Going for broke

Outer Banks star Madelyn Cline: leaving home and returning a different person
By Lindsey Okubo | Film+TV | 13 July 2021
Photographer Doug Inglish

Madelyn Cline – the 23-year-old actor and star of Netflix-original series Outer Banks – dropped out of college and left home at the age of eighteen. She wanted to be a version of herself that was not chained to the predictability of comfort, so she went west, to Los Angeles, where a series of serendipitous events saw her land the lead role in Outer Banks and consequently travel back to South Carolina, where the show is set.

Leaving home made and broke Cline; she lived in cars, cried in silence and questioned her decision many times as the sun set over the Pacific ocean. But, upon her return to South Carolina, she found she was already someone else. Hardened by her experiences, this circular journey birthed a realisation: home isn’t about location, it’s about “having the right people around you.” Now, alongside her family and a tight-knit community formed on-set, Cline’s ambition has crystalised into a version of herself she truly recognises.

GALLERYMadelyn Cline in the 2021 HERO Summer Zine

Lindsey Okubo: Hey Madelyn, how’s it going?
Madelyn Cline: So good. So good.

LO: Can we start with Outer Banks bringing you back to your home state? It must have been strange seeing it through your character’s eyes this time.
MC: When I left home in South Carolina, just a little outside of Charleston, I kind of ran for the hills. I was determined that I was never going to go back. I had dropped out of college and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, but I figured, “Fuck it, let’s give this a shot.” Outer Banks ended up bringing me back and I wasn’t super thrilled initially, but it ended up really sweeping the rug out from under me, because I fell back in love with where I’m from. Home for me means having the right people around you, it wasn’t about a location per se, it was about the community.

“I don’t know if I was running from anything, but I was running towards making something of myself.”

LO: What made you want to leave home initially? Being from Hawaii, I loved it but wanted life in the big city and, in a way, I wanted to be a different version of myself.
MC: I think you hit the nail on the head. I’m a very restless person to begin with, which is one of the reasons I love my job, because I’m never in one place for too long. I was in this place where I was like, “I’ve been here for eighteen years,” and I didn’t want my life to look the same as it had. So I took the most drastic measure possible and moved as far away across the country as I could. I had to grow up really quickly because I wasn’t surrounded by the support system I’d had, and there were many times I thought I’d made too rash of a decision, because I missed what was comfortable. But it’s kind of like that old, corny saying that everything worthwhile is outside of your comfort zone. The person I am now versus the person that I left behind, I love a lot more. That’s not to say that I didn’t love the person that I left behind in South Carolina but I think about her sometimes and I wish I could be there for her in ways that the people around her couldn’t. I don’t know if I was running from anything, but I was running towards making something of myself.

LO: You’ve previously spoken about finding your voice through your involvement in Outer Banks, what do you mean by this?
MC: I think what I’ve learned is that the most important thing to me is approaching as much as I can in this life with empathy, and to speak up. A lot of times growing up I felt the need to not say anything, I would plaster a smile on my face even if I didn’t feel comfortable, just to avoid conflict. I think sometimes being raised in the South does have a bit of an influence on that and the fear of conflict actually ended up being a barrier to community and friendship. Speaking up has been a really positive change in my life, and other people might benefit from you being honest with them.

LO: It’s interesting that empathy is so important to you because it’s such an essential part of an actor’s job but it’s not necessarily something you can learn or be taught. It also means something different to everyone.
MC: I think it really started for me in high school, my favourite subject was english and one of my favourite things was character analysis. I’ve always been really fascinated with human behaviour. Sometimes if a decision or choice is made that I can’t initially understand, or it hurts someone’s feelings, my first instinct is to dwell on it and, in doing so, I try to gain an understanding. Sometimes it causes me to be forgiving to a fault and can be a little unhealthy because I can’t rationalise to set boundaries. People don’t always want to tap into their own emotional vulnerabilities but they can be taught to be empathetic.

