HERO Summer Zine
This conversation is from the HERO Summer Zine 6, out now!
“I missed chapel one too many times,” Earl Cave confesses to filmmaker Paul Feig as the reason he was kicked out of school. Stated politely with a knowing smile, we highlight suspect there’s more to the story than the young actor is letting on. A natural performer, this inherent mystique (and mischief) has proved an invaluable skill since Cave began carving out his rising career. As the mardy mosher protagonist in Days of the Bagnold Summer, or an outback lost boy in True History of the Kelly Gang, there’s an untold depth that pulls you in – captivates. Cave’s next moves gather pace, starring in Feig’s adaptation of Soman Chainani’s bestselling fantasy novel series The School for Good and Evil, and running riot in New York as a “crazy crust punk” (Earl’s words) for the debut directorial feature of renowned cinematographer Sean Price Williams.
Paul Feig: How are you, my friend?
Earl Cave: I’m good. Good to see you, Paul!
PF: Good to see you too, are you in LA now?
EC: I’m in New York at the moment.
PF: Oh nice. Why are you there?
EC: I’m making a film over here, which is why my hair is this absurd colour. [laughs]
PF: I like it!
EC: It’s a bit different from how it was before, the polar opposite. I’m doing this film, which is a sort of New York indie called The Sweet East, it’s this totally bizarre and completely whacked-out road film. Sean Price Williams, who is directing it, is incredible, it’s really interesting. I can only say so much about it, but it’s very special and very beautiful, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this but I’m playing…
PF: Don’t give anything away that’s going to get you in trouble!
EC: I won’t give too much away! But I’m playing a crazy crust punk.
PF: I’ll steer you away from anything that will get you in trouble. As a filmmaker myself I’m always like, “Don’t give anything away!” You have a sympathetic ear here.
EC: Save me please, Paul. [both laugh]
PF: How does it end? Oh, wait no, I shouldn’t ask that. [both laugh] Where are you in the process right now?
EC: I’ve pretty much just got here, I’ve done about a week so far. It’s a real indie film, we’re all just sort of hauling in the car and going around to film in really interesting parts of New York. Tomorrow we’re driving down to DC and Baltimore, we’re doing quite a lot of it over there, we’re moving about. Most of it has been shot seasonally, so it’s all kind of in bits and they’re strapping it all together. It’s going to be a good one.
PF: It sounds cool, I like that guerilla-style. It’s a nice balance, the movie we did is gigantic with a gigantic budget and sets, but what you’re doing there almost sounds a bit like, did you ever see Jim Jarmusch’s Strangers in Paradise?
EC: Yeah, of course.
PF: That had the same feel, I love that kind of stuff.
EC: Yeah, totally. Sean is also the Director of Photography, he used to do more documentary stuff and then he worked for the Safdie brothers and did all their films. He has this really interesting way of filming where he’ll get things in one take – he moves quickly. I think that’s going to be the pace of the film.
PF: Are you shooting on film or digital?
EC: It’s all 16mm. It looks incredible, very dreamy, grainy and warm. It’s going to look gorgeous.
PF: That’s awesome, I love that.
EC: It’s a real juxtaposition from doing The School for Good and Evil because the sets there were huge and incredible, they take you into a whole different world when you step into them. This is much more like reality, we’re filming in the gutters and weird tunnels, all sorts of bizarre places. I love being able to do both.
PF: It’s nice if you can go between those two. In general, what roles do you seek out?
EC: I love roles where I can be quite free and a little bit mental. I seem to get a different haircut with everything I do, which has been quite interesting. I like the roles where I can really transform and play someone I would never normally be, or roles that allow me to research something I wouldn’t necessarily go for. That fascinates me.
PF: When did you decide you wanted to get into acting? Was it something that was just always there?
EC: I wanted to do theatre at the beginning, it kind of crept up on me by surprise, which was a really happy accident. I did theatre at school a lot, we did a lot of plays and productions and I saw myself doing that, but film always felt a million miles away. It seemed like this impenetrable world. But a casting agent came to my school looking for some extras for this film being shot at my previous school I’d just been kicked out of, so I was like, “Oh boy, I want to get this one!” Just to be able to go back to that school – not as a student – and get to flip off the headmaster or something. [laughs] I got it, and I remember it was because I’d worked out that theatre and film require different acting. I did the audition and played everything down as much as I could because I was last on and I saw all these kids going up being very Shakespearean, waving their arms about, and I was looking at all the casting agents thinking, “Are they liking this?” So I went up and just sort of spoke the lines and was a little bit moody. There was another kid as well, we went up together and they gave us the parts, which were non-speaking roles, but I managed to get a few lines in there. It was for a film called Old Boys with Alex Lawther, who I actually ended up working with [on The End of the Fucking World]. They dyed my hair black for it too, I had these terrible highlights in my hair before. There were all these little parts of it that really drew me in and then they were like, “Maybe you should start auditioning for more things.” So I started doing it and loved it.
