“I’ve always read other people’s cover stories that start like this. ‘Having lunch with so-and-so at somewhere.’ Like, ‘She sits across from me and….’”
Madelyn Cline trails off as she slides into her seat, seeming to grasp what until recently felt unimaginable to the 25-year-old: She is now the so-and-so. (And I truly can’t resist, so yes, she is indeed sitting across from me in a booth with Pacific Ocean views at Malibu Farm, the kind of L.A. place you get after typing “beach aesthetic” into Instagram Explore.)
Unimaginable to her because just three years ago, she was still a literal unknown struggling to get auditions. Not too long before that, she was living out of her car. And then…“it” happened—that almost mythical Hollywood win.
For Madelyn, “it” went like this: Netflix hired her to costar in its 2020 teen adventure drama Outer Banks, which quickly became one of the service’s most streamed shows (season 3 premieres February 23). Then came an American Eagle deal. Then she was cast in this winter’s blockbuster mystery Glass Onion. And suddenly, she was all anyone could google.
Now she’s at lunch with that expression on her face. The one that comes from finally looking up and feeling almost shocked that you’re here. I recognize it because I’m wearing the same one—a few years ago, I wasn’t a person asking these kinds of “what’s it like to be one of the world’s most exciting new stars?” questions over salmon Nicoise salads either. So maybe we’re both soaking in the moment a little. I make one of those jokes that’s not actually a joke about how I’m writing down her exact outfit (cream-colored cropped turtleneck, matching puffer vest, black jeans, white sneakers, and a little bit of eyeliner from yesterday’s cover shoot that she couldn’t get off). She kids about what else I’m writing. At one point, she gets annoyed with a persistent fly, kills it with her bare hands, and slips into a serious magazine writer voice: “She killed a fly. She would hurt a fly.”
Once we really get into it though, we both move past the What This Moment Means shock, and Madelyn remains fully present—impressive eye contact, zero phone-scrolling breaks—and disarmingly nice (she is, in her own words, one “friendly motherfucker”). So nice, in fact, that she offers to split the check with me, even though it’s my literal job to pay the bill. I get the feeling this is the first and last time she’ll have to offer.
How did you unwind last night? It was a 10-hour shoot day and you spent a lot of it holding a 12-pound bowling ball. I’m tired just saying that.
I went home and made homemade Animal Style fries, like from In-N-Out. But when I put the fries in the oil, it was so hot, it just exploded. They were scorched on the outside and completely raw on the inside. And I had a couple of glasses of wine and watched Game of Thrones.
Well deserved, because you’ve had a wildly busy few months. The Glass Onion press tour looked like a lot. London! Toronto! Thailand! I was at the world premiere in Toronto—you looked beautiful, by the way.
Oh my god. That dress. It was funny because when I sat down on the stage for the Q&A, the dress ripped up the middle.1 So I was holding my clutch in front of my crotch. They offered me a microphone to answer a question and I was like, [shakes her head “no”]. Like, oh my god.2
1. The dress in question was a black lace Armani number with a peplum waist, and readers, it was incredibly chic, rip or no rip.
2. At this same premiere, a giddy Madelyn and costar Kathryn Hahn spent a lot of time holding hands. “Kathryn is a blanket,” she says. “A warm hug of a person, so fucking funny. I look at her and I’m like, I want to be like that. I want to speak with so much confidence but also like I don’t give a fuck.”
Wait, that’s hilarious. I didn’t notice! And speaking of press tours, you’re back at it, promoting the new season of Outer Banks. I mean…have you slept since September?
I was on the phone with my parents last night and they were asking about what my schedule’s going to be like. My dad was like, “I just can’t believe at 25, you’ve traveled to more places than every single person in your family combined.” Sometimes I get really overwhelmed. But then perspective comes and I’m just filled with gratitude.
You grew up, ironically, in South Carolina, near where you film Outer Banks. Did you have a life like your character Sarah Cameron’s?
When I was younger, my mom would take me downtown to hotel restaurants, which to me were really, really fancy. She would teach me table manners and how to order. Otherwise, I would have my nose buried in books that were about some crazy adventure teenage kids would go on, how they’d get lost along the way and find their best friends. I would finish and my heart would ache because I loved those characters so much.
When I was around 11 or 12, I got scouted by a model scout and my family went to New York for the summers so I could work. I started to save up for college, which I was really excited about because I was like, I’m helping my parents. I feel really proud of that.
Did you see modeling as something you wanted to do as a career? Or did you also want to act?
For a while, I didn’t know if I was going to pursue acting. I was young. But then I realized that there is this formula for life—you go to school, you go to college, you find someone you fall in love with, you find a job, you get married, you have kids, you live that out, and then you retire. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I just thought, How am I going to be a good parent to my kids if I haven’t learned, if I haven’t lived life, if I haven’t seen the world? I have things I have to do first.
So I auditioned for the Governor’s School, a boarding school for the arts. I can’t sing for shit, but I prepared “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It’s a tough one, but I was like, Well, I saw it on Glee, so I can definitely do it. That was mistake number one. Number two, I had to prepare a comedic and a dramatic monologue. I got done with the first one, and they stopped me and said, “This isn’t going to be a good fit for you or us.” I didn’t even make it through my audition.3
3. I sincerely hope Madelyn sent the Governor’s School a signed Glass Onion poster. But I know this “friendly motherfucker” is not vengeful enough for that.
Eventually, you booked Outer Banks. How did it feel to get your first big Netflix paycheck?
I went straight to Urban Outfitters. I was like, Oh my god, all the cool clothes are at Urban. I had money that I could spend for the first time—I went a little bit nuts. Later, my accountant sat me down and was like, “Look, if you keep spending like this, you’re going to be starting from scratch.”
