. We discuss Tale of Tales in some depth, and touch on family, acting, and politics, on which Bebe is unexpectedly vocal.

It’s no surprise that the London-born Bebe Cave is pretty impressive in person – I hesitate to use the phrase “impressive for an 18-year-old”, not only because it’s patronising but because watching her in Tale of Tales (2015), it soon becomes clear that her maturity belies her age.

Bebe Cave Justin van VlietBebe Cave. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

The first indication of this comes when we discuss the film itself, which left me cold at first but grew on me significantly about halfway through. Cave appears prominently in only one of three interlocking narratives, all of which are set in an imaginary mediaeval realm whose aesthetic is equal parts Uccello, Bosch and Fuseli; she plays a callow princess who wishes to marry. Her father, played by Toby Jones, obsessed with a flea the size of a large dog which he decides to raise as a pet, arranges a tournament – he hangs the creature’s hide (spoiler alert: the flea dies at some point) from the ceiling and promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever first correctly identifies the creature of origin. The winner? A pugnacious seven-foot ogre, natch. Long story short, the ogre takes off with the princess, who, after several attempts at escape, ends up killing the ogre after gaining his trust.

I ask Bebe what she makes of the treatment of the ogre, especially given the critical establishment’s simplistically feminist readings of the film – it seemed to me that she was happy to avail of patriarchy when it suited her, but when it transpired her husband was to be unattractive and, er, ethnic, she makes an Other of her suitor and slits his throat. Problematic, no?

Bebe disagrees. “You’re right – she sort of is completely fine with confirming with the regular way of finding a husband as long as it suits her. But I also think that the husband she so craves kind of represents the world that she envisions beyond the castle walls. She sort of expects everything to be OK, and that life will be easy for her. And the ogre, in his gruesome form, is actually The Truth.

“I’ve always felt sympathy for the character of the ogre: at the end of the film, you realise he’s still the only character that loved her properly. I mean, he has to express it in an ogre-like way. But I think that scene where I do the dirty – I can’t forgive myself, honestly!”

I continue to press her on the fact that the film’s female characters in general aren’t as feminist as they’ve been painted by many. In another tale, two sisters break apart with unsettling results – when one betrays the other by magically growing younger and uses her newfound bodily youth to seduce and marry the king, the sister left behind feels the need to flay her face off in an attempt at conventional beauty. But again, Bebe has a counter-interpretation.

“It’s supposed to be a feminist moral, rather than them being feminist characters themselves. It’s clear by the end, when she starts to turn old again, that you can’t rely on something fleeting – it has to be something from within you that makes you feel OK with yourself, rather than something on the surface. Obviously each tale speaks to each of us in different ways, but I think that story’s so beautifully subtle – the relationship between the sisters, [played by] Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson – their performances are just magnificent, even underneath the layers of prosthetics.”

The tale of the sisters is her favourite of the three; she even prefers it to her own. “They’re such tiny figures, swamped by this world, so beautiful but so grungy and grimy. The way it was [created made it look like] an actual Renaissance painting. I thought that was magnificent.”

Bebe’s sister Jessie, 29 and best known for playing Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films, also appears in Tale of Tales; the sisters have appeared in several things together. I ask how this comes about – do they often come as a pair?

“For Great Expectations it was just lucky,” explains Bebe. “My sister was cast and they needed a girl who was a younger version of her. Obviously I was auditioning for it, but … and Jeremy Irvine was playing the main role, but his younger brother Toby Irvine played the younger version of him. So it was a nice little, sort of, thing.

“And in terms of [Jessie and I] working together in other things, we create so much of our own stuff together. We write a lot of material together, we’ve done a web-series, we’re working on something together at the moment – it just is natural. We have a very similar way of thinking.

“So we spend so much time together. I’m pretty much with her 80 per cent of my day, because I’m babysitting Donny, her son, or we’re just helping each other out with things. It would be so wonderful if we could get cast in something together without having to write it ourselves. But at the end of the day, we’re just happy to work with what we’ve got, and I’m realising more and more that [now is] the time when you need to be able to do different things. You can’t just rely on being an actress: you have to also be comfortable with being a director, or a writer, or a comedian.

“That’s what so inspires me about my sister: she’s always had that mentality. She does illustration, she does everything I can think of. And it’s just motivated me to do the same thing since I’ve been out of school.” Indeed, Bebe directed one of Jessie’s shows at Edinburgh, which transferred there from the Soho Theatre, and is an active writer.

