Fourteen is not an age most people look forward to revisiting.
It’s a time to question everything, considering the sudden appearance of acne, hair, bumps (or lack thereof), and feeling very close to being an adult while still being, for all intents and purposes, a child. It’s the most fertile age for insecurities to bloom, yet it’s also when many young people begin to feel more confident in their voice and sense of self—however that expression may have changed. When Priscilla Presley was fourteen, she met the biggest rock star in the world, Elvis Presley, and convinced her parents to let her be with him. When Cailee Spaeny, the actress who played Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Priscilla, he was fourteen years old, dropped out of school and, similarly, convinced his parents to let him act. As Spaeny told me, “Don’t underestimate a determined fourteen-year-old girl. They are the most powerful things in the world.”
In the eleven years since she gave her parents an ending, Spaeny has starred alongside A-listers like Dakota Johnson, Felicity Jones, and Kate Winslet, and covered Miu Miu’s SS24 runway (following supermodel Gigi Hadid). , and now, he has completed his other. big dreams, playing the lead role in Sofia Coppola’s film. Talking to her via Zoom—Spaeny watched from London the day after her first flight—it’s clear (and endearing) that she can’t believe her new It-girl status. “Okay, cool girl,” she says when I tell her I’m listening in Manhattan’s East Village. I remind him that he is about to fly to New York for the American premiere of his latest film, Priscilla-arguably much cooler than rat traps and water pipes before the war – and he denies, “I’ll be a little intimidated, but it should be fun.”
Throughout our conversation, Spaeny talks about how any 25-year-old would be happy to star in a Coppola film, while maintaining a sense of pragmatism when it comes to the industry’s attention span. It’s refreshing. It is true. It makes you wonder about his journey to Priscilla, and fame. Between her London hotel room and my girlfriend’s apartment on 5th Street, we discuss the actress’ life in Southern Missouri, IRL conversations with Priscilla Presley, life on the Sofia Coppola set (pickleball games included), her tribute in the stars Yesterday in his shooting no V, and the speech he received from Gigi Hadid just before closing the Miu Miu show. When I ask how she feels about her upcoming ascent, she cites advice she got from Hadid about how to walk the runway: “Look at how the room smells, put in all the details. Because you don’t want to shut down and not remember these moments. “Thank you, Gigi.
V Magazine: Is this your first story? Just out of curiosity.
Cailee Spaeny: I think so? The press for this film was the most comprehensive, the most extensive press I have ever done in my life.
V: I think when you go in and out of the shoot you’re like, where is this thing going?
CS: Yes! Like, I hope I look good. I hope I sound a little wiser.
V: Absolutely. So, I would like to know more about you. Where are you from?
CS: I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in southern Missouri. Kind of like the Bible belt of the world. I am one of nine siblings. I am the seventh.
V: You are the seventh! What is your family’s reaction to all this?
CS: Of course it was great. Elvis is American royalty but in the South, he is like God. My mom was a big fan. He collected Elvis memorabilia and became, like, his temple.
CS: Full. He named his child’s middle name after him. He had all his albums. We grew up going to Graceland for the holidays. I have this vivid memory of walking and hearing “If I Can Dream” on the speakers, looking up at my father, and seeing him crying. That really stuck with me. I was happy to dive into this world that I knew and loved but through the eyes of this girl.
V: Where did you fit into that story?
CS: I read Prescilla’s memo and Sofia’s script was heavily influenced by that, but the main part was meeting Priscilla herself. Most of his time on Earth was his life with Elvis and telling that story. He wanted to be as open and honest with me as possible and let me know that I could call him anytime during filming.
V: Did you ever pick him up on that?
