Suicide Squad is not only going to be an unusual superhero movie because it features no actual heroes — its cast of villains and ne’er-do-wells are the self-proclaimed “worst heroes ever” — but also because it’s banking one of its most important roles on an unseasoned model. The Enchantress, otherwise known as the probable villain of the film, will be played by supermodel Cara Delevingne, whose IMDb résumé includes just one major film role prior to Suicide Squad.
Before you scorn her as weak tea or leap to her defense that models can be great, let’s look at this scientifically and evaluate some other recent models-turned-actors.
1. Travis Fimmel
Travis Fimmel was the first male model to score a six-figure deal with Calvin Klein. You’ve probably seen him adorning a billboard or nine, lounging around in his underwear, giving Thor some hair competition. Must be a total lightweight as an actor, right?
Wrong. Fimmel is the heart and soul of Vikings, anchoring it with his particular brand of kinetic, twitchy-eyed energy and mischievous smirks. His character, Ragnar, might be a one-note stalwart hero type if it weren’t for Fimmel’s show-making and fearlessly weird performance that includes sassy gestures at unexpected moments. If you think models can’t be expressive beyond that vague glassy-eyed expression, look again.
2. Caitriona Balfe
I think you know where this is going. Much as Fimmel does on Vikings, Balfe anchors Outlander with her energetic presence and steely-eyed strength. Showrunner Ron Moore has specifically said the Outlander protagonist was the toughest role to cast because the actress must be “someone you can watch think.” Balfe had no easy task appearing in nearly every scene, but she knocked it out of the ballpark and scored herself a Golden Globe nod in the process.
3. Jamie Dornan
Former underwear model Jamie Dornan’s record is a bit harder to judge. In BBC drama The Fall, his performance is gripping: chillingly understated with just the right mixture of charm and creepiness as a family man serial killer. There was also that time he appeared in Fifty Shades of Grey, however, and played Christian Grey — supposedly the sexiest character who ever sexed — with all the charisma of a constipated mannequin trying to imitate human behavior. We’ll give him a pass because few actors could have done much with that; the role called for nothing less than a balls-to-the-wall performance along the lines of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending or James McAvoy in Victor Frankenstein or Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing.
Dornan clearly doesn’t have it in him to Nicolas-Cage it up, which is a strike against him. But he plays understated well, so we’ll put him in the middle of the models-turned-actors crop.
4. Kate Upton
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton tried her hand at falling in love with Jaime Lannister in the tedious romantic comedy The Other Woman. Granted, this wasn’t supposed to be an Oscar contender, but plenty of rom-coms manage to feature charming performances. This was not one. She should stick to lounging on the beach in inexplicable parkas.
5. Tyrese Gibson
Before he became a singer and an actor, Gibson was a model for Guess and Tommy Hilfiger. His real star turn, however, was in 2 Fast 2 Furious, a highly underrated edition of the Furious franchise. He won’t be winning any awards, but for one movie, he sort of made you forget about Vin Diesel. Take from that what you will.
6. Clara Paget
Paget has modeled for Burberry and Gucci, generally looking classy and high-end. But she disappears into the role of the feral, taciturn pirate Anne Bonny on Black Sails so thoroughly, it would be easy to forget it. Her performance could easily be the requisite “tough woman,” but she shows as much vulnerability as she does snarling violence. She hasn’t done much else to judge, but it’s a win for now.
7. Djimon Hounsou
Hounsou was both a runway model and a Calvin Klein model before he switched to acting. Needless to say, it’s been a success. He gets the most acclaim for Blood Diamond, but forget that a moment: If he didn’t bring a tear to your eyes with his final line in Gladiator, you have a colder heart than Commodus. Are you not entertained?
As far as models-turned-actors go, if Cara Delevingne wants to be in the “success” column, she will be in better company than you might think. Most of these models aren’t skating by on their looks but on genuine talent. So long as she strays aways from phoning it in or a performance that plays up the model stereotype, and she instead keeps it weird, Suicide Squad and the Enchantress might actually be in good hands.