PF: You were doing movie acting on the stage.
EC: Exactly! Then for the next few years I was doing all my auditions just completely deadpan with not a smidge of emotion. It worked for some things, but some people were like, “Who is this robotic child!?” [laughs] Eventually I realised I should probably put a little animation into it.
PF: Before we move past this, why did you get kicked out of that school? [both laugh]
EC: I missed Chapel one too many times…
PF: Well, that’s excusable.
EC: That’s the unofficial reason.
PF: Depending on what the role is, what’s your favourite way to prepare?
EC: By using little ways of bringing myself into the world. Music is one way that really snaps me into it. I’ll put a little playlist together of songs that [my character would] listen to, so I can plug into that mindset. When I get different roles, I can dig into music I wouldn’t necessarily be into, for example, I was doing Days of the Bagnold Summer and my character is a metalhead and I was never much of a metal guy, but I started forcing myself to listen to Metallica and Cannibal Corpse. I found it difficult, but I think if you listen to something enough, you start to like it no matter what it is. Eventually, I was listening to it a lot, but I would never have listened to any of that if I hadn’t done that role. I haven’t necessarily revisited those, but getting a wide knowledge of music is something I really love. This character I’m playing now loves hardcore punk, so I’ve been listening to a lot and really getting into it, going to a lot of gigs and really immersing myself, which has been fun.
PF: Music is such a great way in. As a director and writer, I do the same thing. When I made A Simple Favor I was doing rewrites on it at the time and I was playing all this 60s French pop. It got so in my head, I started writing it into the movie – it became the sound of the movie. It’s a great way to connect versus just studying lines, it adds something visceral.
EC: Absolutely, it adds much more dimension to your character.
“I like the roles where I can really transform and play someone I would never normally be, or roles that allow me to research something I wouldn’t necessarily go for.”
PF: Who inspires you, or inspired you? Actors, musicians, writers – anybody!
EC: Iggy Pop is a huge inspiration to me because, in a way, he’s an actor – his whole Iggy Pop thing is a character, he’s Jim Osterberg originally. It’s interesting because – I’ve never met him, but I’ve read about him – and he’s quite shy and timid.
PF: I was in Paris once in a hotel. I got in the elevator and the door opened and Jim got in. It was just him and I was so nervous because I’d grown up loving the guy and he was the nicest. I don’t know what I expected.
EC: You feel like he’s going to fold in half or do something nuts.
PF: Strip off his shirt or something.
EC: Yeah exactly. It’s really interesting to see that, and then he puts on this completely fearless and unapologetic character – he goes out on stage and doesn’t give a shit. I find that character so interesting, and through his career he’s changed, a bit like David Bowie in a sense, constantly evolving. My inspirations are more musicians than actors. What about you?
PF: I’ve been inspired by a lot of different people, as a director one of my inspirations is Howard Hawks because he did every genre, and did them really great. He did a Western, then a comedy, then a gangster movie. If you look at my movies, they’re all different genres.
EC: That’s really interesting.
PF: But then I get really inspired by musicians and music. I just love people who think outside the box. I have a real intolerance for people who hate certain types of music.
EC: It’s sad when people say they hate a certain genre of music because they obviously haven’t looked into it enough and found something they enjoy.
PF: As an old man, I can tell you, the older you get, the more open-minded you have to be because it’s so easy to become the guy that says, “When I was a kid it was much better,” and it’s like, “No, fuck you.”
EC: It’s true, I think even Bob Dylan probably thought the time he was living in wasn’t the coolest, I think everyone has always had that mentality, wanting to live in the time of those who inspired what was before them. I like the roles where I can really transform and play someone I would never normally be, or roles that allow me to research something I wouldn’t necessarily go for. I reckon some kids might be like, “Hey man, you’re from 2022! No shit, wow.” [both laugh]
PF: Exactly. The thing I hate most is people my age who go, “There are no movie stars anymore,” and it’s like, “Alright, just because you don’t know who they are.”
EC: Yeah, and the whole concept of a movie star is evolving and changing, of course it isn’t going to be the same.
PF: It shouldn’t be. If it was, how boring would that be? I’ve been dying to talk to you about this, where is your personal style from? You have one of the best styles of any guy I know. The first time you came in for that audition, I was like, “Oh my god, I want to dress like you!”
