It’s a distinct, defining, definitive moment when a soul rises above it all and becomes a star. Some people call it the star glow. For others, it’s the aura they exude: a rippling effect; the vibes change when they enter a room.
When it comes to Madelyn Cline, there are no mathematical formulas that can quite pinpoint the way she has been able to capture the zeitgeist. Her role in Netflix’s teen adventure drama Outer Banks, which quickly became one of the service’s most streamed shows (the third season premiered in February), sent her rollicking across the heights. The American Eagle deal followed suit. She had a short arc as Tina in the second season of Stranger Things. Her role in the winter blockbuster Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery was lauded by her fans and some more.
“I always thought acting was far-fetched, something that could happen,” she tells me, joining on a Zoom video call. “I was doing commercial work when I was younger, and that wasn’t a choice for a career move. I just enjoyed going to New York with my mum and friends because it was fun to spend the summer there. Acting was a far-out idea, and I didn’t know how to bridge that gap.”
Before she was scouted by a modelling agency at the age of eleven and made New York her home of sorts, the movie theatres that Cline was going to as a child were usually empty. This afforded her a kind of a private experience with her mother. It would make her feel things. The world of movies would humble her; she would leave the cinema halls in awe, in the afterglow of what could have been. The fantasy was strong — placing herself in the shoes of those roles, imagining how she would do justice to a particular story.
“One of my friends was obsessed with James Dean, so I’d pick his movies from the Lincoln Centre at the New York public library, fascinated with all these old movies I’d never heard about,” she says. “But the modern movies were no different because I remember watching Titanic and sobbing. I just wanted to be in the film world in any way possible.”
The dreams were closer. Beyond the commercial work, beyond the adverts and the smaller roles, Hollywood would open itself for her. And the moment manifested itself on the set of the dark comedy series Vice Principals.
“That was the first time I felt like, look, mom, I made it. I had a honey wagon with these little steps leading to the door and a star with my cast name on it. I felt I was hot shit and was so excited,” she says. “Every job has had its own milestones, but things really changed when Outer Banks happened.”
The Netflix show skyrocketed in ways she hadn’t expected. Not surprisingly, she found herself in the maelstrom of multiple dating rumours; she remembers a queue of sweet fans outside her hotel during the Glass Onion tour that stretched across multiple continents.
Then the anxieties surfaced.
“You see numbers, you see social media, and that in itself is wild, and it’s hard to fathom the love,” Cline says. “But there is yin and yang always. It’s like the shadow part of something that doesn’t reveal itself until the spotlight falls on it. I was, like, shit. I need to put my money where my mouth is. Outer Banks was amazing, so I thought, was it lightning in a bottle? Were we ever going to be able to recreate this?”
The cushion provided by the pandemic helped. From being the little girl in South Carolina, which is also where Outer Banks was filmed, wading into empty movie theatres and leafing through James Dean DVDs at the Lincoln centre, the world had suddenly expanded. Cline found newer ways of expressing herself, of putting herself out there. There was no point in hiding or retreating into a shell. After the Outer Banks paycheck, she famously purchased pretty much everything at Urban Outfitters.
During the world premiere of Glass Onion in Toronto, she was at her chicest best in a black lace Armani number with a peplum waist. She was papped wearing Jadon Boots by Dr Martens with another fan who also wore it. From her 2021 MTV Movie and TV Awards Versace red dress to the Mônot statement gown at the 2021 American Music Awards to an Armani Privé with a spaghetti strap top, fashion is an all-encompassing world for Cline.
“I’m normally in just my sweatpants and a t-shirt. But when I’m being styled for a red carpet appearance, I’m aware that it’s playing dress up. You put it on and feel like you’re dressing up for another character. Sometimes the boldest choices are often the best ones.”