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5 January 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 5:27am

“I’m a worrier, and this is my outlet”: Jessie Cave on the art of anxiety

The Harry Potter actress talks romantic relationships, controversial castings, and her one-woman show, I Loved Her.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Anxiety and obsession are themes that unite all of Jessie Cave’s work: from her best-known acting role as Lavender Brown, Ron Weasley’s comically fervent love interest in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, to her collection of illustrations on relationships, Love Sick, and her webseries Bookworm, Waiting Room and Chop Logic. Her one-woman show, I Loved Her, is no different.

She speaks to me between the gym (“I’ve just been on the treadmill, so I look like a tomato,”) and a family outing with her siblings to see the new Star Wars, while her mum babysits her toddler. Tonight, Cave will be performing on stage at the Soho Theatre. In her own words, it’s “stand-up, but not really stand-up”, as she uses homemade puppets to delve into her romantic life, and the anxieties that come with it.

Cave met her boyfriend, fellow comic Alfie Brown, through a one-night stand. It was only after she realised she was pregnant that they started seeing each other: “kind of like Knocked Up”. Cave went from having never been in a relationship before, to suddenly having a baby with a new boyfriend. I Loved Her explores the angst that change sparked in her.

“I couldn’t get over his past, because he’s a bit of a slut. So as I was pregnant, and as I was falling in love with him, that opened up this massive can of worms for me, psychologically. It’s an incredibly cathartic, and a bit like my diary on stage.”

The show, which sees Cave explore unhealthy patterns of intense jealousy and Instagram stalking, was praised for its sincerity and originality when it opened in Edinburgh last summer, and has had two sold-out runs in London since. “I did it purely because I thought it was worth being honest about these things,” Cave explains. “Because people don’t talk about it! People don’t talk about stalking online, people don’t talk about being obsessed with their boyfriends’ exes, at least publically, because it’s embarrassing and slightly humiliating. And everyone does it. And it became such a part of my daily life that I thought, I just I have to.”

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A photo posted by JeSsIe CaVE (@jessiecave) on

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One of Brown’s exes particularly caught Cave’s imagination. “She’s amazing. And I can’t get over the fact that he can have loved her and then… that’s it. How can that love just disappear? And that’s the nature of love, it can go on in different ways, and that’s okay.” She pauses. “But I would prefer it if he was physically repulsed by all of his exes and hated them.”

It’s this ex that forms the centre of the show. “She actually came to an early preview when I had called her a different name. But it was so clearly about her, that afterwards I went up to her, after having really never spoken to her and after her having seen me just do an hour about her, and I was like, ‘Is it ok if I just call her your name?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine!’ I don’t think she actually thought I would. It’s just very awkward.” Did she enjoy the show? “Oh, I ran away after, which is typical of me. We didn’t chat about it.”

For Cave and Brown, talking about their personal lives on stage sometimes inevitably means talking about each others’. While Cave says that there are no awkward conversations about that any more (“It’s just a given now”) there have been in the past. “Before we were together at all, when I was pregnant, he made a joke on-stage about the baby’s name. And it got back to me, and everyone was like, ‘He can’t do that, he actually can’t do that, you’ve got to stop him.’ But I was just like, ‘That’s so cool! He’s talking about me!’”

It’s a line that sounds like it could have come straight from the mouth of Cave’s Harry Potter character. Her casting seems natural, but was controversial at the time: Cave entered the series for the fifth film, and until that point, the character of Lavender Brown had been portrayed as black. Questions of race in mainstream casting have popped up again in recent weeks, as Noma Dumezweni, a black actress, will play Hermione in the London stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

“I first heard about the play because my sister [Bebe Cave, an actress who recently appeared in the BBC’s Cider with Rosie] auditioned for it, which I thought was really funny. Imagine if she’d played Lavender. Immediately, I was like ‘No. You are not auditioning for that! That’s mine!’

“But I think it’s great, they had to do something different. It would be so boring if they’d cast someone who looks exactly like Emma Watson. It’s so boring seeing the same people on stage, on screen all the time, and it has to change. I’m done with it.”

On her own casting, she adds, “Of the five girls that were screen tested for Lavender, out of 7,000, each of us was completely different looking. I was cast because the right fit for Rupert [Grint], it wasn’t because they wanted to cast someone blonde and white, it was because I was the right person for the role. And [Dumezweni] has been cast because she’s the right person for the role. She’s good, that’s why she’s got the job.”

Cave seems undecided about whether I Loved Her is acting in the same way. On the one hand, it is, because she’s not gripped by the same intense jealousy as she once was. “Having a baby has been such a great thing – obviously because he’s my baby, and I love him, and I’ve made a human, and that’s completely amazing – but it’s also amazing because it’s cured me of my ridiculous internet obsessions and paranoia and lifestyle. When I was single and living alone, a huge part of my day was online, and that’s the norm for so many people. But now my stalking and obsessions and neuroses I have to kind of minimise to five minutes a day when he’s not looking at me.”

 

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A photo posted by JeSsIe CaVE (@jessiecave) on

If I Loved Her is a performance (“I’m an actress, and it is me acting”), it doesn’t feel like one because it’s so deeply personal. “I really transport immediately back to who I was a year ago. I am being totally honest on stage. It’s so funny when people say, ‘Oh my god, that character you do! It’s like amazing! It’s so anxious and worried!’ And I’m like, ‘That’s not a character. It’s definitely not a character.’ I’m just an anxious person, and I’m a worrier, and this is my outlet.”

Cave never feels restricted to just one outlet: jumping between illustrations, acting roles, and writing with ease. “That’s why the show has been so lovely. It’s a mixture of acting and drawing and comedy, it summarises my development, and where I am now.

And where will she be tomorrow? “I want to make a film, which I feel is my next step. But I think whatever I do will include some form of drawing and some form of comedy… and some form of anxiety.”

I Loved Her is on at the Soho Theatre from 5th-9th January.