There’s a tattoo on the bottom of supermodel Cara Delevingne’s left foot that says Made in England. In 2013–the year she was the most Googled person in fashion–Delevingne developed psoriasis from the stress of her nonstop schedule, an unfortunate disease for someone whose day job requires looking flawless for brands like Burberry and Chanel. “I felt like a puppet that people could just use how they wanted,” the 22-year-old says of the tattoo’s inspiration. “I thought, I’m going to die doing this.”
Taking better care of herself meant focusing on her passion for acting, and Delevingne quickly scored roles in a number of projects, including the coveted part of Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns. The latest adaptation of a best-selling young-adult novel by John Green, Paper Towns kicks off when Margo, a popular high school senior whose reputation for grand adventures is the stuff of local legend, whisks longtime admirer Quentin (Nat Wolff) away on a high-jinks-filled revenge campaign against the classmates who’ve wronged her. When she goes missing the next day, Quentin begins to decipher the clues she left behind and embarks on a road trip to find her–only to realize he doesn’t know his crush as well as he thought he did.
The last Green adaptation, 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars, grossed $307 million worldwide and helped turn lead actor Shailene Woodley into a star. The more lighthearted Paper Towns, out July 24, could make a leading lady out of Delevingne, who’s already one of fashion’s most influential figures, with more than 40 magazine covers to her name. Thanks to her unfiltered Instagram presence (15.7 million people watch her pal around with Taylor Swift and Rihanna) and lack of self-seriousness (she’ll show up at events in animal onesies), she’s credited with bringing back the golden age of supermodels–when Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista ruled, and Hollywood starlets hadn’t yet replaced them as fashion magazines’ go-to cover stars.
That’s not what scored Delevingne the role, however–director Jake Schreier barely knew who she was when she auditioned. Because Margo’s vanishing act limits her screen time, he needed an actor magnetic enough to be missed. “When Cara leaves a room,” Schreier says, “you feel the lack.”
Audiences will have plenty more opportunities to discover Delevingne’s charisma for themselves. She’s currently filming DC Comics’ Suicide Squad, and in December she’ll begin work on Luc Besson’s sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Few models have succeeded in the jump to acting, but Delevingne is determined to bust the cliché. “Everyone tried to typecast [me] as the dumb blonde or the girl who gets killed,” she says. “I take what roles I do very seriously. I always want to portray a strong female.”
This appears in the August 03, 2015 issue of TIME.