Madelyn Cline Can’t Quit Now

The Outer Banks star talks working with her idols (and her ex), and what to expect from OBX’s third season.

Photographs by Alexander Cody Nguyen

Madelyn Cline as Peggy Olson from ‘Mad Men.’ Cline wears Top from Paisley Babylon Vintage Clothing, ...
Madelyn Cline as Peggy Olson from ‘Mad Men.’ Cline wears Top from Paisley Babylon Vintage Clothing, skirt from Thelma & Chemise.

For W’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

Madelyn Cline has been busy. In the past year, the 24-year-old filmed the highly-anticipated Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery before returning to her home state of South Carolina to film the third season of Netflix’s hit teen series Outer Banks. When the latter premiered in April 2020, it became an overnight sensation, propelling Cline and her co-stars, including her now ex-boyfriend Chase Stokes, to instant stardom. It was “very, very strange,” Cline says of her sudden fame amid a global pandemic. However, she wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s been like the most incredible ride of my life. Hands down, period,” she says. And despite rumors that she might be leaving the show, she has stated that she’ll play the role of Sarah Cameron “for as many seasons as they will have me.” Here, the Charleston native discusses working with her heroes and managing her own imposter syndrome.

You chose to Peggy Olson from Mad Men, specifically the scene when she quits her job. What drew you to her?

I’ve always thought that scene was so iconic. Peggy is just such a chaotic character. I thought it would be really fun to do something completely different from anything I’ve been able to play.

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy in ‘Mad Men.’ Courtesy of AMC

Outer Banks was an unexpected hit during the pandemic. What was it like emerging from quarantine as a celebrity?

It’s an interesting dichotomy. I consider myself to be a very private person. Sometimes the lack of anonymity really wigs me out. People think they know you because they know your character, when in reality, they’re two different people.

Madelyn Cline as Peggy Olson from ‘Mad Men.’ Cline wears Top from Paisley Babylon Vintage Clothing, skirt from Thelma & Chemise.

Are there any ways that you think you and your character Sarah are similar?

There are parts of teenagehood that I get to relive and make right in my mind. Sarah’s journey has been all about standing up for herself and finding her own footing. I’ve had many conversations with our writers and producers on how to make it feel very real and visceral to a young woman’s experience growing into adulthood. But you know, I’m now 24, almost 25, playing a 16-, 17-year-old. So there’s going to be some logic there that I don’t agree with. It can be a little chaotic. I wouldn’t say like Peggy, but it is still chaotic, because I have to go back and revisit the mind of a teenager who doesn’t yet completely know what she wants.

Cline as Sarah Cameron in ‘Outer Banks.’ Jackson Lee Davis/Courtesy of Netflix

What are your hopes for Sarah in the series’ third season?

I’m looking forward to exploring more of her. We had a rough time last season; I’m excited to pump the brakes for her a little bit and re-center. God knows what adventure we go on next. We’re bringing back some very loved characters, and we’re in the thick of it. We’re in the cut again.

Your character wears a lot of short denim shorts on Outer Banks; does it ever get uncomfortable doing stunts in them?

For sure. Sarah loves some Daisy Dukes! And sometimes that lends itself to wedgies. Whenever we have big stunt sequences, I usually request to have a little bit of stretch [in my shorts] so that they don’t feel like cardboard on my body.

Madelyn Cline as Peggy Olson from ‘Mad Men.’ Cline wears Top from Paisley Babylon Vintage Clothing, skirt from Thelma & Chemise.

Can you talk a little bit about your on-screen versus off-screen relationship with Chase Stokes? How has it been to continue working opposite your ex?

We’re both professionals. We always have been since day one. Outer Banks is a big family, and at the end of the day, we show up, we’re professional, and we do our jobs.

Cline with Chase Stokes on the set of ‘Outer Banks.’ Courtesy of Netflix

In the sequel to Knives Out, you’re among Hollywood titans like Daniel Craig, Kathryn Hahn, Janelle Monáe, and Kate Hudson. What was that experience like?

It was so scary at first. I was starstruck by all of them! I didn’t know where to look sometimes because I was just so incredibly excited and happy to be working with them. One of my first weekends there, Daniel had everyone over to his villa. I was like, I’m gonna walk in and I know who all of you are, but you don’t know who I am. I grew up watching these people and admiring them, so it was such a wonderful learning experience to watch them work and see how they operate on set.

Is there a particular lesson you learned from a cast member?

Leslie [Odom Jr.] taught me how to play chess. It became one of my favorite things to do. Leslie was like, “It’s a great lesson not just in the game, but also in life.” [The experience taught me] how to handle things in a very calm manner, and [to ask myself], What are my options? I have crazy anxiety. I would go on a set and I’d be nervous every day. [Then I would remember,] what are my options? I needed to take a minute and step back. It was a really wonderful, serendipitous lesson.

Cline attends a TAG Heuer event in November 2022. Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

You’ve said in the past that you often feel an acute sense of imposter syndrome when it comes to acting. How have you overcome this feeling?

It’s not something that ever ends, at least for me. I think about that all the time. I’ll be overthinking everything I’ve ever done in every scene. I don’t know if there’s any way of overcoming it other than just trusting that there’s never a place that you end up that you’re not meant to be in. It’s about learning how to rein it in. Like Leslie said, “What are my options?”

Hair by Amanda Lee, makeup by Jen Tioseco, photo assistant Andrew Friendly.