Cara Delevingne wanted to shave her eyebrows along with her hair for Life in a Year
In need of a good, cathartic ugly cry? Stock up on Kleenex because Life in a Year checks that box ... and then some.
The new film, streaming on Amazon Prime beginning Nov. 27, stars Cara Delevingne and Jaden Smith as a young couple facing insurmountable odds as fiery, spontaneous Isabelle (Delevingne) has only a year to live, and driven, sheltered Daryn (Smith) promises to give her their entire life of milestones together in the time she has left. The sweet coming-of-age story is romantic, inspiring, and heartbreaking in equal measure, and Delevingne warns EW that you'll be "ugly sobbing" even more than you expect with a story centered on love and illness.
"It's definitely not a pretty sobbing film," she says with a laugh. "It gets you right in the gut. Oh my gosh, I cried all the time [during filming]."
The film is Slovenian director Mitja Okorn's first U.S. movie, and he's a self-admitted fan of tearjerkers. "I love to cry at movies myself," he tells EW. "It's such a good, cleansing moment. I always choose emotions over logic. It’s such a lovely thing to see people crying, taking out their handkerchiefs while watching a movie. That makes me cry, when people are touched as well!" So when the script for Life in a Year, produced by Will Smith's company Overbrook Entertainment along with Sony Pictures, landed on Okorn's desk, and he cried while reading it, he knew he "needed" to direct it.
"This kind of film sometimes feels very mechanically made, like somebody put all the elements in the computer and out comes a young adult movie about sickness," Okorn says. "In Hollywood, they even really badly call them 'sick-lit,' like 'chick-lit.' And I said, 'No, this should be from the heart. It should be not pretentious. It should be life.'"
During the first group script reading with the stars and producers, Okorn knew he was making the movie with the right people when he saw how Will handled the emotion of the story. "Once the script reading started, everyone started hiding that they're going to cry, and then Will Smith didn't care and just cried," he says. "I'm like, 'Oh, great. I can work with this.' And when we were shooting all these emotional scenes later, Will Smith is sitting behind me sobbing."
Delevingne had worked with Will previously on Suicide Squad, so she already had a relationship with her onscreen costar Jaden. But it was the script that had her "obsessed" with playing Isabelle.
"As an actor, to be a vessel to understand what it takes to have something like stage three ovarian cancer, it's not a dream role obviously but in a way, it's an incredible gift to be given, especially when you put in the work," Delevingne says of the role. "[I worked with] this girl who survived stage three ovarian cancer ... and to be able to meet these people and to show a story of strength and struggle and family, community, and support and what it takes, to dive into that it was really special to me."
And she adds, "Isabelle was special to me specifically because of her strength. No matter what she went through she was always going to make light of it; she was always going to keep living like she didn't have something like this curse on her back. The way she led her life was just very inspirational."
While the movie required Delevingne to shave her head to accurately portray Isabelle's chemotherapy journey, Jaden also had to do the same. "He had to cut his dreadlocks," Okorn says, and Delevingne reveals that moment brought the two of them even closer. "I love Jaden so much, I adore him with all my heart," she says. "He is a phenomenal artist but I'm so glad that people are going to be able to see him as an actor like this. And us having to shave our heads at the same time, he’ll be in my life forever."
While Okorn says that Life in a Year was "made for Jaden," finding the right Isabelle wasn't as easy. And he admits with a laugh that he didn't even know who Delevingne was when her name was brought up for the role. He watched all of her movies and still wasn't sure she was the right choice. It wasn't until he went down a "YouTube rabbit hole" of her funniest moments on video that he saw the character of Isabelle in her.
"There's such an amazing energy coming from those videos. All night, I was just watching those videos and I was falling in love with Isabelle," Okorn says. "She’s funny, she has crazy, unpredictable energy, she drums, she can do everything. I was immediately like, 'Why is no one using her energy like that in movies?' It seems like she’s always being held back from the energetic, wild Cara [I saw]."
Okorn was relieved that Delevingne loved the script. But her love for the character went deeper than he expected. "She was like, 'This is awesome. I want to shave my head and my eyebrows,'" Okorn says. "And I was immediately like, 'Oh no, don't do the eyebrows! Your eyebrows are so special. What if they don't grow back the way you have them now? They probably are worth more than the whole movie if we would have to insure them!' But we liked that passion that she had."
Delevingne reveals that she "really wanted to embody her" fully when it came to shaving her hair. "I wanted to do as much as I could to do it authentically as much as I could," she says. "And during the whole process I actually got quite sick. I think that's the power of the mind; I was so wrapped up in every day thinking about life and death. I'm not a method actor but it really became all-encompassing; I had no hair, going to these hospitals all the time, it was a lot and I felt quite ill. I cried a lot and I felt depressed during the whole thing. It felt quite bleak but I still wanted to thrive and be on fire."
It's that heavy emotion that Okorn is most excited for people, especially young teenagers, to see. "This movie is going to be a first for, like, that 14-year-old who never saw Fault in Our Stars, who never saw Notebook, or Titanic, like we did, all those movies we cried over," he says. "When you’re 30, 40, 50, and you’ve seen 17 of those movies, it never touches you as much as the first one does. So while you might say, 'We’ve seen this [story] before,' we have to know that for a 14-year-old, they might never have seen something like this. And whoever likes a good tearjerker is going to love it too."
As for how much Kleenex viewers will need to watch? Delevingne laughs. "A lot!" she says. "Or just a shoulder to cry on or a pillow to scream into. But at the end, there are happy tears. There’s a beautiful message in this film. It is reality, it is life, and unfortunately, it’s what we have to face, especially now. 2020 has been a really, really mad year, and with things like illness, whether it's cancer, corona, or whether it's mental illness or addiction, it's these kind of times where we have to try and live life to the fullest. Life is going to hit you with a lot of struggle and so you're going to have to find the people you love and find the things you care about and live. That's what this movie teaches you, we only have a short amount of time on this planet so use it."
Check out the exclusive first trailer for Life in a Year above now, and get ready to cry.