As feature film debuts go, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a pretty major one, and that’s something Cailee Spaeny is more than grateful for. The 20-year-old actress plays John Boyega’s co-lead in the sci-fi sequel, having spent four years of driving back and forth from Missouri to Los Angeles to launch her acting career.
And what a time to arrive in Hollywood. Women are raising their voices and saying Time’s Up to their mistreatment in an industry that has long been dominated by men. “It is a really good time for me to come in right now,” Spaeny tells SYFY FANGRRLS. “So many people have come before me and paved the way.
“All the things that have been happening in Hollywood, all these people who really took a stand on so many things and made a Hollywood that I feel safe in, I feel so grateful and lucky to have had people to look up to and really have the people out there so I could have this job easier.”
Through Pacific Rim: Uprising, the actress has joined an expanding sci-fi sorority that is seeing more and more women take center stage; Daisy Ridley’s Rey, Felicity Jones’ Jyn and Spaeny's own character Amara stand side-by-side with the likes of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.
During the shoot, Spaeny watched Alien movies “on repeat” both for inspiration and love of the movies, and says that both before and after she made the movie she was lucky enough to get advice from Rey and Jyn themselves.
“I met Daisy right after I booked Pacific Rim,” the actress recalls. “And I had the opportunity to play Felicity Jones’ daughter, so I’ve had amazing experiences to meet them and work with them. They were all giving me advice, but the biggest thing was watching them and how they held themselves on set.
“Most sets are fast-paced; [Felicity taught me] you’ve got to make a stand and say you’re going to do this or not do that,” she continued. “How kind they were but also how they held their ground was something I’ve learned from a lot of people I’ve worked with. How you can be a really nice person but also get what you want to get done, done.”
The actress has also learned that she doesn’t have to work with people she doesn’t feel comfortable with. Given the revelations that have finally come out of Hollywood, about a long-running culture that has seen men assert their power over women in harmful and often sexual ways, Spaeny has felt inspired by the #MeToo stories to ensure that she never has her own and never feels conflicted by her collaborations. She recently turned her back on a job for this latter reason.
“Yeah, there has been an audition where there was one person in it that I didn’t feel comfortable taking this,” the 20-year-old explains. “I think it’s a moral thing. You have to follow your moral compass, it’s a good guide of telling you what is right and wrong."
“Following your gut and letting that lead the way. You follow what you think is right. There are lines that I won’t cross.”
One of those lines is movies that have “demonic or spiritual” storylines. The church-going actress, who found her love for performing by singing in the choir, says she “just can’t do” those types of movies because “no matter what people tell you, you will always have those things that will be with you forever.”
While we won’t be seeing Spaeny pop up in American Horror Story or the next Conjuring movie, she has a busy slate ahead of her. As mentioned, she will star as Felicity Jones’ daughter in On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, as well as a part of the stellar ensemble cast of Bad Times at the El Royale and as Christian Bale’s daughter in the Dick Cheney movie Backseat. Not a bad few movies for a fledgling star to make her name in and learn a thing or two, too.
“All I am doing every day is soaking in everything. I’m like a sponge, from all these award-winning directors, writers and actors as much as I can,” she enthuses. “Every job, you don't know if you’re going to get work after, [and] then you’re back into the audition room so I’m trying to take in as much of it as possible.”
Pacific Rim: Uprising is available now in the US on 4K UHD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and Steelbook. In the UK, it is available on 4K UHD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and digital from July 16 and Steelbook from July 30.