Earl Cave: “I’d love to play Neil Young in a film”

Thanks largely to his first lead role in 'Days of the Bagnold Summer', the son of Nick and Susie Cave is having a breakout year. Watch this space, he tells NME, there's plenty more to come

Now is the time to acquaint yourself with Earl Cave. Certainly not about to coast through life as the youngest son of one of the world’s biggest rock stars – that’s dad Nick Cave – this talented 19-year-old is currently enjoying his best year yet as an actor.

If you’re not familiar with Earl’s work, you won’t have seen him sporting pistols and a lace dress in Justin Kurzel’s blood-soaked biopic True History of the Kelly Gang; or as a trainee spy in TV’s new Alex Rider adaptation. You definitely won’t have witnessed his breakout role in Days of the Bagnold Summer, the angst-riddled directorial debut from The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird, out this week.

Days of the Bagnold Summer
Monica Dolan and Earl Cave in ‘Days Of The Bagnold Summer’. Credit: Altitude Entertainment

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Based on the award-winning graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, the film is a painfully accurate coming-of-age comedy about a suburban summer shared between self-loathing metalhead Daniel (Cave, in his first ever lead role) and his well-meaning mum (played by BAFTA-winner Monica Dolan).

“I look almost identical to the character that Joff Winterhart had drawn in the graphic novel,” says Cave, whose long sheets of hair and lean figure are mirrored in the film’s back-to-basics visual style. “Daniel doesn’t quite know where he is in the world, and I think that people can really connect to that.”

“You know the Japanese film ‘The Ring’? I couldn’t sleep at night after my dad showed me that”

Chatting during lockdown from his family home in Brighton, where he’s been stretched out on an uncharacteristically hot, British springtime day, Cave admits that he too was a shy kid growing up. “It was only when I got into drama at school that something really ignited in me,” he explains. “It gave me the confidence to stand up in front of people and come out of my shell.”

Born in London and raised in Brighton, Cave dabbled in theatre at school before a visiting casting agent pegged him and a friend for Old Boys, a British boarding school reworking of 19th Century classic Cyrano de Bergerac. Cave’s part sadly landed on the cutting room floor, but his passion for acting on-screen had been awakened.

Earl Cave
Credit: Alamy

His parents – Nick and model-turned-fashion designer Susie Bick have been married for over 20 years – have been supportive of the budding actor’s journey right from the start. “They’ve come to all of my shows, and I mean all of them, even the matinees,” says Earl. “They didn’t have to do that.”

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Sure enough, at Cave’s last major public outing – the London premiere of True History of the Kelly Gang – both Nick and Susie were proudly in attendance, with the latter documenting her son’s every move on Instagram. Cave Snr., although less vocal in public, also played a crucial role in nurturing Earl’s talent. The iconic musician, who has written several screenplays alongside his recording career, would host “inappropriate movie night” for the family every Friday after school. The films showing, you might expect, weren’t as age-appropriate as what your old man brought home from Blockbuster…

True History of the Kelly Gang
Cave plays Ned Kelly’s brother Dan in ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’. Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment / IFC Films

“We would watch the scariest or goriest films imaginable. It really screwed me up as a kid,” remembers Cave. “You know that Japanese film The Ring? I couldn’t sleep at night after watching that.”

Once he’d made the jump from movie night to stage actor – and then onto his first film job with Old Boys – Earl landed a small but significant role in cult comedy The End of the F***ing World. As Frodo, Cave brought a puppyish charm to the teen petrol station attendant craving a life of adventure beyond his tedious existence.

“‘The End Of The F***ing World’ went up on Netflix, and suddenly I had all these followers”

“We didn’t know how the show would turn out; I’d read the script and I’d been doing auditions for it for quite a while,” Cave says. “Then I guess it went up on Netflix and everyone started watching it. I woke up one day and suddenly had all these followers.”

Even though he’s only in it for one episode in the first season, Frodo became an instant hit with fans, who dubbed themselves ‘Frohos’: “People really relate to the character. We’re all a little bit like Frodo,” says Earl.

Frodo
As Frodo in ‘The End Of The F***ing World’. Credit: Channel 4

Despite not getting the callback for season two, Cave remains close friends with co-star Jessica Barden, who was also catapulted to broader fame off the back of her role as straight-talking, spunky Alyssa. In a recent post of the pair on Instagram, he fondly refers to her in the caption as his wife.

“[Jessica’s] very mischievous,” he says. “We were both on our way to the British Independent Film Awards last year and she messaged me and asked if I wanted to do the red carpet with her. When she arrived she whispered in my ear, ‘let’s pretend that we’re married’ and jumped on me even though everyone with us was saying, ‘No, no, don’t do that!’”

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back with my wife @jessybarden

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If you missed the ‘Froho’ fandom when TEOTFW debuted, the chances are that you’ll see Earl on screen over the next month. 2020 is undoubtedly a big year for the actor, with two major film roles already under his belt plus a part in his most commercial project to date – the new TV adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s popular teen-spy book series Alex Rider.

“I loved those books as a kid,” says Earl. “Everyone at school was reading them so it was surreal to go back to them for the show. It’s based on my favourite Alex Rider book as well.”

Alex Rider
As ‘Alex Rider’ character James. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The title he’s referring to is second book in the series Point Blanc, named after the school where Rider and Cave’s character James are sent to train as junior operatives. For the role, Cave adopted a “kind of fucked up, Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys”-style Australian accent. It’s his second go at the family twang (if you didn’t know, dad Nick hails from Down Under) in two years. In summer 2018, he jetted off to Victoria for True History of The Kelly Gang.

