Margaret Qualley learns to let go

ByJames I. Robertson

Oct 16, 2021

Margaret Qualley’s career takes off and the 26-year-old actor and former ballerina embarks on the adventure.


IT’S LATE JULY in New York’s East Village, and the streets are teeming with sensory abundance. Watching people strut the sidewalks near Tompkins Square Park makes you wonder if hats and crop tops are the only garments available in the entire metro area. Trey Songz’s end-of-year anthem “Say Aah” echoes above neon drinks and overflowing revelers from Miss Lily’s 7A cafe. Dogs and skin and bikes are out. An afternoon breeze sets in. It’s finally summer, well not the brunt of a pandemic (a glorious pre-Delta period which a few weeks later will engender nostalgia). This is a great place if you are 26, like Margaret Qualley, and in love with New York, as she has been since moving to town to study at the American Ballet Theater at the age of 16. . so many kisses in the street right now, you know? she said, wearing a giant vintage Nike t-shirt and pink Las Vegas hat she bought at a gas station. “We were reminded of what it’s like to experience things together, and I think you can feel it. The city feels alive, silly and spontaneous.

Qualley is back in Manhattan after nine months of filming on Vancouver Island Housemaid, the new Netflix series based on the memoir of Stephanie Land, Housekeeper: hard work, low wages and a mother’s will to survive. She portrays Alex, a 25-year-old mother trying to extricate herself and her young daughter from an emotionally abusive relationship, ricocheting between family members and government safety nets that fail her as she dark in poverty. She takes a job as a cleaning lady, and she’s good at it, although not as good as she is at writing about the lives of people whose credenzas and dildo drawers she dusted.

The producers were still trying to play the mother of Alex, a free-spirited artist with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, when Qualley arrived in Canada to self-quarantine before filming. “It struck me that my mom should do it,” she says. She made her case in passionate emails to executive producers Molly Smith Metzler and John Wells, as well as her Once upon a time … in Hollywood co-star Margot Robbie, whose company, LuckyChap, co-produced the series. It helped, of course, that his mother was Golden Globe nominated actor Andie MacDowell. The executives were convinced.

The EXPERIENCE of playing a girl in front of her current mother was profound. “When you walk into a room and your mom is there, it does something to you,” she said. “Not only are you allowed to touch her like family, but rolling your eyes is an integrated response in the same way as tearing yourself apart from a hug at the right time.” Under the gaze of his real mother, Qualley took on the role of one, along with the little triumphs and chores that come with spending intense time with a child. She is enthusiastic when she talks about Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, who plays her daughter, and their closeness has made her patient and strategic, like a real parent. Sometimes a four-year-old doesn’t want to sit in a car seat for 20 takes, so Qualley got creative, throwing Whittet on his shoulders or playing elaborate pretend games. “Besides acting with my mom, the relationship with Rylea really hit me the hardest,” she explains. “When she sleeps in my arms, it was happening for real. To have a little four year old clinging to you and needing you is such a wild and special experience.

Not only do you have AUTHORISATION touch her like FAMILY corn ROLL YOUR EYES is a INTEGRATED RESPONSE the same way as TO TEAR a good time EMBRACE is.

Qualley really wants to have children of her own someday. “Despite the fact that I dress like this,” she said, pointing to the cavernous t-shirt someone seriously wore in the 1990s, “I always dreamed of getting married. There is a girly-girl part of me that thought about what my wedding would be like. (Tall, drunk, with a dress not too long to dance, she adds.) “And I dreamed of having children. I am a real romantic that way.

There is a tenderness towards Qualley, a sweetness and a silliness that she can bury for roles – certainly for her towering performance in Housemaid, which is led by courage and vigilance. “Unfortunately, it’s so common,” she says, choosing her words carefully when I ask her how she prepared for the emotional abuse her character is going through. “And it’s true that more than half of people experience some level of psychological threat in a relationship during their lifetime. I just did my best to read the script and experience Alex’s reality in the scenes as much as possible.