CS: Until we started filming, I called him to talk about what his relationship was like with each person in the story—especially the Memphis Mafia. What was he like among those guys? Did you lean back or feel like you needed to be one of the boys? He said, “All the boys had wives.” But I also didn’t feel like I could get close to the wives because I knew things about the husbands that I wouldn’t tell the wives.” That spoke to his isolation on another level. Because this film is so emotional and about atmosphere and emotion, those little details matter. He told me he was starving when he went to Elvis’ place in Germany when they first met. When he was offered a bacon sandwich by Elvis, he said, “No,” because he was like, “I can’t eat a bacon sandwich in front of Elvis Presley.” (But) I really tried to sit down and see what he felt comfortable talking about even though it had nothing to do with Elvis.
V: Do you relate to his story?
CS: He was a bull (of the Air Force) and never felt like he could connect with his peers. From a young age, he understood the meaning of loneliness. I dropped out of school when I was 13, so I didn’t interact with kids my age. I was always around old people. He was always told when he was young that he was an old soul and that’s something I always got when I was around that age. He was always quiet and wary of people which I always noticed I was like. So that was the way in.
V: You said the script kind of found its way to you. How did that happen?
CS: I mean, Sofia was my biggest guide when I was a kid. When I found out Maiden Suicide, it was the first time I thought, “Who is behind the camera?” Finding out that it was a young female director was very exciting. He was not like other people. I don’t know if he remembers this—he was trying to put this film together The Little Mermaid I checked for him. It was the first callback I got in Los Angeles, (but) that film ended up not going through. Francis’ producer knew about me through those auditions and I ended up doing a table read (Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming film) Megalopolis. So, the Coppolas always end up coming back in this funny way…
V: That is surreal.
CS: It was really weird… I got a call the other day saying, “Sofia wants to meet you in New York,” out of context. I didn’t ask anything, I packed my bag and boarded the plane.
V: As you do.
CS: I sat down with him, we had coffee and a drink, and we had a good conversation, but I wonder what is going on here. He pulled out an iPad and started showing me pictures of Priscilla and said, “I want to make a movie about Priscilla Presley, I think you can play her.” There were going to be talks of an audit but Kirsten Dunst—obviously her muse—put a good word for me and that, I think, was the last step. The conflict between those countries was completely violent.
V: I don’t think so. When I’m 15 and auditioning, and the Coppolas call you… I mean…
CS: Yes, I did a real demonstration of this. Now I don’t know what to do with myself! That was the dream goal and it magically happened, so I have to go back to the drawing board now.
V: And make a new dream goal!
CS: I don’t know how it gets better than this though.
V: We have found this out, but he said he dropped out of school when he was 13.
V: Pursuing acting?
CS: Well, you kind of follow that. I was really bad at school. The teachers loved me. I didn’t check properly. I didn’t understand how I could make my mind work in a certain way that everyone else seemed to be able to do. So, I quit and started doing theater. It’s a small town musical theater and like a cheesy musical. I was also in a cover band, writing my own music… taking piano lessons, guitar lessons, then I started singing at a theme park… I was doing infomercials… anything I could find about entertainment in the southwest Midwest. I ran out of things to do and begged my parents to take me to Los Angeles. It’s funny, it wasn’t until after the movie that I put together that same age Priscilla gave her parents that decision. Priscilla is like, “I would have gone if you told me yes or no,” and I was like 14 years old. If my parents would have helped me, great, but if they hadn’t, I would have found my way. . But they helped me and I understood the seriousness of it. We would take a van and drive from the plateau to Los Angeles which was a 25 hour drive. We didn’t have much money. We stayed in green hotels. We stayed at friends’ places. We would end up with random families we met at church events. We lived in one room for four months, two beds and an air mattress with my mother and two other siblings. The weight of that hit me. To be honest, it was my dream. I loved it so much, but I also knew I had to do it for work. I auditioned for four years and didn’t hear back. Don’t underestimate a determined 14-year-old girl. They are the most powerful things in the world.
V: Yes, they are.
CS: Very interesting… compatibility.
V: It’s the same thing that most people won’t be able to have. It is very different.
CS: I think it took me feeling completely lost, not knowing what to do with my life, and failing, to switch gears at 14 and try to develop some sort of game plan. Priscilla was similar in the sense that she didn’t want to be in Germany, she couldn’t make friends. Then he fell in love and saw another life and decided to follow it.
