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Cailee Spaeny Has Arrived

You might not know Cailee Spaeny yet, but after her award-winning turn in Sofia Coppola’s 'Priscilla,' you most certainly will.

This interview was conducted under a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement. 

Talk about a whirlwind. Over the past several weeks, Cailee Spaeny, star of Sofia Coppola’s new Priscilla Presley biopic, Priscilla, has bounced from London, where she’s been staying since summer, to Paris, where she closed the Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2024 runway show. Then it was straight to America to spend a few days promoting the movie at the New York Film Festival, only to jump on a plane back to the UK for the BFI London Film Festival. 

But here, tucked away in a cozy corner of her hotel’s restaurant on a rainy morning, her short hair slicked back away from her face and a black leather blazer shielding her from the autumn chill, Spaeny is as cool as a cucumber. She’s not remotely flustered by the gauntlet of press still lined up ahead of Priscilla’s November release.

Cailee Spaeny InStyle October Cover Miu Miu
Miu Miu outfit and shoes. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

“I want to do whatever's best for the film,” she says simply. “I'm really proud of this film, and I think it's rare to promote a film that you genuinely love, and you genuinely care about the people who worked on it.”

Until she started doing press for the movie, Spaeny, 25, didn’t realize that her own story shares a common thread with Presley’s: She, too, begged her parents to let her drop out of school at a young age—only her love was for performing, not an age-inappropriate pop star. 

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Prada
Prada outfit.

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“Come up against a driven 14-year-old girl, and good luck,” Spaeny says, referring to both herself and Presley. “I just knew at a very young age that, for some reason, my brain wasn't going to work in that sort of system.”

By 14, Spaeny says, she had determined that she wasn’t cut out for traditional education. She was failing all of her classes, despite the fact that her teachers liked her and would sometimes secretly let her retake tests. (“I was a teachers’ pet in the sense that I would never make friends with the kids that were my age and always hang out with the teachers during recess, and I think they all felt bad for me,” Spaeny says with a laugh.) What she did have a talent for was performing, a skill serendipitously spotted while singing in her kids’ rock cover band by a guy who knew a guy who knew a manager. 

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Erdem
Erdem dress. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

“I was like, Oh my God, I've made it. I remember getting the card and thinking it was for the band. He's like, ‘No, no, it's just for you,’” she says, still slightly sheepish about it. “That was a huge piece of the puzzle, though, because it got me my first trip to L.A.”

After that chance meeting, she became “hell-bent” on pursuing a performing arts career and mocked up a presentation for her parents arguing why she should be able to swap high school for her silver screen dreams. Spaeny must’ve put together one hell of a Powerpoint slideshow: Not only did her family let her drop out, they packed up the car and made the three-day drive from Springfield, Missouri, to Los Angeles, where the family spent a month in an apartment across from the Warner Brothers lot taking Spaeny to meetings until she got signed. 

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Spaeny wouldn’t score her first major role (Amara in Pacific Rim: Uprising) until she was 18—but that didn’t mean she was resting on her laurels. Knowing that she needed to find an outlet for her self-expression and a way to socialize without classes, she grasped at any opportunity to act that she could find in Missouri: She joined the local community theater, performed at a theme park in Branson called Silver Dollar City, picked up roles in her friends’ short films, and even took on infomercial work.

Instead of attending an acting school, Spaeny cobbled together her own education, locking herself in her bedroom and watching at least one film a day to study what made the performances stand out. Through this process, she stumbled across Coppola’s Virgin Suicides and was immediately transfixed. It was the first time she’d thought about who was behind the camera, and she quickly burned through Coppola’s entire body of work. The signature themes of Coppola’s films resonated with teenage Spaeny.

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Del Core
Del Core outfit. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

“Especially growing up in southern Missouri in the church, I felt like no one had ever really seen or accepted the teen angst a girl can have, the sadness within young teenage girls,” Spaeny says. “It wasn't until I watched Sofia's films that I was like, Oh, someone has acknowledged that you can be a young, cute girl but also have real darkness and angst in you, and this longing for another life or love or whatever it is.”

Coppola rose to the top of Spaeny’s dream director list. She’d auditioned for Coppola a few times, and knew she was on her casting director’s radar, but when it came time to cast the titular role of Priscilla, it was Coppola’s muse Kirsten Dunst who ultimately helped Spaeny nab the job. “When my friend Kirsten told me I had to see Cailee for the role, I paid attention,” Coppola says. “I knew when I met Cailee over breakfast that she’d be perfect. She was obsessed with Priscilla and had done her research.”

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Moschino
Moschino dress. Miu Miu tights. Manolo Blahnik shoes. Bulgari jewelry.