I’ve heard stories about actors who realized there was a pay discrepancy between them and their costars years after the fact—do you talk openly with each other about that kind of thing?
4. Another thing about the Outer Banks costars? “We call each other on our shit,” Madelyn says. “Jonathan Daviss, who plays Pope on the show, is a big one for this. If I’m having a moment where I’m getting a little bit too in my head, he will be like, ‘Get it together. Look around. Look at life.’ We’ve been there for each other literally almost every single step of the way.”
Was there ever any question that you, personally, would return to Outer Banks for season 3? Because there were those rumors….
I remember getting tagged in something and I was like, I’m not returning for season 3? That’s the only time I’ve ever gone to social media and addressed a personal rumor. But when I did, I misspelled the word “grateful.” I was a glass of wine deep at that point, like, Okay, I have to delete this now. But there was never any question. I love Sarah, and I love this job.
Have you been able to take more of a role in your character’s development?
There was one scene after Sarah loses her virginity. In the script, it was written that she sits and looks in the mirror and kind of touches her face. Like she’s thinking, Am I different or more special now because someone gave this to me? And I remember thinking, It’s not a gift. This is something she’s chosen. When you make that call in an empowered way, as Sarah has, that’s her choice. I wanted Sarah to be more empowered than that.
That comes across in the episode. And it seems like the show’s romantic storylines have other connections to real life—you and Chase Stokes, who plays John B., dated for a year and then broke up in November 2021. Has it been awkward working together since then?
We always said that the job remains untouched. Nothing else, personal or negative, will touch the job. And while that’s not always easy, our job is to leave the show better than we found it, to leave the season better than we found it. And I’m really appreciative of that.
I imagine it’s weird to even be in a situation where you have to decide: Is this a thing I’m going to talk about publicly or is this a thing I’m going to keep to myself?
My thing is, I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I am a really private person. There’s a part of me that is for me and nobody else. But in hindsight, duh, making my relationship public made it everybody else’s business. And I realized the negative side effects of that while going through the breakup, realizing I had let people in and then felt like I couldn’t get anybody out. It just hit me like a freight train. I wanted us both to move on and be happy. People see the need for sides. There are no sides—there’s no winning or losing in a breakup.
Wise words. And I apologize for basically ignoring everything you just said about privacy, but on the off chance you’re interested in telling me…are you seeing anyone?
I am happily taken. All I know is he makes me incredibly happy. And I’ve truly never been happier, and I feel very, very empowered.5
5. Since Madelyn and Chase broke up, she’s been at the center of multiple dating rumors, but only one of them is real. I won’t name names, but if you want to do your own internet sleuthing, I shall not stop you!!
That’s so great.
Love is tight. And when you find something like that, you fight for that shit. And also, you fight to keep it yours, you know?
And you’re like, I’m not fucking this up. I refuse to fuck this up. And it changes your life in the most beautiful way.
Yeah, it does. I’m probably blushing right now.
Okay, I’ll stop! And do a conversational pivot into safer territory. You had a quick arc on Stranger Things as Tina in season 2. If you were asked to go back for the final season, would you do it?
One thousand percent. I was really intimidated being on that show. And when I wrapped, Natalia Dyer and Joe Keery were in the makeup trailer, and I was saying goodbye, and Joe came up and gave me the biggest hug. And Charlie Heaton was really sweet. I doubt they even remember, but it stuck with me. I just remember feeling like, I don’t feel like so much of an outsider here. Now, on Outer Banks, I want to re-create that for everyone.
Do you still get intimidated by your peers?
I saw Seth Rogen at an awards show and I was starstruck. I went up to him and said, “Hi, I’m so fucking sorry, I’m a huge fan. I love you and love literally everything you do.” And I made him laugh. I made Seth Rogen laugh. I can die happy. I mean, it might have been a pity laugh. But I’ll take it.6
6. Yes, we do currently have an email out to Seth Rogen to see if he remembers the joke. Watch this space.
And now you’re a person who makes other people feel starstruck! Did you know that there is a whole trend on TikTok called Madelyn Cline Lips?7 What’s your product regimen?
I love a lip scrub. I also do lip contour. It creates a shadow and makes them look more full. But also, I got a lot of my features from my granddad. Thanks, Pop-Pop!
7. For the uninitiated, fans try to imitate Madelyn’s lips by using lash glue to flip up their top lip. It’s honestly equal parts genius and concerning.
And that brings us back to where we started, with your family. How do your parents feel now about your decision to pursue acting?
I first moved out here and it was like that Frances McDormand line from Almost Famous, “Rock stars have kidnapped my son.” But now they’re stoked. When I was younger, I would read magazines and look at those girls and think, She’s so lucky. She gets to travel. She gets to do what she loves. Now I’m on the other side of it and I’m thinking about what my reaction as a 16-year-old would have been. It’s always fun to talk about the ride getting here. Even though it was tough, I look at it really fondly. And I live for having stories to tell.
Stylist: Cassie Anderson. Hair: Ted Gibson for Starring by Ted Gibson. Makeup: Jen Tioseco using Dior Beauty. Manicure: Zola Ganzorigt using OPI. Fashion assistant: Danielle Flum. Tailor: Irina Shishko. Production: Crawford & Co Productions.
Emma Baty is the Senior Entertainment Editor at Cosmopolitan, where she shapes TV, movie and music coverage, writes celebrity profiles, edits stories across both print and digital, and generally obsesses over all things pop culture. Prior to this role, she worked as Cosmopolitan.com’s News Writer, writing celebrity news stories daily and covering live events like the Oscars. Originally from Grand Haven, Michigan, she currently lives in Brooklyn.