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Exclusive Interview Pacific Rim Uprising Jaeger Cadet Cailee Spaeny

Mar 19, 2018

By: Lynn Barker

20-year-old actress Cailee Spaeny, one of nine kids from Missouri, lucked out bigtime. She sent in an audition tape to filmmakers picking actors for the big new action/sci-fi movie Pacific Rim Uprising. While other hopefuls were standing in front of white walls just interpreting lines, Cailee was enacting action from the film using broomsticks and stepstools. Filmmakers were so impressed that they flew her to Hollywood where she met star John Boyega of Star Wars fame and landed the part of Amara Namani a cadet trainee.

Cailee SpaenyCailee Spaeny

In Pacific Rim: Uprising, ginormous Kaijus (monsters from the deep) come again to the surface. Only huge robots called Jaegers, piloted by two humans inside, minds locked together in a neural bridge, can fight them successfully. Cadets are training as drivers but they will be tested early when more and worse Kaijus arrive!

Cailee told us all about her character, her training, bonding with the actors playing the other cadets, auditioning opposite John Boyega and much more!

Kidzworld: I heard that you made your own video to audition. Talk about that.

  • Cailee: It was crazy. I’d been auditioning for four years so four years of ‘No’ from self-tapes and driving back and forth from Missouri to L.A. to do in-person auditions. This is an action film. I wanted to show that I’m down to do action even though I’ve never done it in my life.  So, when I did the audition tape, I slammed my body to the ground. I used an actual pole to fight with and stacked up pillows to hit the person. I used a step stool as a Jaeger to get into and a remote as the buttons. I rubbed dirt on my face. I went full out on this.
  • The casting director Sarah Finn saw it and showed it to Steven (S. DeKnight, director) and he was like ‘Add her to the group. Get her in’ which was really awesome. I flew out and met with Steven, read for him and thought I blew it then met with John (Boyega), did the actual scenes and it felt amazing. Then I went back home for a couple of days, got the call and I booked the role so that was a really crazy experience.

Cailee, Scott Eastwood and John Boyega greet fansCailee, Scott Eastwood and John Boyega greet fansCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: Was Amara described as a petite, feisty girl just like you? What did you know about her before?

  • Cailee: I just knew that she went in and out of foster care and that she’d had a rough background and how her parents had passed away in the first (Kaiju) attack. I knew she was street smart. I knew she was feisty but I don’t think anybody knew what she was going to look like or how she was going to be until I came into the picture and we figured it out in the make-up chair and during pre-production what she was going to look like. That was really fun to create and find her.

Cailee as Amara ready to pilot her first JaegerCailee as Amara ready to pilot her first JaegerCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: So the second day you’re here, after you meet with Steven, you meet John Boyega of Star Wars. Were you at all intimidated?

  • Cailee: I got the audition and it said I was reading with someone and I didn’t look up who it was, ‘John Boyega. That sounds familiar’ but I didn’t pay it any mind. Then I think my mom asked me ‘Who are you reading with again?’ I’m like ‘This guy named John Boyega.’ Then I looked him up and I’m like ‘Oh my God. What? It’s the Star Wars guy.’ Of course I’m a huge Star Wars fan.
  • Then (John and I) got out of the cars at the same time going up into the Legendary (Pictures) building and we got the elevator and he didn’t say anything to me and I was really nervous. ‘Oh no. He doesn’t like me already’. Then I went to the room for the audition and he was like ‘Hi! How is it going?’ He gave me this huge hug and took me in. He was the nicest. He’s such a welcoming, warm guy. After I saw that and saw his personality, it wasn’t scary. We just had fun.

Giant, battle-scarred JaegersGiant, battle-scarred JaegersCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: Going back even further. Why did you decide to become an actress in the first place. Was there a movie or some actor that sparked this interest in you?

  • Cailee: One thing led to another. I was on stage at a young age. My mom put me into dance classes, found out that I can’t dance to save my life. I told her I wanted to be a singer. I started a kids’ rock band and we played covers around Springfield and did festivals and that kind of stuff and then I started writing my own music. Then I started doing community theater. Then I made a reel of community theater and my original pop music. Then I went to L.A. trying to get into the music side of things. That didn’t work. People were like ‘Just try acting’.

Kidzworld: Did you have any opportunity to do anything (off set) with the other cast members?

