Have you met Madelyn Cline, your new best friend?
In just three years, the “Outer Banks” and “Glass Onion” actor has successfully built her career from the ground up — and she’s just getting started.
By Liz Calvario
Photography by Maggie Shannon
Feb. 13, 2023
Madelyn Cline feels like a friend — my friend, your friend, the internet’s friend. A really, really cool friend.
It’s easy to describe the scene at Cline’s winter cover shoot with TODAY.com, because when she enters the room, all eyes are on her. The crew’s excitement doesn’t seem to faze her, though. She heads straight to the snacks, then greets everyone with a smile and hug. The star of one of Netflix’s biggest shows of all time is sans makeup and wearing a black Nike zip-up jacket, leggings and Ugg mini platform boots. Her arrival instantly makes the set feel less like a photo shoot, more like a slumber party.
Once Cline settles into the hair and makeup chair, she bops along to songs by ABBA (her request) and shimmies as Britney Spears pumps through the speakers. "Wait — why is this so much fun?" she asks on multiple occasions between sips of Champagne (also her request). It’s fitting for the 2023 version of a Hollywood starlet, a Gen Zer who represents a new kind of celebrity, one who’s managed to rise to fame through a pandemic, connect with millions of social media followers and navigate a very public relationship.
The vibe on set is a far cry from April 2020, when the world was stuck indoors a few weeks into a global pandemic. Back then, many TV viewers passed the time by binge-watching “Outer Banks,” an action-adventure drama about a group of working-class kids called the Pogues who embark on a dangerous treasure hunt. Cline portrays the fearless Sarah Cameron, known as the princess of the Outer Banks’ wealthy residents, the Kooks. Sarah comes from a reputable family and eventually falls for the Pogues’ ringleader, John B, played by Chase Stokes.
The combination of a missing-person mystery, class clashes and a “West Side Story”-esque romance made the series an instant hit. But it was Cline’s on-screen charm and depiction of Sarah’s courage and fierce loyalty — plus a signature pout and perfectly tousled beach hair — that instantly made her the series’ breakout star.
Three months after “Outer Banks” dropped, the show was renewed for a second season; after its debut week, Nielsen reported “Outer Banks” delivered 2.1 billion minutes of viewing across both seasons. Only an “elite club” of shows have crossed the 2 billion mark in a single week, Deadline reported at the time. Now, a third season is on its way this month, with the stakes even higher for “the luckiest kids alive,” as Cline calls them.
At the TODAY.com cover shoot, Cline is worlds away from the beaming sun and muddy marshes of “Outer Banks.” In a production warehouse outside of Los Angeles that gives off 1960s Palm Springs vibes, Cline jumps on a bed in a designer nighty, gleefully receiving refills of bubbly in her glass as the camera clicks away. At one point, out of poses to try next, she playfully turns toward the camera and starts twerking.
"This is what TODAY needs: booty!" she yells out with a laugh. “It’s not the content TODAY asked for, but it’s the content you got!”
Fame came fast for this 25-year-old who, it’s safe to say, has quickly become Hollywood's It Girl. Before “Outer Banks,” she guest-starred on “The Vampire Diaries” spinoff “The Originals” and Netflix’s other prized hit “Stranger Things,” in addition to sharing the screen with Nicole Kidman in the 2018 film “Boy Erased.” Her star only shone brighter after appearing in Rian Johnson's 2022 “Knives Out” sequel, “Glass Onion,” co-starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Daniel Craig, Edward Norton and Kate Hudson. In a legendary cast, Cline held her own as Whiskey, the girlfriend of an influencer who, as viewers discover along the way, is much more than meets the eye.
“It’s not the content TODAY asked for, but it’s the content you got!”
“It’s been nuts. I can't believe how fast time flies,” Cline says of going from college dropout and LA newbie to a certified Netflix star in just three years.
“It kind of feels like a birthday, where the day of, everybody’s like, ‘How do you feel?’ And everyone answers, ‘The same as yesterday. A little older, a little wiser.’ But in this context, my answer feels more like, ‘A little older — and with a lot more cool experiences under my belt.’”
After a five-hour day shooting three looks for this cover story, Cline joins me in her dressing room. I immediately sit on the floor because the shaggy, light pink carpet looks comfortable and just feels right. When I offer Cline the seat across from me, her shoulders relax and she plops down next to me instead, crossing one leg in front of the other. "This works!"
FROM COAST TO COAST
An only child who was home-schooled from middle school until college, Cline grew up across from a church in Goose Creek, South Carolina, with a real estate mom and engineer dad. “It was very quiet,” she says of her home life. “When we’re all together, we’ll sit in the living room, and my mom and I will do a puzzle, and my dad will watch TV.
