Cailee Spaeny Talks About PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING!

27 June 2018

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, the sequel to 2013’s blockbuster PACIFIC RIM, combines familiar faces with a whole host of loveable new stars along with all the city destroying action, giant robot set-pieces and monster smashing carnage you really came for. Here to talk to us about the film is breakout star Cailee Spaeny who plays resilient and spunky heroine Amara.

Cult of Monster’s David Churack talked to Cailee about how she got involved in the film, working with John Boyega and what she’d like to see in future PACIFIC RIM films.
You shot in Australia for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, and as an Australian, I have to ask – what did you think of the place?

I absolutely loved Australia with a passion: I miss it so much! I had so many great experiences there and all the cadets and I became best friends in Australia. I feel like I became a young adult in Sydney. I shot my first movie ever in Sydney so it’s a very special place, close to my heart. And the people – I’m so in love with the people. I have so many friends there, so I love it!

I hear PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING was your first film! What was the experience of debuting in such an exciting project – were you nervous?

Definitely nervous. You have to understand that I come from a very small town in the Midwest of America. I’d been auditioning for four years prior trying to book anything I could get my hands on. I remember calling my agent a month before I booked PACIFIC RIM being like ‘Can you put me in as an extra somewhere? I just want to be on set!’ The fact that the first thing I booked was the lead in a sci-fi franchise was huge – huge! I can’t even say it enough, it really changed my whole life. Not only was it a set, it was a multi-million dollar set with green screens and giant practical sets and a lot of action involved. It was like a set times a thousand. And we filmed for six months which is not a normal feature time. It was fully immersive: jumping in blindly is what it felt like. But I can’t think of a better way to start my career.
How did you come to be involved with the Pacific Rim franchise? Were you a fan of ‘kaiju’ or sci-fi movies before?

I was definitely a fan of sci-fi films, but I had never watched PACIFIC RIM before. I had friends that watched it who were like ‘You have to watch this!’ ‘I love this film it’s my favourite sci-fi!’ so I went and watched it before I filmed Uprising.

I had an agent in LA – I went to LA when I was about 15 and signed with an agency and had a manager. I would go out to LA and do in-person auditions and then back home I’d do self-tapes, which means you record your audition at home and send it to LA. That’s what I did here. I got the audition for this, it was an action scene, so I went full-out. Threw myself on the ground, piled up pillows and actually had a pole in my hand, swung the pole against the pillows like I was hitting a person. I thought they’d either think I was crazy or they’re gonna love it. I talked to Steven after and he said they’d already picked their prime people for callbacks when they saw mine and they added me into the mix. Which, thank goodness!

Given your audition story: did you enjoy the actions scenes you had to film?

Yeah I did! I’m a pretty uncoordinated person so it was a struggle but the whole cast had to do it, which felt good cos we were all in it together. Obviously John [Boyega] was fine because he just went through the STAR WARS circuit so he had it down. But all the cadets trained together – we had one trainer and went to the gym together which was really fun. The action stuff was like learning a dance: it was difficult but I’m so glad I had that experience and I have that under my belt.  

To me, one of the best things about the film was the bond between Amara and Jake (John Boyega). Can you talk about what went into creating that chemistry?

It clicked right when we met – I think that’s what helped me get the part, John was really rooting for me when they were casting it. Then it just carried through when we started filming. John was like a big brother to me and he always took me to the side whenever I was stressing out about something, like ‘I don’t know how to imagine a giant kaiju in front of my face!’ or ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen with my career’ he was just like ‘You need to stop stressing about things’. So I think we genuinely had a bond, and now I’m signed with his manager, so I kinda feel like I’m part of the family. His sister was on set all the time and I got really close to her. So the chemistry you see on screen was real off set and that really helped.  And I felt like every time we did a scene together it was just like tennis: he was just giving me everything I needed and I was giving back.  It felt like there was a real back and forth there and hopefully that comes across on screen.
Science fiction and action movies have historically been seen as a bit of a ‘boys club’, but lately we’ve seen a number of strong heroines like Amara emerge. How do you think Amara fits into this larger pattern, and what message do you want her to send to female fans?

