MILAN — Cailee Spaeny’s glow in the Bulgari fragrance advertising campaign is not Photoshop’s work, that’s for sure.
The rising movie star shined with her friendly ways, poise and thoughtful answers as she met press at the Bulgari hotel here on Thursday to reveal the role she landed for the Roman house. A pristine look and essential gold jewelry courtesy of the brand (of course) only amplified her radiance.
The actress, best known for playing the leading character in Sofia Coppola’s new movie “Priscilla,” was aptly tapped by Bulgari to front the “Reveal Your Light” campaign, which retools the communication of three of its signature Omnia fragrances — Crystalline, Amethyste and Coral — to unveil their redesigned flacon and packaging.
“It’s been almost a year since I’ve shot the campaign and it was the first time doing anything like that. I was obviously very nervous, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Spaeny to WWD, recalling the day on set in Portugal.
“It was fun because I felt that I got to play an extended version of me. With each scent [we] tell something different: so depending on which scent we were playing with at the time there would be sort of different attitudes and a slightly different character of myself,” she continued. “It was a little creative acting challenge, but I wasn’t really playing any character, it was based off of me. I felt like I sort of grew up during the shoot.”
Spaeny underscored the power of scents in triggering memories, too. “Growing up, my mom has always gravitated toward patchouli. She’d always have a patchouli oil the whole time, and she would always burn incense. She’s a bit of a hippie, so I really connected with those scents as a child and anytime I smell them, they take me right back to my mom,” she said.
The actress touched down in Milan during fashion week after her very first trip to Venice (to attend the local film festival), where she was presented with the Coppa Volpi award for best actress for her interpretation of Priscilla Presley in Coppola’s film.
“Italy’s been good to me,” she said with a smile. “It was my first everything. It was my first festival, my first time at Venice — an absolutely surreal experience. First, to just be in that city. There’s not a city quite like that in the world. I thought ‘oh, this can’t be real. This looks like a film set’,” recalled Spaeny, who brought her big sister with her from Missouri.
“Then to have our film at Venice Film Festival with those groups of artists who are there and that jury with people who I look up to as creatives and who are real titans in the industry.…And then I didn’t even think that there was an award — I knew there was a Golden Lion [award for best movie] but I didn’t even think of the other categories,” she said, candidly admitting she already flew back to England before getting a call to return to receive the accolade. “It was a huge moment for me, my career and my life.”
Based on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” and slated to hit theaters on Oct. 27, the movie intends to narrate the unseen side of Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s relationship, from the long courtship to turbulent marriage, told from the title role’s point of view and spotlighting her passage into adulthood, her quest for identity and independence.
The day of the premiere was as pivotal as winning the award, said Spaeny. “I hadn’t seen the film until Venice, while everyone else [in the cast, did]. I was so nervous to watch myself on-screen in every frame for an hour and 40 minutes, and [thought I couldn’t] do it with Priscilla Presley sitting right next to me. So I told them I’m going to leave,” recalled the actress, who was eventually convinced by Coppola to stay.
Even if it was well received from the audience — “I mean, seven-minute standing ovation: that’s a good sign” — Spaeny said she’s not one to read reviews online, staying away also from social media as she doesn’t “want anything in my head, affecting me too much.” In this case, she cared about only Presley’s reaction. “[The premiere] was the first time she turned to me and said: ‘It was a great performance. I relived my life watching you.’ So honestly [after that] it didn’t matter what anyone said. Making that film was for her.”
“It’s a really complicated and nuanced story, not easy to tell. But she’s lived such an incredible life and so many different lives within one. I just wanted her to feel like she was safe in our hands,” added the actress.
Asked about the biggest challenges in approaching the role, Spaeny pointed out that “she’s actually very far away from me. I’m a bit of a tomboy and from a different era,” and to the fast shooting process.
“It was only 30 days and we shot incredibly out-of-order. In a moment I’d be 14 years old, and then later in the day, I’d be pregnant. It was so hard to keep track of the sort of arc.…But the hair, the makeup, the costume was the real grounding element for me to keep me on track where I was in the story of her life,” said Spaeny.
Music was another anchoring element and provided for one of her best memories from the set. A big part of Coppola’s movies, music is a key aspect of the director’s process, too.
“When she’s actually making the movie, she has music playing the whole time on set. Any song request you have, she’s got a playlist made,” revealed Spaeny. “A really vivid memory I have is the song ‘Fade Into You’ by Mazzy Star. A gorgeous song that she decided that was Priscilla’s song. So I would walk on the set and I’d be in a new costume and hair and makeup…and she’d just play on the song, and it would just drop you into a melancholy world. That was really special: to see the way that she used music within her filmmaking process and her picking out a song for me and my character. Every time I hear that song now, it has a special place in my heart.”
Spaeny’s appreciation for Coppola traces back to her teenage years, as she defined her as “my dream director.”
“As a 14-year-old girl, I started watching her films like ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and ‘Somewhere’, these sort of lonely women. And I think it sort of unlocked something: as a teenager you don’t really get allowed to express this sort of dark side of being a young girl, and she really unlocks that,” she said.
Although she auditioned for Coppola a couple of times before, Spaeny landed the “Priscilla” leading role also with a little help of encouragement from the director’s longtime friend Kirsten Dunst, as revealed by Coppola earlier this month.
Asked about her future dream role, instead, Spaeny said the she would like to keep that connection with music going. “I’m a musical theater kid, so maybe someday doing some form of musical,” she said, citing classics such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” among her favorite films.
Spaeny’s taste for movies is a harbinger for her style — she favors timeless fashion pieces for everyday, and revealed she likes to stay away from fickle trends. On the red carpet, this approach leads to old Hollywood-style looks, put together with the help of her stylist Nicky Yates.
“She’s been great to find the through line in the story we’re telling on the red carpets,” said Spaeny, referencing the “Priscilla” press tour. “It’s been a challenge for me to find my silhouette. I’ve got a very young look so I try to go against that with more sophisticated silhouettes, also bringing in little homages to the ‘60s and to Priscilla,” said the actress, mentioning how the duo worked on pastel hues or integrating embellishments like bows and crystals. Cue the Miu Miu cady gown with a deep neckline and embroidered with crystal and pearls fringes she wore in Venice.
While she won’t stay in Milan for any fashion show, Spaeny is headed to the Miu Miu one in Paris on Oct. 3. “I’ve been with them a couple of times already, but they always put on an incredible show and do something fun and innovative. So I’m excited to see what they do this season,” she concluded.