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It was Spaeny’s dream role, to be sure, but it was also an immense challenge. She was 24 when they shot the movie, but she had to portray Priscilla between ages 14 and 28. To make it just a little bit harder, the entire film was shot in one month, requiring that Spaeny juggle multiple ages in the same day. “That was pretty mad,” she admits. “I'd be a pregnant mother in the morning, and then after lunch, I'd be 14 years old.”

Spaeny was more than capable of handling herself; watching the movie, it is incredible to realize that the same actress convincingly plays both a skittish teenage Priscilla and the self-assured mother she would become. “[Spaeny] would switch her body language and her voice. Everything,” Coppola says. “It was really impressive to watch her transform during the day. She was really good at capturing what it feels like to be a kid.”

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The costumes, helmed by longtime Coppola collaborator Stacey Battat, were a huge help, and there were plenty of them for Spaeny to lean on. (“One day I did the math, and I think there were more costumes for Priscilla than page count on the script, which was just bonkers,” Spaeny says.) When Priscilla is with Elvis at the height of his power, the beehive and restrictive clothing required Spaeny to move almost like a doll; older Priscilla sports a tan and casual apparel, allowing Spaeny to feel more at home in her skin.

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Shu Shu Tong
Shu Shu Tong outfit. Bulgari jewelry.

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Any fan of Coppola’s work knows the role music plays in her films; that attention to detail extends to her sets as well. Hand-picked playlists established the tone each day. “Maybe halfway through the shoot, she decided that when I walked onto the scene, she would play Mazzy Star's ‘Fade Into You,’” Spaeny says. “I already loved that song so much, but now every time I hear it, I think of filming on set with her, and it was perfect: the way that Priscilla would move and speak and have this dream-like fantasy world that she was living in within Graceland.”

I ask Spaeny if she watches baseball (this has a point, I promise), and she tells me that she does, mostly when she can be physically at the game and enjoy nachos with a cold beer. “I feel like, when you're from the place where I'm from, there's certain sports that it would be criminal if I didn't watch,” she jokes. “Like, I obviously have to be a Kansas City Chiefs fan, and I'm also a St. Louis Cardinals fan.” (When asked about Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce’s much-buzzed-about romance with Taylor Swift, the self-proclaimed Swiftie responds: “My brain can’t take in my worlds colliding.”)

In baseball, I remind her, batters get to choose a song to play when they head to the plate, dubbed a “walk-up song.” I point out that her dream director basically gave her one.

“Yeah! ‘Fade Into You’ is my walk-up song, which is so sick—also from Sofia Coppola’s eyes,” she says, lighting up. “I mean, it doesn’t get any cooler.”

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Of course, Priscilla needed an Elvis, and Jacob Elordi brings an entirely new take to the oft-imitated legend—not an easy task when so many have been immortalized to film. Elordi’s Elvis is needier, more childlike than the self-assured, swaggered-up versions we’ve seen before, viewed in the quieter moments behind closed doors. 

For this Elvis, Priscilla represents the one thing he can control, an unending source of comfort that he can keep (mostly) pure from the parts of himself that he doesn’t like. There’s a protective undercurrent to his feelings that Spaeny helped draw out of Elordi. 

“Cailee is incredibly sensitive and deep, somebody who feels everything and has seen lives well beyond her own, like Priscilla,” the actor says. “It inspired a very real need for tenderness and care in me that felt not too dissimilar to the relationship we played in the film.”

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Prada
Prada outfit and shoes.

Jack Grange

As Elordi and Spaeny play them, you can almost understand why a 24-year-old Elvis would want to spend so much time with a 14-year-old Priscilla—emphasis on almost. The actress says she couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Elordi. “They have such a specific relationship,” Spaeny explains. “There are definitely tumultuous times, but there was also great love there, and I don't think I could have done those scenes if I didn't trust him as a person and as an actor. But I did, absolutely.”

The two are friends, and I tell Spaeny that I have to ask her about a quote Elordi gave me. “Working with Cailee was a dream. Her attention to detail and her care for the work is astounding,” I read to her from his email. “My favorite memory is her reverence of the USS Indianapolis speech from Jaws by Robert Shaw.”

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Erdem
Erdem dress. Manolo Blahnik shoes. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

Spaeny bursts out laughing and covers her face. “The first week of working, I tried to get in by showing off my movie knowledge a bit with Sofia and Jacob,” she says, explaining that they were discussing the best monologues in film history. “I thought they would know the monologue, and they didn’t. But I did actually get Jacob with that one, obviously, because he still remembers that, which was the first week of rehearsals.”