“We don't even have to say anything, we’ll kind of grunt at each other,” she laughs, mimicking the sound. “We don’t have to talk. So I think I credit that to being a bit of an introvert or a bit of a homebody.”
When she took an interest in acting and modeling, Cline’s parents were on board, excited to see their daughter break out of her shell. They also saw it as an investment in her future, a way for her to save money for college. But Cline’s time at Coastal Carolina University was brief, before she dropped out to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting full time. The following years proved to be fruitful, but they also came with sacrifices.
“Thinking about that time now, I’m like, that was so f------ scary,” Cline says, lowering her voice. She explains that when she decided to take acting seriously, she lost touch with hometown friends. Pulling out her phone, she taps furiously, looking for lyrics to a Taylor Swift song that reminds her of that time in her life. (She’s a self-described Swiftie.)
“In ‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’ she sings, ‘My friends from home don’t know what to say,’” Cline recites, looking up from her phone. “I think sometimes they were confused as to why I cared so much or —” she pauses, carefully choosing her words. “I don’t think they understood why I was doing it. …You’re lucky if you get to keep your long-term friends. I do still have some friends back home, and we catch up every now and again. But you know, they’re doing their thing elsewhere.”
These days, when she’s not working, you’re more likely to catch Cline with her rumored boyfriend, musician Jackson Guthy. The two were first photographed together last summer, but they have yet to publicly speak about their linked ties. Despite my observations of a black-and-white photo of a couple on her phone’s lock screen and Cline’s use of “we” when talking about her life, she makes it clear to me that she’s at a point where she wants to keep her private life, well … private.
“If you give everything — like, 100% of your energy — away, where’s the rest for yourself?”
It’s a decision she’s made after sudden fame came with the public’s interest in her love life — particularly her relationship with her “Outer Banks” co-star, Stokes, which ended in November 2021, per Entertainment Weekly. Coincidently, just hours before our interview, the magazine published an article with statements from both actors about working together post-breakup.
“We had a working relationship before we had a personal relationship, and our job from day one has always been to leave the show better than we found it,” Cline told EW.
But for our interview, Cline emphasizes that she’s now carefully considering “what not to share with the world, and what to keep personal.”
She adds that her past relationship “happened to be on a stage, but it taught me a lot about myself and what I want and also about, again, learning what I want to keep for myself…the things that I want to be selfish about.”
She brings her crossed legs up to her chest, apprehensive. “Some people can do it — I can’t,” she continues. “If you give everything — like, 100% of your energy — away, where’s the rest for yourself? You finally understand why people in the public eye keep their circles small.
“I realized there are parts of my life that only me or one other person are entitled to. I prefer it that way. It also just makes things more special. That’s usually how relationships are.”
BEYOND THE BANKS
Hard-earned lessons about relationships aside, Cline describes her life as “truly a dream.” With a scroll through her Instagram — followed by more than 13.6 million people — it certainly appears that way; her posts feature her on red carpets and gracing magazine covers. But there are tiny glimpses of her personal life, shared via the ever-so-Gen Z “photo dump,” a carousel of candid, unedited photos that sum up a person’s recent life.
Whether it’s from millions of Netflix viewers or millions of social media followers, Cline has been open about experiencing imposter syndrome, including after being cast in “Glass Onion.” And of course, as one of the leads in a TV show where she’s often filmed in a bathing suit, she also has to grapple with the physical expectations that are thrown her way. When it comes to her relationship with wellness and body image, she says it’s “a personal journey.”
“My journey with my body got a lot healthier when I started to acknowledge and be thankful for what it puts me through.”
“I can feel myself slipping sometimes into calorie counting or whatever, and I have to pull myself back from that,” she says. “Having a deeply personal relationship like that with yourself and body, being objectified, it almost puts a flashlight on it. It's a deeply personal relationship, and it’s a day-in, day-out thing. It’s not like, ‘OK, fixed it. We're good today. It’s going to be great every day onward.’ It’s an ongoing journey.”
She adds: “The main goal is staying healthy. And healthy doesn’t necessarily always look like eating kale. It just means you’re feeding your body, and you’re giving your body what it needs. My journey with my body got a lot healthier when I started to acknowledge and be thankful for what it puts me through.”
At 25, one might argue that Cline’s journey is just beginning. Here she is, on the precipice of becoming a bonafide household name. So what does a person do when the top is within her reach?