Chanel cape and dress; Bulgari High Jewelry earrings. | DEIRDRE LEWIS

ANYONE WITH A CALENDAR and internet access could also understand that Qualley was filming this role at the same time as she was dating Shia LaBeouf. News of their relationship broke in December, just a week after singer-songwriter FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit against the actor, alleging sexual assault, assault, and intentional emotional suffering at the during their previous relationship. In early January, Qualley and LaBeouf had separated. In February, when Twigs detailed their story to She magazine, Qualley posted the cover on his Instagram account with the caption “Thank you.” “I think a lot of people were moved by your support,” I say of the post. “And I can’t imagine it was a decision you took lightly. Why did you do it?”

“It was important to me that she knew I believe her – and it’s that simple,” Qualley says, his face open but unreadable, before politely saying that she doesn’t want to talk about her personal life. . She is not surprised, however, that the latter role may raise questions about this period. “Yeah,” she said, acknowledging the inquiries that are sure to come to her. “I’m like” – and then, with her sleek ballerina arms, she does an exaggerated pantomime of buckling a seat belt on herself and settling into Drive – “okay.”

It was IMPORTANT to me for her KNOW this I BELIEVE HER – and it’s that easy.

Gucci jacket, shirt and pants. | DEIRDRE LEWIS

But she wants to talk about her personal life. Qualley tells me how, after years of writhing around to get a feel for a person (aloof, shy, “cool”), she recently got closer to who she was when she was a child. (dingo, open). She shows me pictures of the cardboard box in her apartment that until recently served as a breakfast table. She tells me a story of going to Paris and London with her siblings, Rainey, 31, and Justin, 35.

It was the end of 2019, and they had all recently broken up. None of them could sleep, so they ate breakfast early, walked miles, gave museums a chance, ate ice cream, walked more. His brother ate jalapeños and lemons, which he had heard release endorphins to fight depression. “And we all hated each other so much,” Qualley recalls. Reflected by people cut off from her own fabric, she saw her own propensity for self-mockery. “I was like, can we all come together and stop hating each other?”

So she started to be gentler on herself, and that made her happier. She has given up some of the control she had at work since she was a teenager pursuing professional dance. She has taken this approach into fashion, an industry that is thrilled to have it. (Earlier in the summer, she walked the runway as the iconic bride in the latest look at the Chanel couture show.) Explains. “And then I realized that if I give up control, if I don’t micromanage the things that I’m not even qualified to micromanage and give anyone trust, I’m having a lot of fun.” Of course, part of what makes this letting go easier, she knows, is that over the course of her short career, she’s worked with an unusually high number of enviable creators: Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola. , Olivia Wilde, Virginie Viard from Chanel. “Margaret is particularly spontaneous and raw as an actress,” says Lila Neugebauer, who directed her in the haunting fifth episode of Housemaid. “She is skillfully attuned to her instincts, completely available to her stage partner and a captivating common thread.”

Gucci jacket, shirt and pants | DEIRDRE LEWIS

I realized if I TO RENOUNCER control, if I DO NOT micromanage things that i’m not even QUALIFIED To MICRO MANAGEMENT and give our FAITH to anyone, I have a PARCEL of AMUSING.

Qualley then brings those instincts to independent film. Sanctuary, a 24 hour “bizarre love affair” in a hotel room with a dominatrix (her). Later in the year, she will go to Panama, where her father lives, to film The stars at noon, an adaptation by Claire Denis of Denis Johnson’s 1986 novel, in which she plays an American posing as a journalist in Nicaragua under the Sandinista regime. For now, however, she is returning to 26 during an unprecedented summer in New York City. She could go to dinner, or on a rooftop, or to a party in East River Park. But she’s just as likely to return home and get ready for the next character. “Fun job,” she says. “I just work really hard to try to be good.”

This item appears in the November issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Australia / New Zealand, now on newsstands and available for purchase here.

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