(I tell her that I’ve never even seen Jaws; I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look this disappointed with me. “You want to do that tonight, maybe?” she says, more gentle command than suggestion.)

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Spaeny calls Priscilla an “impressionistic film,” one which relies more on memories and emotions than it does dialogue. Still, she manages to communicate all the contours of Priscilla’s life even while silent, whether she’s wandering through an empty Graceland or putting on false eyelashes before going to the hospital to give birth. Crucial to this understanding was the access granted to Spaeny by Priscilla Presley herself. They met a few times and spoke over the phone, and she was able to draw off details not in the source material, Priscilla Presley’s memoir, Elvis and Me.

All her research paid off: The film opened at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews, and Spaeny—who had already flown back to the UK—was told to return to Italy to receive a prize. She didn’t know she was about to receive the best actress award for her very first performance in the festival.

“I was shaking the whole time I was in the audience… I'm still trying to process it,” she says, adding with sincere humility, “I hope it's a good thing for the film, and it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Miu Miu
Miu Miu outfit. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

But the most important reaction for Spaeny was Presley’s. “I wanted Priscilla to watch this movie and to feel safe, and feel like she was watching her story through my performance,” she says. Presley told Spaeny ahead of filming that she had “all the faith in the world” that Spaeny would be great, and served as something of a cheerleader early in the process, but didn’t see the finished product until its premiere. “Nothing prepared me mentally for the moment of me watching the film for the first time with Priscilla Presley sitting right next to me,” Spaeny says. “It was such an out of body experience.” A now-viral video shows Presley wiping away tears during the film’s standing ovation.

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Presley being the style icon that she is, it’s only fitting that the fashion world is paying attention to Spaeny’s rising star, too. She has contracts with Bulgari and Miu Miu, and she’s working with stylist Nicky Yates to develop her red carpet style. Of closing Miu Miu’s latest show, she says that while she was nervous at first, the theater-like energy backstage helped her feel at-home. “Now I don’t ever want to go watch a show, I only want to be in them,” she jokes. Supermodel Gigi Hadid even served as her impromptu runway coach. “She's like, ‘Tell me how you feel, don't feel rushed, this is where you look when the photographers are taking photos of you,’” Spaeny recalls. “And then at the end, she started screaming and gave me a hug. She was saying, ‘That's how you close the show, everybody!’ She was really pumping me up.” (It helped, too, that Spaeny got to wear sandals. “The fashion gods were really blessing me. I didn't have to think about tripping.”)

It’s clear, even over coffee, that Spaeny is an actor on the precipice of something big. Moments like this can go straight to an actor’s head, Spaeny knows, and she wants to be careful accepting the praise. Awards and accolades don’t guarantee more work or long careers. Now that she’s manifested her dream gig in under a decade of work—“It completely exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were very high, because she is a hero,” she says of working with Coppola, a little awestruck even now—it’s time to create new goals. 

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Miu Miu
Miu Miu outfit and shoes. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

“Now I get to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what I want to do with my career next, what choices I want to make. Having the response to this film, I feel really lucky that I have some freedom in choosing what I want to do,” she says.

Cailee Spaeny InStyle Bora Aksu
Bora Aksu outfit. Miu Miu tights. Manolo Blahnik shoes. Bulgari jewelry.

Jack Grange

Whatever on-screen roles she takes on next, they’ll be the complete opposite of anything she’s done so far, a throughline of her career. She’s zigged from sci-fi in Pacific Rim: Uprising to neo-noir in Bad Times at the El Royale, zagged from playing a young Lynne Cheney in Vice to a teen witch in a reboot of The Craft. (Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Spaeny did not discuss any struck work.) She’s interested in doing theater again, possibly, this time on a bigger stage. She’ll continue to challenge herself.

“I never feel like I quite get it right in terms of acting or performances, for me,” Spaeny confesses. “It’s always like a puzzle that I’m trying to solve, and I haven’t—nor do I think I ever will—feel completely satisfied.” 

One thing is for sure: Once Priscilla is out in the world, audiences will see Spaeny’s spark in full force, and it’s hard to imagine that won’t lead to a blaze of success. But don’t take my word for it; hear it from the King himself: “I know they will love her,” Elordi says. “She’s the real deal.”


  • Photographer
  • Jack Grange

  • Cinematographer
  • Francis Wallis

  • Stylist
  • Rebecca Corbin Murray

  • Makeup
  • Mel Arter

  • Hair
  • Dayaruci

  • Nails
  • Chisato Yamamoto

  • Set Designer
  • Gabe Gilmour & Celina Bassili

  • AC
  • Ollie Dahman

  • Booking
  • Talent Connect
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