Cailee Spaeny's childhood dream of being on the Disney Channel never came true, but rest assured you'll be seeing the 22-year-old actress on television soon. Director Alex Garland cast her on the spot for his upcoming show, Devs, putting her in the She just finished up shooting—and cutting her hair off for—Devs, a new, still mysterious series by director Alex Garland, who cast her practically on the spot. (And that's no small endorsement; among the Annihilation and Ex Machina director's past choices in leading actresses are Alicia Vikander and Natalie Portman.) And now, Spaeny's also set to lead the reboot of The Craft. Spaeny's already proved that she's cut out for stardom: Last year, when she made her breakthrough, she starred opposite John Boyega in Pacific Rim Uprising; worked alongside Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex; and cozied up to Chris Hemsworth in Bad Times at the El Royale. (Though unfortunately, their kissing scene didn't make the cut.) Here, Spaeny shares what went on behind the scenes with Hemsworth and what to expect from Devs.
Tell me about making out with Chris Hemsworth. I think the world wants to know.
I was on the shoot for Bad Times at the El Royale, and I still hadn't met him. He played a cult leader, and I was his devoted follower. I knew he was on set that day, , so I kept asking the producers, "Can I meet him? You know, we have that kissing scene today, can I please meet him?" And of course they kept saying "No, it's not a good time," right up until the last minute when we were on our marks. So we were about to make out, and I was like, "How many kids do you have? Oh, you have three kids." And then they'd call "action" and we would make out, and then I would be like, "So, how's life in Australia?" He was really nice, but it was super-awkward, and they ended up dropping the scene from the film.
Cailee Spaeny and Chris Hemsworth in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018).
Where was your first kiss in real life?
It was behind a motel, with a guy that I'd broken up with because I wasn't into him at all. But he still was into me. I was 16 and we were hanging out in his car—I was actually making him run lines with me. And then I was just kind of tired of not having my first kiss, so I was like, Okay this guy's really into me—I guess we're just gonna get it out of the way. So I told him that we were having our first kiss, and then he put on a song by 21 Pilots and we did.
I like that he had mood music.
Yeah, he was ready for it. He was like, "I know just the song." And then I remember that about a year later I had moved to LA and he wrote a song about me. It goes something like, "Okay Cailee, you have your dreams, used to be you and me / Oh Cailee, the next time I see you is up on the movie screen." It's actually really catchy. It didn't work, but it was a really good song. And it was really sweet.
What was the first CD that you bought?
The first One Direction album. I love Harry Styles, he’s so cute. I had a super big crush. One Direction was also my first concert. I remember getting on the seats because I couldn't see—and I didn't have amazing tickets, either—and the security guards almost kicked me out. I guess I was being a little too reckless—I kept screaming and jumping on the seat. They were probably like, She's gonna break her legs, so they told me off.
I'm sure it's top secret, but what can you tell me about the show you're on, Devs?
Just like all of Alex Garland's projects, it's super smart and way over my head. It has to do with the multiverse and a tech company, and all the shady stuff that goes on behind the scenes of the tech company—the name is short for "development." I got a call that Alex Garland wanted to meet with me—and I'm such a fan of Ex Machina. It was just going to be a meeting, and then late on the night before, he said, "Actually, I want to see you read." Once my agents told me that I rushed home and went straight to the audition, and it turned out he didn't see anybody else for it—he cast me almost right away.
Did he tell you that you'd have to cut off your hair for the role?
Yeah. I was supposed to shave it actually and then it turned into this, which I was cool. But I was always down.
Would you have shaved it?
For sure. And I think I have a role coming up where I might have to shave my hair, so I think I’m going to. I dig it—I'm so into having no hair.
Do you have any superpowers in the show?
Well, I know quantum physics, which is kind of like a superpower. I'm just really, really smart.
What was your first real audition?
It was for a Disney channel show. It was also the first time that I drove into Hollywood and was like, Okay I'm in Hollywood now. And then I had to eat a carrot in the audition and the lady was like, "This is gonna work out for you." And then there were four years of no's, and then and then it finally stuck.
