Rebecca Van Cleave on Star Wars, Game of Thrones and not reading the comments section
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ve seen British-American actress Rebecca Van Cleave before (trust us, you have). At Exit 6, we first got to see her as the star of James Webber’s The Prey which screened at our launch party back in 2016. Since then she’s continued her career as an actress, producer, model, and singer-songwriter with Ophelia. Not to mention ‘creature and droid puppeteer’.
Hello Rebecca, thanks for chatting to us today. Going to have to start with the ‘creature and droid puppeteer’ on Star Wars, because that’s a credit I think we all want. Can you tell us about the work you did there, or did Disney have you sign your own body-weight in NDA’s?
Haha, only half my body weight, but I think I can probably chat a little bit about it. I was lucky enough to be a part of the amazing CFX crew on The Last Jedi. I was brought in a bit later in filming, so only had a few days on set, but it was just the coolest thing to be a small part of. Getting to go into the workshops and seeing the work and detail that goes into making each individual creature. Neal and the team are just incredible at what they do. And getting to add a new skill to my belt was really great too. I did a few days of training with Paul Kasey, who helped us with movement and sensory deprivation. When you’re in the masks, most of the time, you can’t see or hear (or sometimes even breathe) very well, especially if they’re animatronic, so we have puppeteers in our ears giving us direction and guiding us. It was a really bizarre feeling at first, having all of your senses cut off and having to totally trust another human to keep you safe, but I was lucky enough to have Patrick Comerford in my ear for my first time in the mask and he was just fantastic to work with and made me feel calm and looked after.
I think my favourite part of working with the Creature team is the massive sense of camaraderie that comes with it. Everyone really is such a team and they all work together seamlessly to create this incredible universe. When you’re working so closely with people on set, you always end up making little film families, but this one really feels like a family. When Ophelia had our album launch show in London, a lot of the Creature puppeteers came out and were sitting front row, dancing along. They’re just the loveliest people. It really meant the world to me to see them there.
I, like so many, grew up with the original Star Wars films and adored them, so to be a tiny part of this amazing, vast universe is a really special thing.
A lot of the Star Wars films are shot here in England, which is where you were born but not where you were raised - Virginia in the United States. Can you tell us how you’ve found pursuing your career back here in the UK and how things might have been different in the US?
To be honest, in a weird way, even though I spent most of my life in the States, coming back to England felt like coming home. I had a massive turning point in my life about 6 years ago, which really knocked me for six and made me realise life was too short to do anything but go after your dreams with everything you have. I knew I had to make a big change. It was always either going to be LA or London. Everything was pointing to LA - I had just bought a car, I knew people I could stay with, flights back home were easier, it’s sunny all the time, etc etc... but my heart kept saying London and I couldn’t ignore it.
It’s hard to say what would have happened if I had chosen to stay in the States. I’d like to think I would have succeeded in LA, but I guess we’ll never know. I was at such a transitional point in my life when I moved, super naive and starry eyed, I worry I might have been seduced by Hollywood wolves and mirages. The universe was obviously looking after me.
I was fortunate enough to make friends with some fantastic people, both in and out of the industry in London, who were grounding and real and genuine and helped me find my feet again. From there, I worked hard and took every opportunity I could. The UK has such a fantastic film industry and I’ve been very fortunate to work on a lot of different productions with so many incredibly talented people. There were good days and bad days of course, but I’m forever grateful I chose to move to the UK. I feel like I really found myself here and it’s home now.
That being said, I definitely would not be opposed to a few months in LA in the near future. I went a couple years ago for pilot season and the Golden Globes and absolutely loved it. I think, now that I have a few years under my belt and am a little less starry eyed, I’d be ready for it.
When you’re in the US, what do you miss about the UK? And when you’re in the UK, what do you miss about the US? Other than friends and family, that’s too easy…
OK so... what I miss about the UK: the food (it actually tastes real here), the culture, the architecture, the NHS, the chocolate, the dry humour, the commercials... basically everything but the weather. England is definitely home and I love it.
What I miss about the US: the sunshine, the positivity, being able to drive down big country roads in Virginia, the music scene... and of course friends and family. That’s the main one for America.
You found your creative tribe in London with filmmakers such as James Webber, who wrote and directed short film The Prey, which has had great success on Blumhouse’s Crypt TV. You also went on to produce his short film Hushy Bye (where we had a caffeine-fueled chat during a tough one-night shoot). How have you found working on both sides of the camera, and which do you prefer?
Oh that night shoot! Ha. That was a very sleep deprived night. I think you caught me when the caffeine was actually still working...
Yes, James is a dear friend and brilliant colleague I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with on a few projects. After we did The Prey, I joined their company The Springhead Film Company as a producer. I think, as an actor, you should really understand all aspects of the business you work in, so it’s been great learning and working behind the scenes as well. You begin to really understand how much work goes into making a film and I think it makes you that much more appreciative of those moments when you get to step in front of the camera. I enjoy both sides and intend to do more producing in the future, but if I had to pick one, it would be acting.