EC: I want to dress like you, Paul.
PF: We’ll trade. [laughs]
EC: You’ve got a few suits for me back there I can see.
PF: My office is in my closet, as you can see.
EC: I think [my style] is a mixture of all sorts of things. I’ve never been much of a brand guy, I’ve always liked clothes that aren’t really trying to say anything. Again, it’s musicians I look to really. I remember what I wore for that audition, I had just watched Buffalo 66 with Vincent Gallo and he’s all crammed into his clothes, he has these great little bootcut flares and red Beatle boots. I’d just watched that and was like, “He’s so fucking cool,” I love that look of being stuffed into your clothes.
PF: It was really cool, it worked.
EC: I don’t like it when clothes look too new, I’m very much a vintage head. I like to go to charity shops and find things that some people might not value, but I do. A lot of the clothes I wear now are my girlfriend’s clothes as well, she’s got the best style and I just copy her.
PF: The two of you are incredibly cool. Every time I see you guys on Instagram I’m like, “Oh my god.”
EF: It’s all her. [both laugh]
PF: I like to cherry-pick looks or things to add to outfits from either people in the streets or in movies, I think that’s really fun.
EC: It’s so fun. Musicians too, I mean everything sort of comes back to Iggy Pop, Lou Reed too, that thing where they could just wear anything. It’s the confidence of how you present yourself. I think anyone can wear anything and should wear anything as long as they’re confident and think, “Damn, I look cool.” That’s when you do look cool.
“I think even Bob Dylan probably thought the time he was living in wasn’t the coolest, I think everyone has always had that mentality, wanting to live in the time of those who inspired what was before them.”
PF: You watch Jimi Hendrix on stage and he owns that guitar, it’s like a part of his body, but then you go to somebody’s house and they say, “I’m learning guitar,” and they’re all hunched over it – it looks like the guitar owns them. That’s how it is with clothes, I see some guys dressed like I do with a suit and tie, but it looks like a costume, they’re so stiff in it. When you go to a vintage store, what draws you in generally? Is it just a vibe, or is it an era?
EC: Era is a big thing, the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but more towards the end of the 60s, that’s my dream stuff.
PF: If you could live in another era, would it be the 60s?
EC: It’s really hard. The way I look at [that era] now, it seems like a really cool place, but then I talk to people who lived then and they’re like, “You don’t want to live in the 60s, it was a terrible time. People looked cool and it was great music, but there was a lot of other shit going down.” I think we have a very telescopic view of those decades now. A cool [thing about now] is that we have access to all these clothes, so you could wear some shoes from the 60s with a shirt from the 70s and undies from the 50s… maybe not that. [laughs]
PF: It’s funny, somebody told me that, because of the iPod, which they actually just discontinued, younger people just load them with stuff and get to know all these songs together – there isn’t that weird prejudice of, “That’s old and this is new.”
EC: We have so much access now. There are also great things those streaming services do where they create interesting compilations from all over the place. They have stations of weird things thrown together you might like, they’ve worked out your algorithm – which I was weirded out by. But I was listening to it today and it’s pretty amazing what they think you’ll like – and you actually do. They’re pretty smart.
PF: It’s a great way to discover new bands, music, songs and even old bands. Sometimes I’ll just search for 70s Italian Pop or something.
EC: There’s this great app that I found, I mean it’s probably a big app actually, but it’s called Radiooooo.
PF: Oh yeah, that’s a great one! Where you have a map and you just go, “Let’s hear what was popular in Turkey in the 40s.”
EC: It’s amazing, I’ve found so much cool music. If you go to Cuba in the 50s, you’re in for a crazy night.
PF: I wish I could have been around Cuba in the 50s to party. Just fly over to Havana for the night. Let’s talk movies, what movies inspire you?
EC: I’ve been watching a lot of Sean Baker’s films recently. I hadn’t really watched much of his stuff until I started this job I’m on now, because Alex Coco is one of the producers who produced a lot of Sean’s films. So I recently watched Red Rocket with Simon Rex and it’s a gorgeous film. It got me really excited for this job because I know it’s the same people making it who have such a love for film. I also just love Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, I love the improvisational nature to it. It makes me think, when you’re learning your lines and you’re getting them in your head, you go on set and when they say, “Action,” you don’t actually know what’s going to come out of your mouth on the day. No matter how much I rehearse my lines, the setting, the surrounding, the actors I’m opposite, with all that stuff you can read it on a piece of paper, but when you’re suddenly in the room it becomes so much more real.
PF: You’re right. You’ll notice I never rehearse because I always just want to see what happens and get it fresh the first time on camera.