Did you have a go-to outfit for your auditions?
Yeah—anything that was on the sale rack at the mall. Whatever the character was, I'd just try to find super simple t-shirts or dresses.
What was the first thing that you booked?
Pacific Rim Uprising. I flew out to L.A. for the audition and walked into the room, and there was John Boyega. We had to improv some scenes, and I didn't know what to do but I just had to go with it, and then about a week later, I booked it. I had bad service in my house, which was where I got the call, so I was pacing up and down my neighborhood when my agents told me I got it. My whole family came out onto the front lawn and was crying, and I was running around the neighborhood calling everyone I knew.
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon
The working title of our show was not Fosse/Verdon—it was just Fosse, but then the producers got smart. They realized that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse were romantic and creative partners who remained entangled until the end of his life. It was the right time, in 2019, to make a show about a partnership. It was also the first time that I’ve had pay parity with a male costar and equal space to voice my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything like it. Since I felt completely supported, I could jump higher and take more risks.
You started acting as a child. Did you find that people treated you—and continue to treat you—in a diminishing way?
Absolutely. When you’re physically small, when men hug you, they pick you up off the floor. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What’s your favorite Fosse musical?
Cabaret. When I performed the song “Maybe This Time” [on Broadway, in 2014], it never didn’t get to me. I’m sad that I’ll never sing it again. Musicals are deep in me: When I did a tap dance for Fosse/Verdon, I realized it returned me to this very primal love, before anything negative was associated with acting, work, or identity. I felt like I was a little girl. It was a genuine moment of joy.
Williams wears a Louis Vuitton turtleneck, skirt, belt, and boots.
Who was your cinematic crush growing up?
Joe Jonas. I had the Rolling Stone cover of all three of them with Joe in the middle, like, pulling on his white t-shirt. He was hot stuff.
Is that why you wanted to be on a Disney show?
Oh yeah, I mean, every kid who was 13 years old wanted to be on Disney Channel. All I wanted to do was the little "I'm on Disney channel" with the wand—that was my dream. I even remember calling my agents being like, can you put me in the background of this Disney movie coming up? And they're like no and then a month after I booked a lead in Pacific Rim but I was begging just to be in background. I was like, "Please, I just want to be on a set. I just wanna be part of something bigger". And they were just like, "Shut up."
But you don't seem very Disney to me—and I mean that as a compliment.
Well, it didn't work. Every audition I went to, I would take everything too seriously. I'd make it super dramatic and want to cry in the middle of a scene. I was basically turning a Disney scene into an indie film, which wasn't what they wanted at all.
What was your favorite movie growing up?
It was Wizard of Oz. 'Cause I'm from Missouri and my grandparents are from Kansas so every summer we'd go to the Kansas State Fair and their thing was Wizard of Oz, obviously and I dressed up as Dorothy for every other Halloween and every talent show I sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I actually played Dorothy in my small town theater. You can check that out on YouTube on your down time. It's pretty good.
What's your karaoke song?
"Hit Me With Your Best Shot," by Pat Benatar. I'm super into rock music. When I was 11 years old, I was in a rock cover band with like five other boys called NRG, like "energy"—we thought that was super clever. We covered Pat Benatar and Joan Jett and Pink—all the really true punk girls, like Hayley Williams from Paramore, were my idols.
What was your favorite birthday?
My favorites were always the ones when I'd drive out to L.A. in the summer. It was a 25-hour drive from Springfield, Missouri, where I grew up, but those were the best. Just being in L.A. was the dream.
Did you stay at the Oakwood?
No, I couch hopped—that's how you really do it. One time my mom, my two siblings, and I didn't have a spot to stay so I just randomly messaged the group chat that this family I met at a church had put me. Someone else in it told us we could stay with their family, and we ended up staying there for four months.
Four months, with a family that we didn't know at all. The kids spoke English, but the parents barely did. There were two cots and an air mattress, and then a shared bathroom, which is where I learned my lines, if no one else was there. That was an experience.
Related: The Climax of Alex Garland's Annihilation Is Actually a Natalie Portman Dance Performance
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