  • Cailee: We had a lot of downtime actually. Everyone who played the cadets, they’re my best friends. I love them so much. I talk to at least one of them once a week. When we were on set, we would have birthday parties together up in our rooms because we were all staying in the same hotel. I remember coming home from set. I wouldn’t even text one of them. I’d just go straight to their room, knock on the door and talk about what I did that day. It was kind of my version of going to college.

Cailee in her suit as a driverCailee in her suit as a driverCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: Did you have to do any extra physical training for this?

  • Cailee: (laughs) I had never worked out in my life. If someone said they were on a diet, I’d laugh so that changed really quickly when I found out that that was going to be a requirement for this movie. When I went to L.A. I had trainer there, worked on Parkour and boxing to get my body used to working out every day. Then, in Australia, we had a trainer that we went to the gym and, as a full cast, worked out together. We were also doing stunt training once a week.

Jaeger mechs ready to fight giant monstersJaeger mechs ready to fight giant monstersCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: After the movie I thought here is Sigourney Weaver Junior because you busted out like she did in Alien.  

  • Cailee: That was one of my biggest references for this role. I feel that she did something that no one had ever seen at that time. She led that movie also because that was a sci-fi film and I was trying to figure out how actors acted in those films? How do people do this? She was one of the trailblazers. All those people that did that gave me the opportunity to play a role like this too. She was fun to watch so I stuck to Sigourney Weaver the whole time I was working on this.

Kidzworld: It will be exciting for young girls especially to see Amara. You can be their Sigourney Weaver.

  • Cailee: I so want that and I’m so excited for that. We can get so caught up in everything that everyone has to say but the biggest thing for me is what the kids see, how it makes them feel. I had those people (like Sigourney) when I was watching movies and I want to be that for younger girls and young kids in general so I’m really excited to see how that turns out.

Cailee (left) as Amara with other cadets in trainingCailee (left) as Amara with other cadets in trainingCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: There is teamwork required. There are two pilots in a Jaeger so I imagine there is some choreography in doing things together. Was that a challenge? Did being a dancer early on help?

  • Cailee: Well, sadly, it was a lot like dancing which was really hard for me because I have two left feet. But, another difficult thing was one step for John Boyega is like three steps for me and we couldn’t look at each other (they are side by side) so we took a lot of time to make sure everything was perfect when we were in the “drift” together (inside the robot Jaeger). That was a fun thing for my character to explore too because she had only worked with herself. She’s a very independent person. She had a lot of trouble “drifting” with people and just connecting with anybody out there.

Cailee and Scott Eastwood goof off at New York Comic ConCailee and Scott Eastwood goof off at New York Comic ConCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: John went from barely being known to being a huge star in Star Wars. Did he or anyone give you advice in handling the sudden fame or acting?

  • Cailee: I did most of my scenes with John and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with on my first project. On set there were times where the green screen would get too overwhelming for me and I was like ‘I don’t think this is connecting in my brain. I can’t see a giant Jaeger right now’. John would take me to the side and talk to me and break things down for me and I’m like ‘You’re an angel!’ He’s such a beautiful person.
  • Then off set I’d be worried about the business side of things like ‘Am I going to book a job? I haven’t gotten my next job. Everyone’s booking’ and he’s like ‘It’s okay. You don’t need to think about that right now. It’s all going to fall in place when it needs to.’ I think he did see a little bit of himself in me when he was going through with all that and he still checks up on me. He still messages me ‘You doin’ all right? Are you okay? How are you liking it?’ He’s amazing.

Cailee (Left) with John Boyega and Scott EastwoodCailee (Left) with John Boyega and Scott EastwoodCourtesy of Universal

Kidzworld: What else have you done that we can see soon or what are you working on?

  • Cailee: I’m actually on my fourth project right now. I’ve got the Ruth Bader Ginsberg one (On the Basis of Sex), I’ve got two political films. Ruth Bader Ginsberg then the Cheney one (Backseat) and the thriller called Bad Times at the El Royale. I’m excited for everyone to see that because it’s very different than this.

Pacific Rim Uprising PosterPacific Rim Uprising PosterCourtesy of Universal

See Cailee in Pacific Rim: Uprising March 23rd.


Have Your Say

Did you see the first Pacific Rim movie? Would you love to be inside a giant robot driving it and fighting huge monsters? Comment!