V: He wanted to find that other life. Yes, that is amazing. Indeed. Congratulations.
CS: Thank you.
V: So, tell me about the shooting. What was it like working with Sofia? What was it like on set?
CS: We shot it in Toronto. We only had 30 days to shoot this movie, which is not a lot of time to get a film of this scale right, especially when it comes to locations, hair, makeup, and costume changes. We’ve had more costume changes than there are pages—
CS: The coverage was very extensive. Stacey Battat, our costume designer did a fantastic job with the budget we had and the person I was playing, who is such an icon in fashion. Me and Jacob… Jacob was always on the vocal and the vibe when we were recording so, so did I—not that I’m the way. When you’re in it, where all you do is set up and think about this character all day for 30 days, it just stays that way. Jacob and I took the time to really get to know each other before we started filming. The second I knew he was fired, I sent him an email, and began setting up binding activities. (Laughs.) We rode horses in LA because Elvis and Priscilla did that. I think we work in similar ways. He was a great study buddy and he had a really big job ahead of him: playing Elvis behind closed doors (again) from Priscilla’s point of view. I think you did it well.
V: And Sofia?
CS: Sofia is an interesting director because she speaks softly. Oftentimes, leaders command authority by first asserting themselves, usually by being a strong person. But Sofia is completely different from that. His friends say he is like an iron fist in a silk glove. He creates playlists to keep the cast and crew entertained. He had a pickleball court that he made on the set. It turned into everything. We had a full tournament. People are at their best and most creative when they feel relaxed and comfortable. He knows exactly how to do that and he does it with such kindness and grace. It’s a dream to work on his sets and it’s fascinating to see him in action.
V: It feels like summer camp in heaven.
CS: It really was! I mean, except for the huge amount of pressure to get this role right, it was like summer camp.
V: Do you remember the songs he had on the playlist?
CS: After all, she loves Prince. Thank you Prince. Prince was on my wall when I was little.
V: Oh, that’s great.
CS: It was a pleasure to meet. There’s a Prince song I’ve never heard, I think it’s called “Starfish & Coffee.” He decided that Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” was my song. I’d come in a new pastel dress, a new hairdo, tons of eyeliner, and high heels, and walk into this beautiful candy-colored Graceland and play Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”. It has a special place in my heart whenever I hear it now. Obviously, in the final frame, “I’ll Always Love You” plays. It was very important to (Coppola) to have a speaker in the back of that car. He was like, “Make sure there’s a speaker in the car so Cailee can hear the song.” I think it was the first day we shot that (last) scene. It was incredibly ineffective.
V: I like the choice of “I’ll Always Love You” at the end because it rings true to Priscilla’s story.
CS: Dolly is very much a Southerner and I grew up with her, but that song held a very special place for Priscilla because when she and Elvis broke up, Elvis sang “I Will Always Love You” in a whisper. his ear as they left the court. Knowing that it was actually a song between Elvis and Priscilla at the end of their relationship is kind of wild.
V: It’s wild. What a beautiful drama, Elvis.
CS: You are crazy.
V: As I’m sure you know, Sofia often visits her muses as does Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. How do you see your relationship with him working in the future?
CS: I have no idea. I mean, I would absolutely love to work with him again. I can do anything in the cast or crew, I’ll be the background, I’ll help, I’ll do literally anything. If he was with me, I would take it in a heartbeat. But, this whole experience, I’m just trying to enjoy it, because it’s a special moment in my life.
V: That’s right. I have a question that may require you to look outside and inside yourself, but what do you think is that quality that attracts Sofia to certain women?
CS: God. Should I like, compare myself to Elle Fanning and other leading actresses in the world? (Laughs.) I don’t know. When I watched (Coppola’s films), what I found really liberating was that he’s not afraid to lean in or underestimate the loneliness and sadness of a girl. What they yearn for, what they yearn for, their hopes and dreams, and their crushes. Having said this before, he said that he was annoyed by the way young girls were portrayed in movies. I think he completely flipped that story on its head. That’s why when young women watch his films—even if it’s something you didn’t experience as a little girl—something inside you screams. To see that kind of recognition and validation for me was very liberating. So, I guess for those young women he works with, it’s something they feel too. Thinking young girls have a relationship with loneliness and are not afraid to face it like he does in his films. That would be my first guess.