One of the big things that drew me to this character was that young girls are going to be watching her, and one of the cool things she does is take something tragic that happened in her life and had it push her forward. Which I think applies to everyone when they’re young: things that happen to you can either push you backward or inspire you to keep going. And I think that shows with Amara’s life and her story.

I don’t know where I fit in with all the strong characters. I hope that Amara resonates and that I did her justice. And I was definitely watching Daisy Ridley in STAR WARS, Sigourney Weaver in ALIEN. I definitely look up to those girls and hopefully Amara has a strong place in there somewhere. It is such an amazing honour to play, as my first role and first character, someone like this, that young kids are going to be watching. It’s very exciting.

How much of you is in Amara? Are you similar?

I think she’s a little more badass than I am building Jaegers in her little shed. And everything that she’s gone through obviously. But I definitely think there are similarities there. Her first day in the ‘Shatterdome’ was kinda like my first day on set. Her trying to fit in with other people and other pilots was like me trying to fit in with these seasoned actors who have done work before and I haven’t. I felt like there were a lot of similarities, so when I started filming I was like ‘Oh man I totally get what she’s going through now!’ Her trying to find her place and figure out who she is, and having her dreams come true but also all the work that came with it. There were a lot of things I was relating to with Amara, but I didn’t realise them until I started filming.

Do you have a favourite experience from working on the movie?

There are so many great experiences. I think one of my favourite scenes, the one off the top of my head, was our first day in China, we’d just had a Chinese ceremony with the whole cast, with fireworks, we had to cut this cooked pig – it was very odd but very awesome! I had so much fun. And then right after we went into filming our first China scene which was John and I in the jail cell together after our little run in Scrapper. And we improv-ed most of it, it was just such a fun day to go back and forth with John. I think that’d be one of my favourites.

Now that you’ve set yourself such a high bar with your first movie – what are your plans for your second? Specific kinds of projects?

I have three more coming out at the end of this year, which I’m excited for. One’s called BAD TIMES AT EL ROYALE which is a thriller set in the late 60s. And then I’ve got two political films, one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and one about Dick and Lynne Cheney’s life. They’re very different from PACIFIC RIM – I try to change it up to prove to other people, but also to prove to myself, that I can do everything I can get my hands on.  

Would you consider appearing in a PACIFIC RIM sequel?

Oh yeah, for sure! PACIFIC RIM has done so much for my life and changed me in so many ways – Amara is such an important character and we had so much fun filming – that I would definitely jump on that right away.

So what would you want to see in a sequel?

Seeing Amara grow into herself and become a young woman would be nice. Maybe there’s a love interest in there – her trying to figure out that whole world would be interesting. That’s such a Cailee Spaeny thing to say, I don’t know if Amara would want that, but I would definitely be interested in seeing that.
How has your life changed since working on the movie?

The biggest change was moving from Missouri to LA: I’ve been here now for a year and I feel like I’ve finally settled in. It takes a little bit cos I’m not from a big city. Getting to have all these experiences, to go onto these sets, meet these amazing artists and award-winning directors, that’s been the biggest change. But when it comes to my everyday life it’s not all that exciting. It’s going to the laundromat, picking up groceries and taking my dogs out. I haven’t changed too much but I say just being able to work with all these artists who inspire me multiple times in a year is probably the biggest change and the one I’m most proud and happiest about.

On working with inspiring directors and artists – what was working with your PACIFIC RIM director STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT?

He was so good. This was his first feature so we had a lot in common: I remember one time I came up to him and was all ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ and he said ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’ There are so many times we would laugh about how this is such a big experience for us doing a feature film. He was super cool: in six months I never saw him get angry, which was so interesting to me. I was like ‘How are you keeping your cool?’ And he really had my back and is just such a lovely person and I’m excited to see what comes for him. He’s so good!
One last question – you said you’re a fan of sci-fi movies and stuff – what are some of your favourites?

ALIEN I watched on repeat because Sigourney Weaver killed it, she’s such a badass woman, and so influential on me doing this film. But also E.T. – that’s such a perfect film to me. I love BLADE RUNNER that’s a huge one for me. Of course all the STAR WARS. That’s just to name a few: I love sci-fi films.

Thanks so much for your time Cailee!

Look out for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING which hits 4K Ultra-HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray & DVD on Wednesday July 4th.