Raffey Cassidy | You Can't Teach Brutalism, But You Can Sure As Hell Try
If you caught a recap of the Louis Vuitton s/s 2018 fashion show this October, you might have seen her gracing the front row—a precociously poised young woman with bewitching eyes, impeccably outfitted in a two-toned camel and brown jacket accented with a burnt-orange scarf. If you were wondering, that was fifteen-year-old Manchester-born actress Raffey Cassidy, and as for the ease with which she assumed her place amidst the glitterati, it no doubt stems in part from the fact that she has been soaking upthe limelight since the age of seven.
With three older siblings in the industry before her, Cassidy has been groomed for the job—though she came upon her first role by accident. “I was on my way back from school with my brother and he had an audition so I just went along with him,” she tells me, recalling the happy accident that lead to her first role. “When he came out they said, ‘Oh, we need a little girl. Would you like to have a go?’” Since then Cassidy has sparked the interest of seasoned industry movers and shakers, notching films with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman and making history at age 11 as the youngest-ever actress to be named one of Screen International UK’s Stars of Tomorrow—and all this before she can take her driver’s test.
But Cassidy’s petite Vuitton pumps are firmly grounded. She’s keeping her sights set on university even as her career reaches new heights, running from Cannes Film Festival back to Manchester for her GCSE mock exams. Growing into her teens, she has started exploring style, design and fashion, and she hopes to attend a fashion university. “I think that would be a good counterpart to acting,” she tells me with a smile.
With a knack for brooding composure and quiet intensity—plus those unmistakable icy-blue eyes—Cassidy has moved on from her breakout role in Disney’s Tomorrowland to darker, more demanding territory. Case in point is the latest Yorgos Lanthimos film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which tells the deeply disturbing (and blackly comic) story of a man who is made to face an impossibly difficult choice by a sinister interloper into his family’s life, and in which Cassidy plays a starring role as Kim Murphy, the daughter in the family. Cassidy describes her character as “a very odd teenager—kind of wanting to rebel against her family in a way.”
That’s a bit of an understatement as those who have seen the film will know, but Cassidy shines in the role, perfectly capturing Lanthimos’s trademark bloodless, almost alien tone and imbuing Kim with an unnerving manipulative charm. It’s a role that demands commitment, and Cassidy certainly delivered: in one demanding scene Kim drags her paralyzed body down the stairs and across a room to her love interest, and Cassidy, perhaps with an excess of zeal, chose to do a take without protective gear. Two banged-up knees later she learned her lesson and threw on some pads.
I ask Cassidy why she was drawn to a pitch-dark, slightly obscure thriller while many actresses her age are looking to build their personal brand with a show on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon or a spot in the latest franchise of the week. She considers the question for a bit. “I suppose the reason I wanted to do it was because I hadn’t done anything like that before so I knew it’d be a challenge.” She fell in love with this challenge right away— she was attracted to the role in part because of the bizarre audition techniques that Lanthimos used to probe the abilities of the prospective actors. “He had me lying on the couch when I had my monologue scene. Every time he wanted me to take a breath, I had to pretend to faint. I had to wrap my head around that, but it ended up being a really great experience,” she says, beaming at the memory.
With four kids in the film industry, you might think that the Cassidys would be an unusual family, but Raffey describes her home life as being a respite from the pressure of the set. “When we come back we just have a normal life together. Even though we all have our projects, it doesn’t really affect our home life or anything.” At the same time, she admits, having siblings in the industry has its perks: “It’s really helpful because they know how it works and they know their way around a script. They’re quite a bit older than me, and sometimes a bit more experienced. They’ve taught me how to be disciplined and professional on set.”
Though she insists she’s just another teenager, in one pivotal sense she is very different: while most Generation Z-ers are glued to their Instagram feeds and Snapchat filters, Cassidy doesn’t follow suit. She doesn’t participate in this era of oversharing on social media—she protects her identity. “I just haven’t really been too interested in it at the moment,” she claims. But it also seems strategic, another way in which she is a step ahead and in control: we get to see only what she intends us to see, and so she shapes our understanding of her. Away from prying eyes, Cassidy’s life is her own. She lets her work speak for itself. It’s rare to encounter such self-possession in someone so young, especially in the film industry, but for someone so skilled at shaping characters and imaginary lives, it’s no wonder she’s in full command of her own.