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“People don’t always want to tap into their own emotional vulnerabilities but they can be taught to be empathetic.”

LO: It’s really looking at the differences between understanding and acceptance. It sounds like you do a lot of emotional labour and in doing so, do you readily make yourself vulnerable?
MC: I love these conversations. I love to unpack. When I first moved out to LA, I was fully not prepared for how emotionally drained I would be going into such a high-energy place with so many different people and so many different personalities. When you’re still learning about yourself, you kind of mirror other people’s energies around you and so when I first got here, I felt really lost because I was soaking up a lot of that. I realised it was going to be really important for me to find people who had the same interests as I did and would want to have these conversations. I’m definitely not as trusting as I used to be, just by way of getting burned by certain relationships. But at the same time, you can either detach completely from a situation and heal, or continue to stay vulnerable and be in touch with those emotions. I actively choose the latter, it feels more human and helps in my career. You learn how to protect yourself without putting up walls.

LO: I always tell myself stability is the product of risk. Everybody tries to embody a composed, perfect image that still feels carefree – especially online. Social media was really the only way for you to gauge the reaction to the show since it was released during lockdown in many places.
MC: Growing up, I would read people’s faces to gauge a positive or a negative reaction and I wanted people to like me. When you’re getting your footing in the world, you don’t realise that there’s no freedom in making everybody happy and it’s not human to be perfect. Once the show came out, there was this big, broad collective response on social media and it was overwhelmingly positive but of course some wasn’t. I had to realise that I’m playing a character, and if my character is creating a response in someone to feel some type of way then I’m doing my job. There’s a lot of freedom in knowing that. It’s not my job to make people happy and at the end of the day, it’s okay because if I’m living my life for myself then I’m happy.

top by SHE MADE ME; jeans by LEVI’S

LO: It’s interesting when you realise that happiness is subjective and, for you, I feel like it has to do with this sense of community, but that’s also subjective too.
MC: With social media, you’ll find all these subcultures within apps, and it’s funny because I could make an obscure reference related to TikTok and eight out of ten people would probably understand it. Nowadays you have this broad sense of community and then you shrink it down to the people around you. Social media is large, it’s everyone. There are so many opinions going around and I think it’s really helpful to see and learn from other people from other walks of life that you aren’t normally around. Then breaking it down to my friend group, community means being around the people who are equally excited for you as you are for them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to talk all the time, it doesn’t mean we have to be texting constantly, it’s about finding the people who will reciprocate.

“A lot of times growing up I felt the need to not say anything, I would plaster a smile on my face even if I didn’t feel comfortable”

LO: And you want to be able to feel a sense of longevity with it too. It’s weird how longevity has become oddly synonymous with things like relevance which then somehow becomes a conversation about age.
MC: I’ve been on TikTok a few times and by definition I’ve been called ‘old’ because Vine is now a reference that millennials make or I’ll find videos making fun of millennials. It’s obviously all fun and games, but it’s interesting that it feels like it’s all come to fruition with this rise of short form media, it’s like, what can hold our attention span before moving on to the next thing? It’s definitely a little mind boggling to experience it on the other side. With the show having come out last year, you see how quick the turnover rate is in entertainment.

LO: How do you process ageing in general because maturation is a different thing entirely? We try to be almost as young as we can for as long as we can but to what extent are we allowed to mature while still being young?
MC: There’s this stigma of being older. I saw this meme the other day and someone was like, do people just expect women to turn into hags once we turn 30? There’s this stigma around not being in your twenties and once you pass that, it’s time to settle down or whatever. There are these expectations where this is the age for this, or the time for that. I’m young, I’m 23 and I’m enjoying being in my twenties but some of the most amazing people I’ve met are older than I am and I admire them because they’ve kept their energy and joie de vivre. Maturing is a different animal. I’m not necessarily afraid of it because I think about what I know now versus what I knew three years ago and I’m excited.

Originally published in the 2021 HERO Summer Zine. Follow Madelyn Cline on Instagram

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