Interview: Raffey Cassidy Suffers Teen Trauma in Vox Lux
16-year-old actress Raffey Cassidy won acclaim playing tween android Athena in 2015’s Disney film Tomorrowland. She also played young Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman and was in the Dark Shadows movie. Now you can catch her as a younger version of Natalie Portman’s character in the popstar-centric drama Vox Lux (Warning: Rated R for language, violence and some drug content. Might be too intense for young tweens).
Raffey, who is English, had to learn to dance, refresh her singing skills and speak in a New York Staten Island accent to play young Celeste, a girl traumatized by a shooting in her school who is then discovered while singing at the memorial service for fallen classmates. As an adult (Natalie Portman) she has become a global superstar and has to cope with the massive ups and downs of fame.
In this interview, Raffey talks about preparing for the role, school shootings, acting challenges, working with Natalie Portman and Jude Law, what she would do if not acting and more…
Q: You had a lot of work to do; singing, dancing and you had an accent. Tell us a little bit about your preparation for the film.
- Raffey: Well, first I worked on the accent because I needed a Staten Island accent which was difficult because it’s completely different to New York, and then I worked on my singing. I’d previously had (singing lessons) for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the film I did before this which was good. And, for the dancing, because she was supposed to be new to it, I would learn it the day before and shoot it the next day.
Q: Of those three things you had to learn, which was the most challenging for you?
- Raffey: The most challenging was probably singing because it’s not something I ordinarily do but I guess it’s in the character so you just get used to it. That was probably the most difficult.
Q: You have a dual role in this. You were very convincing as these two different people Celeste and Albertine. What was the challenge in playing a dual role?
- Raffey: I think that it was really important for (director) Brady (Corbet) to have differences (between the two) but not to have it be gimmicky. But it was also fun to do. It’s kind of challenging at the same time. It was shot sequentially so we did young Celeste then I’d move on to Albertine so I’d completely forget the Celeste character and focus on Albertine.
Q: You’ve been acting since you were seven. What have you learned from the filmmakers?
- Raffey: With all of the directors I’ve worked with I’ve been so lucky that they all have had their own style. So, I think that’s been very beneficial. Brady was such an amazing director, the way that he would give you directions really worked. He was very specific but then also would let you play around. I think that’s probably because he was actually an actor before he was a director and that gave him a sense of how to properly portray because he knew what it was like to be in that (actor’s) position.
Q: A lot of people might be shocked at the beginning of this film. It’s a sadly familiar tragedy. Was that something you are personally concerned about?
- Raffey: Yes. I think the whole world is concerned with events like that (school shootings) because it’s impacting the whole world. That’s what drew me to the script, the fact that the tragedy is there as soon as you sit down. It doesn’t let the audience settle in. It just throws you right in which is kind of what happens in the real world because no one expects it. The reactions are real.
Q: How do you feel about the way this incident affects Celeste for the rest of her life?
- Raffey: I think what we see is that Celeste didn’t really deal with the trauma. She kind of just pushed through and pushed it down which didn’t work because it comes back and haunts her later in life. I think you can tell through the way that Natalie plays it that she hasn’t gotten over it. It’s played a massive part in her life. I heard Natalie say that she was birthed from it which it so true. This is her now. From that incident, her innocence was taken. She made a deal with the devil that she would give her innocence to live in this fame world.
Q: You’ve worked with some great actors; Natalie and Jude in this film. What was it like working with them? Did you get a chance to bond at all?
- Raffey: It was a very small group. Everyone was like a little family on set. It was really nice because we worked together every day for like twenty-two days which is super short to shoot something but we all (bonded). It’s very helpful that they’re such lovely people and so easy to get along with and so much fun to work with. They like to play around with things. They’re so much more experienced than me. You learn things without knowing. You’re constantly watching them every day so you’re bound to learn things. I don’t think it is until you go away and do something and think ‘Oh my God, I remember seeing this person doing that’ that you actually realize that you are learning and taking things from them daily.
Q: I think this is the third film in which you play a young version of someone else (there was Snow White and the Huntsman and Dark Shadows) but, for this, you didn’t have to mimic Natalie’s style or mannerisms since she shot her scenes after you. Did she watch your footage before doing her part?
- Raffey: I don’t think so because I think we used Brady as the middle person to connect the two; young Celeste and older Celeste. They are two completely different characters so it wasn’t important that we played the same person. We never sat down and had a chat about it. We just relied on Brady to connect the two. The person you see at the start was nothing like the person you would see at the end.
Q: You’ve been doing this for almost half your life now so I assume acting is the career you want to continue with. Are you planning to go to college and about to finish high school?
- Raffey: I have about a year and a half left of high school. I guess you never know. I could completely change my mind in twenty years but, at the moment, acting is all I want to do. It’s what I love but I also have an interest in fashion which I would like to explore but only ever on the side of acting.
Q: Fashion in terms of designing?
- Raffey: Yeah. I would love to design and have my own company.