Well, when you’re Madelyn Cline and quite literally at the top of a ladder at a TODAY photo shoot, you get creative and start doing a one-legged yoga pose. Figuratively, though, she’s focused on what’s in front of her — and that means gearing up for the third season of “Outer Banks,” streaming Feb. 23.
At the end of Season Two, the Pogues were once again running for their lives. The Season Three trailer released earlier this month shows the group washing up on a deserted island, yet still being hunted down as they try to find another treasure. As Cline says, the writers just keep “raising the stakes.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be the last. I think there's more of the story to be told.”
“I want everybody to go along for the ride, because I know everybody watches for the ‘ships.’ The ‘will they, won’t they,’” she teases about Sarah and John B’s romantic future. “So I'm going to leave that there, but it is a journey, and it is a wild one.”
She quickly adds with a giggle, “And it’s not boring. I will say that.”
As for whether “OBX” has a future beyond this third season, Cline is leaving the door wide open.
“We haven’t gotten picked up for a fourth,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s going to be the last. I think there's more of the story to be told.”
THE NEXT BIG THING
Cline is eager to build her growing foundation as an actor. But filming “Outer Banks” does mean she’s “off the market” for a big chunk of the year, and must navigate offers that come her way depending on her “OBX” schedule.
“It is gratifying when you see and read scripts that come through,” she says. “I am so excited that I’m even being considered, just to even be in the conversation.”
As actors, she says, “We’re always looking for the next thing that’s exciting to us, that sparks that, ‘Oh, f---, I want to be a part of it!’ But right now, I’m just enjoying riding this ‘Outer Banks’ press tour, enjoying the experience and fully being able to digest what it looks like in the normal world. The experience that I didn’t have the first time during the pandemic, I'm getting to fully get this time.”
As our time winds down, both of us are still sitting on the floor, Cline’s Ugg boots stretched in front of her leaning in opposite directions. She tells me she’d sworn to herself she’d never reveal the role she wished she would have landed years ago — but when asked, she doesn’t stop herself. “It was a long time before ‘Outer Banks,’ but I went out for ‘Bumblebee,’” she says of the 2018 Hailee Steinfeld-led action film. “I was like, ‘Transformers,’ this is so cool!’ But it didn’t happen,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “There have been a lot of almosts."
In the future, she would like to do a period piece and says she really has “the bug for action-adventure — obviously because of ‘Outer Banks,’” she says. “And I really, really enjoyed stylized filmmaking like Rian’s. I’d love to do something more like that.”
In the meantime, Cline says you can catch her sipping a martini; on a Friday night, she says she’s either decompressing or going all out.
“It depends on the Friday. Like this Friday night, I’m gonna go get an IV (drip), and I’m probably going to knock out,” she says. “It has been such a jam-packed week, and I’m so excited to not set an alarm. But if we rewind to, let’s say, last week, you could find us going to a dive bar: dinner and a dive bar, drinking beers and playing pool.”
It just so happens to be a Friday right now, the start of the weekend and a wrap for this shoot and interview. She effortlessly pulls herself up from the fluffy carpet and asks for a phone charger, because her battery is “zeroing out.” If Cline’s energy is also running low after a full day in front of the camera, you can’t tell, because she’s just as bubbly as when she first walked in.
While waiting for the SUV that will take her to her Malibu home, I’m reminded that Madelyn Cline is a star — yet she doesn’t distance herself, making herself comfortable on the bed from our shoot and chatting with the crew. What you see is what you get with Cline. And just like Sarah Cameron, we don’t have to be worried about her future, because she’s going to make it, in her own, dynamic way.
She waves goodbye, gives hugs to those who hold their arms out and thanks everyone for an entertaining day, all with that sparkly smile. For a minute, it seems like she’s just as sad to leave as we are to see her go. As her car drives away, I look hard, imagining she’s waving one final goodbye from inside the tinted windows. And maybe she did; or maybe, Madelyn Cline is just really good at portraying everyone’s best friend.
Photographer: Maggie Shannon
Photo Assistant: Roy Werner
Stylist: Mimi Cuttrell
Hair: Ted Gibson
Makeup: Jen Tioseco
Nails: Emi Kudo
Head of TODAY Digital: Ashley Codianni
Editorial Director: Arianna Davis
Writer: Liz Calvario
Managing Editor: Bryanna Cappadona
Art Director: Tyler Essary
Art Director: Jennifer Prandato
Talent Booker: Christina Manna
Social Media Producer: Lexy White
Production Coordinator: Brittany Howard
Suit: Saint Art
Shoes: Jimmy Choo Black heels
Necklaces, earrings: EF Collection
Shoes: Tom Ford Silver Heels
Earrings: Melinda Maria
Earrings: EF Collection