V: That’s a great answer! So shoot for V it was inspired by the stars of the past and this golden age of Hollywood. Do you have a relationship with any of the women you drew? This time, it’s Liza (Minnelli), Audrey Hepburn, and Liz Taylor.
CS: As a young actress, I feel it is important to go back and look at women who have paved the way. In different ways, they were all not talking to themselves. I find them interesting on and off screen. I’m so excited fashion-wise to look at these timeless beauties that have what I think we lack in this day and age: mystery. That’s what makes us come back to them, they have something in store for them. They depend on the performance of being a star.
V: Speaking of fashion, you just walked the Miu Miu runway.
CS: I did that yesterday.
V: Yesterday indeed. What the heck? How was that?
CS: I know! But no one told me that I am closing this program. I went there to put them on and they were like, “You’re our little miracle at last!” I said, “What do you mean?” and they went, “Yeah, you’re closing the show.” I was thanking the fashion gods that they brought back sandals so I didn’t have to walk up those stairs in heels. We were all lined up and I was nervous. Then Gigi came and said, “Okay, how are you feeling?” and I said, “Well, Gigi, I don’t know. I’m scared…” and he said, “No, go at your own pace and don’t let anyone tell you what to do.” He said, “You look like one of those photographers. That’s the best angle. You’re just doing your own thing. All you have to do is walk and take your time.” And I was like okay, Gigi, okay. And then we got off the stage and she turned to me and started yelling, “How are you feeling!?” and I said, “I feel like rock staaaaaar!”
CS: He was very supportive. He was like, “And that’s what we call closing the show.” He is very beautiful. You are really focused on me. I was like, I can’t believe I’m getting runway advice from one of the best models of our time. This is very good. (Laughs)
V: Like, unbelievable.
CS: Theatrics and speed and power are just opposites. I felt like I was doing theater. Pat McGrath did the makeup and was like a mother to everyone. He took my hand and said, “We are very happy to have you.” I said, “What’s going on?!” I don’t think I’ll ever want to sit through another show again. I want to go all. Miu Miu has been very good to me. And the collection was absolutely beautiful.
V: It was! There’s nothing as cool as a Miu Miu girl. He likened this runway to a theater production and I feel like right now this is your kind of moment before the curtains almost go up. You have tested this program, people in the industry have seen it, now your name will shine and everyone will know. How did you prepare for that?
CS: Will that happen?
V: I think so…
CS: I think the best thing you can do is not prepare yourself. Oh, Gigi said… “Enter what the room smells like, enter all the details. Because you don’t want to shut down and not remember these moments. ” I feel like I did that when I accepted (the Volpi Cup). I was nervous. So, I’m just trying to breathe, accept that I worked hard and thought about it, and be happy because I’m a very lucky person. I have good people around me, I’m traveling, and I love the film I’m promoting—which is impossible all the time. But the biggest compliment I could get was after the ceremony. Priscilla came up to me and said, “I saw my life through you.” I don’t need anything else. Now I get to enjoy it. That’s all I needed to feel.
This story appears on the pages of V145: now available for pre-order!
Photo by Rob Rusling
Fashion Anna Trevelyan
Makeup Laura Dominique (Streeters) using Dr. Barbara Strum
Hair by Franco Gobbi (Streets) using Fragile Cosmetics
Manicure Julia Babbage (Frank Agency)
Set design Tobias Blackmore
Executive producer Fabio Mayor (fe Creatives)
Digital expert Matthew Aland
Assistant photographers Adam Roberts, Bradley Polkinghome, Oliver Webb
Assistant stylist Kit Rimmer
Hair assistant Stefano Mazzoleni
Location Big Sky Studios