As first major film roles go, appearing in an Italian auteur’s demented collection of fairy tales, appearing alongside Toby Jones, an ogre, and a giant flea has to be one of the more memorable. But Tale of Tales was all in a day’s work for Bebe Cave, who turned 17 during the film’s production–after all, by that point she’d already spent a few months on stage opposite Dame Helen Mirren in Peter Morgan’s The Audience.
Still, Tale of Tales makes a major break for the young actor. As the strong-willed Princess Violet, Cave holds her own not only against Jones and an ogre, but also to comparisons with the likes of Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel across the rest of the film. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2015, but finally reaches UK cinemas next week, and we caught up with Cave to find out more.
How did you first get involved in acting?
I was always interested in acting, from a really young age. I’m the youngest of five siblings, so there was lots of competition to get the most attention I think. And it just naturally came about, we would always sort of play around with each other, mimic people that we’d heard on the television or people from adverts. There are so many embarrassing home videos of me trying to do an American accent or dancing around in my pyjamas.
By the time I got to around nine or ten, my sister Jessie, who’s ten years older than me, became interested in acting, and along with my brother, who’s five years older than me, we all decided that we wanted to try and audition for a children’s agency. Luckily we were all successful. Ever since then we’ve helped each other out, and it’s been a very natural part of my life. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t really doing it. It’s just always been there, part of me. I’m very lucky that I already know what I want to do with my life.
Do you have much in the way of sibling rivalry?
Well my sister’s ten years older than me, so up until probably very, very recently there hasn’t been any cause for sibling rivalry, of course. But annoyingly my sister doesn’t age, so she essentially looks like my twin now, and people often don’t ever believe that we are ten years apart. So I think perhaps we’re entering a new territory of our friendship. I don’t think we’ve actually been put up for any of the same roles, but one day that will come, and it will be a very difficult thing for us to go through.
I’m joking, I’m only joking.
And how did you first get involved with Tale of Tales?
I auditioned for it in a relatively conventional way. But what I didn’t realise is that behind the scenes, Matteo [Garrone], the director, had already looked up young actresses in the UK. He ended up coming up with a list of names that included my sister, and he looked up an interview of her, and it happened to be an interview that both Jessie and I were involved in, because we’d been in a film together, Great Expectations.
Once he saw the interview he saw that Jessie was too old for the role, but he decided to audition me. I just feel very, very lucky to have been seen. It certainly makes me think that Matteo is a very instinctive person, and he always just went with his gut feeling. He saw me for the role, and then just decided to go with me before seeing anybody else.
How much did your expectations of the film from the script, and Garrone’s other films, match the final product?
I have to say, every day on set I was surprised, and constantly… very, very challenged by the free style of filming that Matteo would throw at us. We would get to set, and any kind of scripted lines or set directions would sort of be thrown out the window, and we would improvise, we would play around with new ideas. Of course I’d been on film sets before, but nothing could have prepared me for what we would be doing in Italy, because it was so surreal, and it was so artistic. I loved it.
It was really scary to have creative control in a way, because I had to think about what my character might say and try and play around with different ideas. By the end of filming I realised that it was that sort of connection to my character that I’d had to really develop over the weeks that made my journey in the film so real to me. It wasn’t just a character that I was playing, it felt like I was really in that situation. And that was because of Matteo’s techniques.
So I would say that I didn’t have many expectations, because it was all new, every single day. I was going into a dark forest, but I came out at the end feeling very enlightened.
Given that you got so involved in crafting the character of Violet, how would you describe her?
Violet starts off as a sort of prototype princess–relatively entitled, expecting something to come along in her life which will define her, and define her life. She wants a man, or a husband in her life, because she thinks that will take away her boredom and answer all of her questions. And the one thing that she desires most is leaving the castle where she’s been trapped all her life, but she just keeps on waiting for something to come and save her.
It’s only when she undergoes a very unexpected turn of events, something which is quite traumatic and dramatic, that she realises she can’t just wait for something in life and save her, she has to save herself. She discovers a reservoir of strength inside of her, and she she does save herself by the end, and transform into a woman, a woman who is aware that the world isn’t just this beautiful, mysterious place–it has some darkness within it, but you have to be prepared to be a warrior.
It’s interesting, especially hearing you describe it like that, as it’s a very modern and feminist character arc–despite coming from a story that’s 400 years old.
I know! It’s really difficult to get your head around, but obviously so many of these stories would have been told by women. They were oral tales, they were only written down once Giambattista Basile, the author, decided to do it. I feel like because so many women would have told these stories, it’s interesting how all three stories in Tale of Tales do have female protagonists, and they’re at different stages of their life. My character does succeed by the end, but maybe it’s because she still is young, and she still has some fight in her, and as you get older it gets more and more difficult.
It’s an incredibly modern way of looking at things, but maybe it was the Brothers Grimm that took these stories from Giambattista Basile years later and turned them into these happy ending, Disney-fied stories that we know, and associate much more with fairy tales. They took us back, and it’s only nowadays that we’re able to realise the genius of Giambattista Basile, that he respected women in this way, and realised that they had this strength. They were the real fighters in his stories. I’ve read lots of them now–I did it as research for the role, but also because they’re so beautiful and haunting. But it’s really the females in his stories that come out as the survivors by the end.
Tale of Tales is out in UK cinemas from June 17th.
Words by Dominic Preston