Madelyn Cline shimmies and grins as the opening notes of “Piece of Me” by Britney Spears echo out across Malibu Canyon. She’s on top of the world — literally, at Stunt Road Ranch, and in a figurative sense, as her career explodes to superstar heights. After our day-long Friday fashion shoot, the 23-year-old would have another the following day, heading into the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday night. (She’d win Best Kiss with boyfriend and Outer Banks co-star Chase Stokes, of course.) Life for Cline these days is camera flashes, glam squads, red carpets, and couture. It’s no wonder that Spears’ album Blackout, an opus on the highs and lows of fame, is her professed summer soundtrack.
Still, Cline seems poised to avoid the pitfalls that have waylaid starlets like Spears. Confident and grounded, she seems equally comfortable rocking the Salvatore Ferragamo power suit on our cover as she is hanging around in the sweatpants and slip-on sneaks she changed into for the drive home. Speaking of which, no chauffeurs or black cars for Cline. She drove off in her own ride — with South Carolina plates.
Keeping close to her Carolina roots has been easy for the Charleston native, considering that her breakthrough performance in the Netflix series Outer Banks takes place a short drive from her hometown. Hearing her describe her time filming the series—for Cline, her last days of relative obscurity—it almost sounds like she’s describing a college experience: days of bonding and self-discovery before launching into the real world.
“The first season of the show felt like going and shooting an indie,” Cline says. “It was very tight-knit, so the filming of the first season felt very intimate in the best way possible. We really vibe with our crew and our cast, obviously. We immediately had chemistry, and we immediately started hanging out, which is amazing.”
Cline found her closest connection with Stokes, her co-star and now boyfriend of one year. Still, even with two seasons of filming now under their belts, the Outer Banks cast is closer than ever—a fact that has helped Cline cope with the crazy ride of new fame.
“We all kind of started in the same place when we got the show,” she explains, “and we just stuck together. We’re all going through the same thing and it just helps to have people around you who understand and who are there for you. We keep each other grounded and we hype each other up. We’re all each other’s best hype man.”
There’s a lot of hype to be had for Cline these days. Among the other accolades being thrown in her direction, GRAZIA USA represents Cline’s first-ever national photo shoot. That is, if you don’t count Parent & Child magazine or American Girl.
Although Cline is a newcomer to the bright lights of Hollywood, she’s no stranger to semi-stardom, having worked for years as a child model after winning a 2008 competition. Commuting from Charleston to New York for gigs, she landed shoots for those magazines and others, along with ad campaigns for EZ Bake Oven, Sunny D, Toys R Us, T-Mobile, and more.
What was meant to be a way to save for college planted the seeds of a potential career path for Cline, but only in retrospect.
She explains, “I kind of got a taste of what being on sets was like, and that was fun. But when I turned around 14 or 15, I was like, ‘That was cool, but I don’t know if this is what I want to do. Maybe at some point I would like to work and find a job in that industry, but I don’t want to do this forever.’”
Still, she couldn’t quite avoid the spotlight: “I kept auditioning because I thought working on sets was a lot of fun. The more I got into acting and the more I was on TV and movie sets, the more I realized, that was where I wanted to be.”
Today, however, the work of being a star takes place almost as much off set as it does on. Social media is a huge part of developing and keeping the kind of fan following that lands you roles — something that Cline, with her 6.3 million Instagram followers and 3.4 million TikTok followers, understands implicitly.
“I’m still learning,” Cline admits. When it comes to engaging with fans in a healthy way, “It’s new territory for me.”
“The expectation to share everything is intimidating,” she continues. It’s a constant pressure that takes real thoughtfulness to navigate.
“It’s a lesson to get real with myself and to be honest with myself,” she says. “What are you comfortable with? What are you not comfortable with? And also, what are your opinions? How do you feel? Checking in with myself has been a big thing, because it’s necessary.”
On the other hand, she’s acutely aware that her introspection must be balanced with an awareness of the millions on the other side of her phone screen.
A truly digital native celebrity, Cline says, “I was a teenager when Instagram was really new. As a consumer of social media, I was thinking about what I wanted or needed. I check in with that younger version of myself, because a lot of our audience is teenagers. I ask myself, ‘What can I do today? What message can I send them?’”
If all else fails, there’s always Bravo.
“Personally, I’m a pretty private person,” Cline reveals, “even with some of my closest friends. There are some days where I just need to set myself in a room and close the curtains and just watch Below Deck. I need to reset. I need to recharge.”
Morning workouts, meditation, YouTube yoga — those are more of Cline’s tools for staying sane and centered in the middle of a media storm. Journaling helps, too, along with staying connected to the people who know her best: her parents, real estate agent Pam Cline and engineer dad Mark.
An only child, Cline says, “I talk with my mom and my dad almost every day. They’re just as excited as I am about all of this. This is all incredibly new to all three of us. They get almost more excited than I do, which is very sweet, but since I can’t physically be with them all the time, I’m just doing my best to share everything that’s happening with them and share my world with them. I adore them. They’re really lovely people and they’re great parents.”
Cline herself could be the proof of that. Authentic and charming, grounded and dazzling, she has the “It” factor that makes women stars, along with the intelligence and gravity that keeps them from burning out. If she has anything to do with it, she’ll be following in the footsteps of ingenues turned A-listers like Scarlett Johansson—who she happened to meet at the MTV Movie Awards the night before our chat.
“Last night was very exciting, because we saw and we met some incredibly talented people,” Cline dished excitedly, “people that I’ve watched and admired as a fan for a very long time. To be in front of them was pretty mind blowing.”
“I’ve always really admired Scarlett Johansson as an actress, and her choices and her career are just incredible,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of women in my time here in LA — really independent, powerful women—and I admire that. Bottom line, just being able to be around that kind of energy and women who are such bosses is incredible.”
With Season 2 of Outer Banks set to premiere later this summer and more projects on the horizon, Cline doesn’t seem to realize this indisputable fact: She’s one of them already.