With ‘Outer Banks’ and now ‘Glass Onion,’ Madelyn Cline is a certified Netflix star
Madelyn Cline has no idea how she became a Netflix star.
The 24-year-old actor and model from South Carolina made her Netflix debut in 2017 with a small speaking part in the second season of “Stranger Things” before landing her breakout role in one of the streaming giant’s most successful teen dramas, “Outer Banks.”
Now, she appears in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” — the highly anticipated sequel to Rian Johnson’s surprise-hit whodunit from 2019. The latest installment in the “Knives Out” franchise, which Netflix recently purchased, raked in more than $13 million during its extremely limited theatrical release and has even sparked some early Oscar buzz.
“I’ve worked really, really hard, but at the same time I feel like ... a lot of it’s been really, really serendipitous,” Cline said of her mounting Netflix fame. “I’m just really filled with gratitude to be where I am.”
In “Glass Onion,” Cline portrays Whiskey — the publicly antifeminist girlfriend and business partner of Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), a prominent men’s rights YouTuber. Like her character, Cline stands out as a relative newcomer among an ensemble of seasoned professionals who are further into their lives and careers.
A self-professed “Knives Out” fan, Cline had just booked an audition for a similar project when she was invited via email to read for the role of Whiskey in Johnson’s follow-up.
“I stared at [the email] for a minute because I couldn’t really believe what I was looking at,” Cline told The Times at the Los Angeles premiere of “Glass Onion” last month.
“In my head, I was like, ‘There’s nobody that does it like Rian. If I’m gonna do a whodunit, I want to do it with Rian.’”
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An audition, a couple of callbacks and a director’s session later, Cline got the call from Johnson offering her the part.
At the “Glass Onion” premiere, Johnson told The Times that he was the most surprised by Cline because he knew the least about her and was unfamiliar with her previous work.
“I’ve been telling all my filmmaker friends, ‘She’s really something special,’” the writer-director said. “She is such a gifted comic actor.”
“We watched some of her work on [‘Outer Banks’] and said, ‘Wow, she’s really good,’” producer Ram Bergman said. “And then we read her, and she was awesome.... What she did is the role.”
The second chapter of the “Knives Out” saga follows a chaotic, morally corrupt group of old friends who reunite for a lavish murder-mystery party on a private island in Greece. While tagging along as Duke’s guest, Whiskey inevitably ends up getting sucked into the posse’s festering drama and witnessing some shocking events.
Cline plays the role of the young, carefree plus-one to the rafters — yawning conspicuously, squinting off into space, fidgeting with her hair, draping herself over the host and downing drinks while the other vacationers squabble and peacock around the island. When the plot takes a dramatic turn, she dials it up a notch — pointing fingers, shouting accusations and sobbing hysterically.
“Any time there was a shot that she was even in the background of, you can watch her, and there’s like a whole other movie going on,” Johnson said. “She’s figuring out ideas and playing comic beats back there. She was just constantly cracking me up, so ... I’m really excited to see where she goes next. She’s got so much potential.”
“There’s nothing better [than] to discover people, and when they deliver, it’s the best feeling,” Bergman said. “She delivered, and ... I think she’s gonna end up being a big star.”
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As the twisty story unfolds, it becomes clear that there is more to Whiskey than meets the eye and that she — like everyone on the island — has an agenda of her own. Cline related Whiskey’s character arc to one of the film’s central themes: “Peeling back the layers of an onion, if you will.
“What was really fun about Whiskey was finding what game she was playing in the midst of everything going on around her,” she added.
“Kate [Hudson] said it best. She said, ‘It’s the joy of playing innocent and guilty at the same time and finding moments that you can play with within that.’ And Rian was always so open to us playing around with ideas and giving more and more and more.... It was truly such a playful, wonderful, creative environment.”
Cline’s scene-stealing performance in “Glass Onion” couldn’t have arrived at a better time for her or Netflix, which is set to release the third season of “Outer Banks” in February. (Cline accidentally revealed that tidbit at a London screening of “Glass Onion” before her publicist swooped in and changed her answer to “next year.”)
“I spoiled something last time I did this,” she said when asked by The Times for an update on Season 3. “So I will shut my mouth.”
A rare Netflix original that debuted during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and evaded cancellation, “Outer Banks” stars Cline as a rich “kook” who forms an unlikely alliance and falls in love with a poor “pogue” on the severely class-divided barrier islands of North Carolina.
The first two seasons of the series were especially popular among Gen-Z viewers, thanks in large part to Cline and Chase Stokes’ leading performances as star-crossed lovers Sarah Cameron and John B. The co-stars — who briefly dated in real life — even joined the ranks of Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams by winning the 2021 MTV Movie & TV Award for best kiss.
Though she’s best known for her emotional turn in “Outer Banks,” Cline insists that “Whiskey is completely different from Sarah” and hopes that moviegoers can “enjoy [‘Glass Onion’] for the story that it is.”
For anyone who doesn’t watch “Outer Banks” (or know any youths who do), “Glass Onion” could very well be their introduction to Cline. Her message to those people: “Enjoy the ride.”
Times staff writer David Viramontes contributed to this report.
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