In terms of accomplishments in front of the camera, you featured in one of Game of Throne’s most memorable scenes, as Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey’s) body double during her infamous walk of shame. That must have been a challenging experience for you, particularly with the attention that followed the episode’s airing. Can you tell us how you got involved and your experience of it all?
It was a challenging four days, three in Croatia and one in Belfast to shoot the whole sequence, but I think the attention afterwards was probably harder than the actual walk to be honest. It’s a very bizarre feeling having your life picked apart and your body dissected by strangers online. That was my least favourite part, but on the whole, it was an incredible experience.
My agent submitted me for the role and I was chosen, along with a few other actresses, to go to Belfast and audition with the director David Nutter. The audition was really more of psychological evaluation - you know, does she have what it takes mentally to do this or is she going to get up there on the day and change her mind. I had a nice long chat with David and Maria, we talked through what would be expected of me, my acting background, the character, they let me ask any questions and then I did an audition for camera. A few weeks later I was in Dubrovnik.
D&D [David Benioff & D.B Weiss], David Nutter, Olly, Maria, Mara and the whole crew took care of me so much during that filming period. I could not have asked for a better team. And Lena is just lovely. And a brilliant actress. I learnt so much from her and feel very fortunate to have been able to work with her so closely during that time.
The actual shooting days were really physically and mentally demanding, but I got to work with one of the best crews in the world. And that will always be a fond memory that keeps me working hard, so that I can, hopefully one day, be in a production of that level again. It’s a really magical, inspiring thing to witness - people all at the top of their game, creating seamlessly with each other for ten years. The level of detail that goes into a production of that size just blows my mind and I feel really lucky to have been a part of it all.
What advice would you give any actress considering taking on a similarly challenging role?
Firstly, make sure you know what you’re getting into and really want it... and want it for the right reasons. I never thought I would be up for doing what I did, I had never done a nude scene before and I had never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. But when I read the casting brief, it lit this little fire in my core. I had to do it. I can’t really describe why, but I knew I had to. So I emailed my agent and then I sat with it for a few days, and I played out all the options in my head. What my audition would be, what it feel like to do the walk, step by step, what my family and partner might think... every question that could possibly trip me up, I had answered, so that by the time I did the audition and by the time my first day in Dubrovnik came, I was just ready to put myself into the role. Of course it was nerve wracking, but not as bad as it could have been because I really knew what I was getting into. I had all the answers and I was fully prepared.
Secondly, just go for it. If you’re going to do something as challenging and demanding as that you might as well put all of you into it. Don’t hold back. You’ll regret it later.
Thirdly, enjoy every moment. I know that sounds weird to say, but really try to take in everything. You’re getting to do what you love. Write it all down. Some of my favourite memories from Dubrovnik are things I would have totally forgotten had I not kept a journal. It’ll be the little things that you remember the most, so be fully there and take it all in.
And lastly, if you do happen to make international headlines, stay away from the comment sections of newspapers and blogs. Haha.
More recently, you’ve been road-tripping, recording and touring with Ophelia – a different kettle of fish entirely. Along with your partner, Samuel Taylor, you’ve laid down tracks in Nashville and Los Angeles, and released your first album. How does all this work compare with your film work? Is there any crossover at all?
Ophelia has been such a breath of fresh air and really is a totally different experience to acting. As much as I try to be pro-active about creating acting opportunities for myself, sometimes, as we all know, you go through dry spells. As artists, you always have this fire in you that’s desperate to create, and so mentally, when you have no outlet for that you can feel a bit stuck. Having the band with Sam has been so brilliant as it allows me to keep creating without having to wait for anyone else. I get the best of both worlds and I get to work alongside and travel the world with my best friend, so that’s been fantastic. We put out our debut album Blackbox Memories in January and we’re BBC Introducing’s Artist of the Week this week, so it’s all pretty exciting for the band right now. Film wise, we’ve made a few music videos, which I’ve produced and we’ve both acted in, so I guess there’s a bit of crossover there. Who knows what the future will hold. I’m bound to secrecy currently, but I can tell you there are some pretty exciting crossover things on the horizon that will reveal themselves in the coming months...
And finally, if you could win an Oscar or a Grammy – which would it be?
Oh please don’t make me choose! Haha. Um... well I’ve been watching the Academy Awards since I was a little girl so I guess, if I had to pick, it would be an Oscar. Although, that being said, my friend Philip and I have had a friendly EGOT [Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony] battle going since we both left Virginia, so if we could just add an Emmy and Tony to this equation, I’ll take all four please.
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter: @Rebeccajoean
For more information about Rebecca visit her website.
To check out Ophelia visit their official website.