When Cailee Spaeny got the phone call to say she’d been cast as the lead in the follow-up to ’90s cult classic The Craft, her excitement was tempered by one thing only—as a self-confessed horror movie wimp, she’d never actually seen the original film. “I have the same three horror films I’ve seen in my life and I just keep watching them over and over again, so I don’t seem like a big baby in front of my friends,” she says, laughing. “I’d never seen The Craft, which is slightly embarrassing, but I did force myself to watch it after that and it was so iconic. I understood right away why it was so close to people’s hearts.”
Spaeny does note, however, that whenever she told friends of a certain generation about her role in the film, their response was near-universal: “You can’t mess this up.” An intimidating start to a project, surely? “I do genuinely think it was really revolutionary for a genre film, though,” Spaeny adds. “I was watching the original Halloween recently, and I was like, this movie is horrible for women—it’s so offensive! So to make a movie at that time with women in all their power, who were both the good guys and the bad guys, that touched on racism and sexual assault and was led by women, is amazing.” As Spaeny describes it, the impetus for reimagining the story—here titled The Craft: Legacy and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones—was to highlight the original’s obvious resonance with young women today, while at the same time updating it to feel firmly of the moment.
Spaeny is talking over Zoom from Philadelphia, where filming on her upcoming HBO series Mare of Easttown starring Kate Winslet has resumed after an eight-month hiatus. “It’s been a bit wild. I worked like a 14 hour day yesterday and did a nude scene for the first time ever. I haven’t seen these people in eight months, and now I’m naked in front of them,” Spaeny adds, laughing again. “It’s all very strange, but I’m happy to be working again.”
She certainly deserved the break: looking at Spaeny’s packed release schedule over the past few years, it seems there’s barely been a minute she hasn’t been working. Since her breakout role in Guillermo del Toro’s 2018 Pacific Rim sequel, Spaeny has racked up appearances in the neo-noir thriller Bad Times at the El Royale opposite Dakota Johnson, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s daughter Jane in On the Basis of Sex, and as a young Lynne Cheney in Adam McKay’s political satire Vice. Most recently, she won critical acclaim for her turn in Alex Garland’s sci-fi series Devs playing a male coder working in a secretive division of a shady tech company.
Despite this impressively versatile roster, Spaeny’s role in The Craft: Legacy—the first film in which she was very much the lead actor—was a new challenge, with the story pitching to a different audience closer to her own generation. (It’s also her second film with a female director at the helm, notable only for the fact that many actors with decades in the industry have yet to work with even one.) The women-led crew is something Spaeny feels is reflected in the spirit of the film, which sees the young witches use magic to challenge toxic masculinity and the patriarchy with razor-sharp wit. “I love what Zoe did by using this cult classic as a blueprint to explore young women’s issues today,” Spaeny explains. “There’s a strong sense of inclusivity, and I think the nice thing about this film is that it’s not about women turning on each other. I think we have enough of those stories right now.”
Another element of the original that is close to people’s hearts is, of course, the fashion. Released just as the grunge movement had filtered into the mainstream, and at the height of mall goth style, The Craft blended traditional witchy signifiers—black velvet, crucifix necklaces, and plenty of kohl—with the studded chokers, pleated tartan skirts, and stompy lace-up boots that feel so representative of that mid-’90s moment. That the costumes of Legacy feel rooted in 2020, however, is no accident. “We wanted these girls to look like we embraced our natural bodies, and there was no pressure to look sexy,” says Spaeny. “There was a real sisterly quality to it, we all had Pinterest boards that we were adding to every day, and all of us kept bits of our costumes at the end.”
The looks will serve as welcome additions to Spaeny’s ever-growing wardrobe, as she’s quietly established herself as a low-key red carpet star over the past few years with her increasing willingness to embrace more experimental looks. “Really?” Spaeny responds. “I feel like I’ve only been in this for a second! It still blows my mind that part of my job is to walk around on carpets wearing beautiful dresses. I come from a very large family, there’s nine of us all together, so it was lots of hand-me-down clothes and shopping at second-hand stores, and always trying to save money. So it still feels surreal to be able to pick and choose what my style is and what it means and what it says.”
What feels even more surreal for Spaeny is to be promoting a film during the pandemic, even if it’s something she’s come around to as a more responsible endeavor than it might initially seem. “I realized I’m thankful we can present it as a reason for everyone to stay home, and not be dumb,” she adds. “I know everyone wants to go out on Halloween, have fun, I get it, but I hope everyone can stay in and watch a fun movie instead, and it feels good promoting it because of that.” And as Spaeny astutely notes, it also feels perfectly timed as an accompaniment to the other horrorshow taking place—namely, the tumultuous lead-up to the 2020 election.
“We all need a break, and these moments of fun and lightheartedness to band together and feel safe,” Spaeny concludes. “I also love what this movie is saying for young women, because it’s so strange to be a teenage girl right now with a president who is an open misogynist. To have to wake up with that in the back of your mind as a young girl in this world is frightening, and I think it has a greater effect than we might realize. I know that’s kind of dark, but it’s the truth of the world we’re living in.”