The latest film by maverick director Justin Kurzel, out on digital this week, is a fresh, punk-tinged biopic about the notorious Aussie bushranger and his band of outlaws that stars Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult and George MacKay, who has risen to become one of this year’s biggest stars after snagging the lead in acclaimed WWI thriller 1917.

“I’m in a punk band called Fleshlight with George MacKay”

“That was singlehandedly the most incredible experience in my life,” Cave says of his time working with the tight knit cast. “I’d just finished my A Levels, and I celebrated my 18th birthday on the plane with George. It felt a little weird; I was leaving school, and this was the first time that I was going to be away from my parents for a significant amount of time. It felt like I was starting a new part of my life, which was exhilarating.”

In the film, Cave plays Ned’s brother Dan, one of the four-strong gang who would fight with Kelly until their last breath. Ahead of the shoot, Kurzel tasked the boys with forming a band to build camaraderie and tap into that vital punk spirit. The group – which they named Fleshlight – performed live at a local watering hole, with Cave on the keys, MacKay on vocals, and co-stars Louis Hewison and Sean Keenan on drums and guitar respectively. The gang enjoyed the experience so much that they’ve been reluctant to retire their musical Kelly Gang alter egos.

Earl Cave
Cave and George MacKay at the London premiere of ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’. Credit: Getty

“We’ve been working on some things, and I think that we’re going to release an album,” Cave reveals. “It’s all in the works at the moment, but we recorded an entire album in a studio which we’re very excited about. We just hope that we can keep the name Fleshlight and it’s not been copyrighted by the adult toy industry.”

For the actor, this new creative outlet is a way of getting through difficult times. In 2015, shortly before the then 15-year-old’s career began to take off, the family tragically lost Earl’s twin brother Arthur in a cliffside accident in East Sussex. Nick Cave would channel his grief into the hauntingly beautiful record Skeleton Tree. A documentary about the recording process, One More Time with Feeling, would follow shortly after. Earl appears just fleetingly.

Earl Cave
Credit: Alamy

“Film, music and actual art, like drawing, are my holy trinity, they’re what keep me going,” he says. “I play the piano – that especially for me is a form of therapy. It’s like I have no other way of showing my emotions than with acting and playing the piano.”

Earl’s attraction to music is perhaps inevitable. He says ‘hotel pianist’ is his fallback if acting work dries up – and his enthusiasm is tangible when he lists the artists that he’s listening to at the moment. “I recently watched [Spike Jonze’s] Beastie Boys documentary which has completely reignited my love of them, and I like a lot of new bands like Fat White Family. Then there’s Bob Dylan who’s sort of my idol.”

“Playing the piano is a form of therapy for me”

The question of which musician Cave would like to portray in a film, given the chance, is not taken lightly: “Oh my god. Neil Young? A young Neil Young. I used to have the hair for it but I’ve cut it all off, so they’d have to stick a wig on me.”

On the day that we speak, Earl’s been indulging in some death metal – Cannibal Corpse and Metallica to be exact – after immersing himself in the genre for Days of the Bagnold Summer. “To be honest, I wasn’t an enormous fan of metal originally,” he admits. “But I like to listen to it sometimes because it reminds me of when we were filming.”

As first lead roles go, Daniel is a meaty one, with Cave and Dolan on-screen constantly as we watch their fraught relationship play out in dreary Bromley, south London. To stay in the zone, the pair would drive to set together, fighting over whether Metallica or Barry Manilow would play on the stereo. “She would call me ‘my little sausage’ and pinch my cheek between takes to keep us in that world,” Cave recalls.

Elsewhere, Cave says Simon Bird was a natural director in spite of this being his first time. “He just had this vision, he knew exactly what he wanted,” explains Earl. “I loved Friday Night Dinner and The Inbetweeners, so I was freaking out when I got to the audition and Simon was sitting there. He was very cool, and I think he enjoyed directing. I hope he does it again.”

Days Of The Bagnold Summer
Monica Dolan and Earl Cave in ‘Days Of The Bagnold Summer’. Credit: Altitude Entertainment

It’s a minor miracle that Days of the Bagnold Summer has even made it to screens. COVID-19 still prevents many productions from shooting, and cinemas won’t reopen in the UK until next month. Earl himself can’t wait for lockdown to lift.

“The first thing I’m gonna do when we’re out of this is go skateboarding with my friends. I wouldn’t be who I am without it,” he says. “Then we’ll go to the pub.”

“I’d love to play Neil Young in a film”

For now, Cave is spending his time hanging out with family and brushing up on classics from Italian auteur Federico Fellini and French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard. For the next phase of his career, however, the filmmakers that he aspires to work with feel like they would do well at “inappropriate movie night”.

“The Safdie brothers are doing some incredible stuff – Uncut Gems [the lauded Adam Sandler-fronted heist film] and Good Time [starring Robert Pattinson] are awesome. And the guy who made [Nicolas Cage revenge thriller] Mandy: Panos Cosmatos. I saw that in the cinema and, to be honest, it was terrifying – but visually the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen.”

If there’s one thing Cave’s not enticed by it’s Hollywood at large, instead hoping to forge his own path by making films that he’s really invested in. “I’m not into Marvel films, I’ve never seen myself as a superhero,” he says. “I’ve always loved little films, ones that have been driven by passion over money. I’m not too thirsty for a blockbuster or a big break, I’d rather do something that’s constructive for me and I can watch back and be proud of.”

If you look at the last six months, Cave already has plenty to be proud of. Through sticking to his guns, this self-aware but sure-footed teenager is well on the way to becoming the new prince of indie cinema. And if he changes his mind, there’s always the hotel piano industry to fall back on.

‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ is out on digital channels now

‘Alex Rider’ is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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