Bebe 2Bebe Cave. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

UK newspaper The Telegraph mistakenly reported that Bebe studied A-level French; although she did her A-levels in France, on account of, y’know, casually being at the Cannes Film Festival, her A-levels were English, Theatre Studies, Biology and Latin. “I’m learning French at the moment,” she tells me. “I have an actress friend who, when she’s not getting cast in things here, goes over to France and gets cast in stuff there. And all the Italians I worked with on Tale of Tales spoke four or five languages. So I’m super jealous of all that, and definitely gonna hop on that train and give it a shot.”

Knowing she loves horror films, I ask if she’s seen any good ones recently. She recommends Hush, directed by Mike Flanagan, who co-wrote the film with his wife Kate Siegel, who also stars in the film. Cave admires these “family efforts”; she tells me she loves Samuel Collardey’s recent Tempête. “The two young actors playing [the protagonist’s] children were his actual children. And his wife was played by his actual wife. It’s the most beautifully understated film,” she says.

She goes on to gush about French cinema. “They just have these shots of people smoking out at sea, and you get so much from that! I don’t know what it is, it’s so satisfying seeing someone think so much and having to guess their thoughts.” She’s been on the record saying Jean-Luc Godard is her favourite director, prone though he is to focusing on rapid cuts and dialogue rather than silence and rumination. We agree that Pierrot Le Fou is in each of our Top 5 Movies lists, but I tell her I don’t get on with him in high doses, like at BFI’s recent Godard season.

“I was there for literally the whole season,” she tells me. “It was crazy. I feel so inspired by things like that, to have these long sweeping shots where they’ll just be talking about mundane things for five or six minutes. Brigitte Bardot just wandering around in a towel. And yet it’s so significant – there’s so little plot, it’s so much more about feeling and emotion. That’s what I love about cinema – you just get so much character from such small things. I really like it when a film focuses on a lot about a little, rather than a little about a lot.”

We somehow slide into discussing the EU referendum; Bebe brings it up as she talks about Glastonbury. Has she sorted her postal vote yet?

“Don’t be crazy – I’ve already sorted that shit out. But two of my friends – and I went to Westminster, these are smart boys I hang out with – I asked them the other night if they’d sorted out their postal vote, and they were like, ‘Damn, I forgot!’

“That’s what’s going to happen. 200,000 people, most of whom are going to be under 30, most of whom are going to be Remainers – I’d say half of them will have forgotten to [submit their postal vote]. And if it’s close, that could be make-or-break. I think somebody conspired to [arrange the vote for] during Glastonbury. Can’t even fucking believe it. I’m so worried!”

She tells me about a Stay in the EU video she and Jessie made, and expresses disgruntlement at the nature of the referendum and at the media coverage of it, “I think it’s crazy that a huge, huge decision is [being made] based on the back of some unsatisfied people making crazy claims. You don’t even realise that leaving the EU won’t make any difference to immigration – the basis of their argument. I think it’s so stupid. I hope to God …

“My friend Ben, incredibly political and passionate, is the head of the Hammersmith Stay In campaign, [and has been] working so hard – and he was assaulted last week, choked against a wall by a drunk man saying, ‘Oh, you don’t fucking care about all the immigrants stealing our jobs.’ Classic. Two girls in this campaign were beaten up, and a man had his nose broken. Of course he went to the BBC and all sorts of press outlets saying, ‘You need to cover this,’ and they said ‘No, we can’t, it would seem biased. Nobody in the Leave campaign has been assaulted.’ And this was a week before Jo Cox.

Bebe 1
Bebe Cave. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

“It’s crazy that they don’t cover that. But it’s the truth. People have been assaulted. Nigel Farage has literally [advocated aggression]. The world really fucking scares me. It’s not a bubble anymore; the bubble has been burst.”

Fitting, then, that her character in Tale of Tales spends most of her story having her bubble slowly burst. Bebe might be naïve in some ways; when I bring up the difficulties faced by most budding actors in the industry, her views seem overly sanguine: “It’s more about the mind-set you have. There is always going to be something, as long as you keep trying and being patient… I really do believe it’s about trying, about persevering.

“Self-confidence is the most important thing; that’s universal. No matter what the trend is for body type, hair type or anything like that, self-confidence is always going to be ‘in’. So as long as you feel sure of yourself, somebody will notice it eventually.”

Works for many, but not for most, I think. Nonetheless, even if Bebe doesn’t realise quite how lucky she is, she hasn’t just fluked her way in – genuinely talented and increasingly well-connected, she will go far. And she’s over a year away from exhausting her teen years.

by Arjun Sajip

Photographs: Justin van Vliet