By now, you’ve read the reviews. Natalie Portman delivers a powerhouse performance as a tempestuous pop star in Vox Lux. It’s true. But you know what else is true? She’s only in half the film. If there’s a true lead in Brady Corbet‘s ambitious drama it may be 16-year-old Raffey Cassidy, who plays the younger version of Portman’s character Celeste during the first half of the film before playing Celeste’s teenage daughter Albertine in the second half. One could argue that Portman is actually playing an older version of Cassidy, who creates a foundation for Celeste that her Oscar-winning co-star builds upon, but regardless of how you look at it, Cassidy’s hugely impressive dual performance has earned her Collider’s Up-and-Comer of the Month honors.
You’ve probably seen Cassidy before. She played the young android recruiter in Disney’s Tomorrowland, in which she stole several scenes from George Clooney. She played Jeremy Piven‘s daughter on Mr. Selfridge, and the daughter of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in the WWII thriller Allied, but perhaps most memorably, she played Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman‘s daughter in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. That’s where she first showcased her singing voice as a lovestruck Ellie Goulding fan suffering from a mysterious illness.
As good as Cassidy was in Sacred Deer, she’s even better in Vox Lux, which presented the additional challenge of playing dual roles. And yet, Cassidy made it look easy — no surprise considering that five years ago she became the youngest actor to ever be named to Screen International’s famed Stars of Tomorrow list, so she’s no stranger to these types of “rising/breakthrough talent” honors. Perhaps she was simply destined for stardom, as her father teaches acting, and she was discovered by chance while accompanying her brother on an audition.
Since then, Cassidy has grown into an extremely accomplished young woman, having made a career out of playing young A-listers. She played a young Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman and a young Eva Green in Dark Shadows. And while she’s playing a younger Portman in Vox Lux, Cassidy has a poise and maturity well beyond her years. To be honest, I’d nearly forgotten she was English until she hopped on the phone, which is a testament to how good her American accent is on the big screen. I was also impressed with Cassidy’s humility and how she hasn’t let success go to her head despite working with major directors like Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, Brad Bird and Yorgos Lanthimos. Because of her accent, the soft-spoken actress was a bit hard to hear at times, but we didn’t let that affect our chat, which I hope you enjoy below.
Collider: What sparked your passion for acting and made you decide to get into this crazy business?
Raffey Cassidy: It was kind of by chance, as I actually did. All of my brothers and sisters have always been in art groups or little theater groups, so it had kind of always been there, but it was by chance that I actually started. It was after school and my brother was going to an audition, so I just happened to be there, and I was sitting outside and he came out and the casting director said ‘we need a little girl. Would you like to have a go?’ So I went in and did the audition. All I remember was kind of being under a table and coughing and then dying, which was fun. And I ended up getting it! I just really enjoyed the feel of being on set and the things you get to do, like dressing up. I think my Mom and Dad saw that too, so they let me carry on and do some more stuff.
I don’t know if you had to audition for this, but if not, then how did Brady loop you in?
Cassidy: I only knew this recently, but he told me… okay, I’ll tell you my side. So I had read about a quarter of the script and then I spoke with him on Skype, and the way that he spoke about Vox Lux was amazing. He was so enthusiastic about this new project — well, it wasn’t new, he’d had it in the works for a while — this new project where I had to play two characters. And yeah, I thought ‘that sounds amazing,’ so I finished the script and he wanted to get me involved. He told me that he had seen me in a Channel 4 short film. I’m not sure which one he was talking about, and then he had also seen The Killing of a Sacred Deer as well, so he contacted me and we had a chat, which was nice.
Did you have to read with Natalie?
Cassidy: No, I didn’t. I just spoke with Brady about the script. He said, ‘would you like to do it?’ and I said, ‘yes, please!’ We all sat down and had dinner together with Natalie, and soon after that I went to New York and we shot it.
Vox Lux draws a link between celebrity and terrorism. I’m curious what you make of that connection and how you interpret what the film seems to be saying about those two things.
Cassidy: The thing with celebrity is, I feel like she obviously hasn’t dealt with it well, but I think it’s because she didn’t deal with that issue when she was younger, and when I say issue, I mean the school shooting. She didn’t — grieve isn’t the right word, I can’t think of the right word — but she didn’t deal with what was going on at the time, and I think that’s why she doesn’t deal with it well. And also, everyone has had their little pick at her, everyone has produced her, and I think that’s why she doesn’t fare well. But the link between fame and terrorism, I think it’s just that with her being famous, everyone would hear about it, so everyone knows about Celeste and whatever goes on related to Celeste. Everyone would hear about it. It’s the best way for those people to, I guess, get their message across.
I want to ask you about playing two characters here, young Celeste and her daughter Albertine. Can you talk about the inherent challenges in that and how you prepared to play the two different parts. Was the film shot chronologically, or were you playing young Celeste one day and the next you’re shooting scenes as Albertine?
Cassidy: No, I thought that’s how I’d have to do it at first, which I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be a challenge,’ but it did end up being short chronologically, which was really helpful. I think it would be super difficult switching between the two. So I shot Celeste while I worked with an acting coach, and then I worked on my dancing with Celia, who was the choreographer for the first haul, and I worked on my singing. I actually recorded one of the songs before shooting it, the church songs, which is probably my favorite one. It’s the one she produces for the rest of the world. So I did all of that, and then once I finished Celeste, I completely forgot about her and acted as if it was a different film and worked on Albertine. I feel like in some way there was a connection, but they’re different people from different upbringings and lifestyles.