EC: Exactly. Of course, there are times when you do need to rehearse, but a lot of the time I think what you get is probably what you’re going to get. It’s sort of the same with doing auditions, I always find there is only a certain amount of takes you can do before you start either losing your mind or it becomes something else.
PF: It can just become words.
EC: That’s why I loved working on The School for Good and Evil, because even though it was this huge thing, we also had freedom to screw around a bit. That’s where the truly funny stuff comes from, the things that aren’t necessarily written but come out at the time. The things that are written are funny too, of course. [laughs]
PF: You have to have a great script going, but it’s just the jumping-off point. As you said, for a director, I get there and I hear in my head how I want it to sound, but then I get all you guys there and you’ve got different voices. I’m going to try and work you towards what I think I want, and by the time I get to what I think I wanted I don’t want it anymore and I’m like, “Oh you guys did all this great stuff.”
EC: Yeah, it’s funny. Especially on this latest job, a lot of the cast have no acting experience, so you don’t really know what you’re going to get on the day. It’s kind of scary but sometimes it’s way better.
PF: It’s funny, in that situation you’re almost as much of the director as the director is because you’re controlling the flow of the moment.
EC: It’s nice to work on a role so much that you can just strip it back down, forget about the character and just riff. I mean, learn your lines kids, but if that’s all you’re learning and you haven’t thought about the character’s mind, then it is so difficult to go off-script and improvise. There’s also a great rhythm you can get into with another actor if they’re on the same page as you. You’re able to work around them or work around each other – it can be an amazing dance.
PF: The movie you’re on right now, are they shooting two cameras or one?
EC: It’s pretty much one camera. My stuff is quite rough and documentary style, so it’s very handheld and totally manic, but then it moves into cleaner shots with more delicate aspects. There is this really interesting rawness to it which makes me want to be like, “Oh I won’t learn my lines for this one.” But I will and then I’ll sort of forget about them, I know how my character feels about things and we’re just going a little bit crazy on this job, but it’s the best kind of crazy.
PF: What percentage of the people aren’t seasoned actors?
EC: We did this scene the other day in Staten Island and we were where the big garbage dump used to be, they’ve packed it down now and made it into this sort of park. Without giving too much away, there’s this gang and the director, Sean, just called up his mates and was like, “Everyone come down, you’re all part of this thing.” They all work in film but they’re not actors and some of the costume people are in it as characters. They have this rawness to them you just can’t get from actors who have auditioned for the role. It’s hilarious because the characters they’re playing are just dirty kids, Sean must have this great group of mates because they are seriously hilarious. A lot of this job is on-the-day, you don’t really know what is going to happen until it’s happening.
PF: Are you doing your natural accent in this movie?
EC: I’m doing American.
PF: You are?!
EC: [puts on American accent] Yeah, man. [both laugh] That’s another thing, with the accent going off-script is hard. I’ve been really trying to work on being able to have the accent down so I can do that.
PF: You end up second-guessing everything you do.
EC: Exactly. Especially when you’re doing auditions with the accent, a lot of people worry so much about it, the performance becomes off. I’d much rather do a good performance and have a little bit of a dodgy accent. Mine’s actually pretty good though, I’m quite surprised with how it’s gone down. [laughs] I have a coach, I also have an American girlfriend, which helps. They came to me saying that they wanted Baltimore, so I watched a lot of John Waters – that’s another guy I’ve been watching a lot and I’m totally blown away by. I was looking at that accent and it was really hard to get, it’s very specific, so I think they’ll feed me in a few Baltimore words to get there.
PF: I want to know one more thing. Earl, where do you want to be in twenty years?
EC: That’s a great question. I’ll be fourty-one. I want to be fourty-one in twenty years, that’s my aim. [both laugh] I’d love to still be making a variety of films, whacky independent films and also incredible bigger films, more things like what we’ve done together. I want to do work that makes me happy and makes other people happy. I want to write as well, explore all the different aspects of creativity. I want to do what you do – maybe I’ll start a gin company.
PF: You mean… Artingstall’s gin [Feig’s own gin brand]? [holds gin bottle up]
EC: Artingstall’s gin, yes! I want to be multi-faceted and explore loads of things.
PF: That’s the perfect answer, I was hoping you would say that. Do everything you can. That’s how I live my life. I take weird lessons occasionally and get into different stuff and people will be like, “Why are you doing this?” It’s because there is nothing you learn that you don’t use somehow in this business.
EC: So true, especially with acting, you’re constantly having to morph.
PF: Keep being great.
Interview originally published in HERO Summer Zine 6.