Whether it’s walking the red carpet to her next premiere, receiving numerous awards for her work, or talking to the press with that beautiful grin on her face, eyes wide and sparkling, Margaret Qualley has this unique ability to stay grounded, poised and ready to tackle just about anything. She’s a doer, and won’t wait around to be told what to do.
From growing up in the deep south of North Carolina, to dancing like no one is watching, to becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Margaret is magnificent in any goal she sets herself. She truly shines, marking herself truly as one of the world’s most down-to-earth and sensational actresses.
The unique and cool thing about Qualley that certainly sets her apart from the rest is her gift of playing the radiant young woman—bright-eyed; a zest and playfulness about her. You can feel it oozing off her as she performs. This likeability. Even though she’s been a constant on the acting scene since 2013 (with her debut in the James Franco-directed film, Palo Alto) any role that she plays offers a freshness that makes it feel like you’re watching Qualley for the first time.
Born Sarah Margret Qualley in Kalispell, Montana, to actress Andie MacDowell and musician, Paul Qualley, the young Margret was a creative kid from the get-go. Maybe she got it from her mum? Famous for her roles in Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and A Funeral, Andie MacDowell is one of the most recognizable actresses going, especially for fans of 90’s rom-coms.
‘Growing up in North Carolina, my mum was always just sort of my mum to me,’ she told Teen Vogue in 2012. ‘I never really recognized her as a famous actress.’
Acting (or any art, for that matter) was never forced upon Margaret but came to her naturally. The youngest of three children—Rainey being four years older and Justin being eight years older—she often got lost in growing up in a loud household. The family moved frequently too, having spent her earliest years on a ranch in Montana. When Margaret was four, the family up-and-moved again to settle down in Asheville, North Carolina.
At age five, Andie and Paul amicably split, so the kids split their time with the two parents. Luckily, the kids didn’t have to go too far with each parent only living five kilometers from each other.
‘Like every child of divorce, I had The Parent Trap fantasies,’ Qualley told Business Standard in 2017 in relation to her parents splitting up (and Macdowell’s consequential coupling with Dennis Quaid).
For Margaret and her siblings, growing up in a Southern small town definitely had its perks. She was free to do what she wanted and truly find herself. Her mum made sure to instill traditional values into her children too. Good manners. Tradition. Respect. Margaret and her sister ‘debuted’ as teenage débutante’s before being sent off into the world.
Growing up in the South gave Qualley a huge range of skills to use in later life (and her future career) but was very different to the big cities she would soon occupy—LA and New York, for example.
In school, Margaret was a strange kid, making friends with inanimate objects and being a hard-out social-justice warrior, back when being outspoken on such activism was deemed odd.
‘I was a vegetarian who was selling recycled global-warming bracelets for charity,’ Qualley told online magazine AnOther last year, ‘and sifting through the trash bins, being like: “You didn’t recycle this!” and putting up pictures of cows being slaughtered. I was so annoying, passionate, and gangly.’
At age 14, Qualley left home to find her own path. The need to become a dancer was still sizzling in her bones. Young Margaret earned herself an apprenticeship with the North Carolina Dance Theatre, so with a backpack covered in Harry Potter stickers and a fistful of dreams, Margaret went off to find herself.
‘I watched Flashdance over and over,’ Qualley said. ‘And when I got bored, I figured out the dances in music videos. I can do every step of ‘Thriller,’ and I love the end of Björk’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet.’ And don’t get me started on Britney Spears’ ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’! That’s, like, wow!’
Through her studies at the illustrious Academy, Margaret further gained an apprenticeship to the American Ballet Theatre and a place at the Professional Children’s School, both of which are situated in New York City.
In 2011, at age 16, Qualley had the realization (whilst studying at these two illustrious schools) that dancing, unfortunately, wasn’t for her. Her skin was too pasty-white in her leotard and her feet began to hurt from the pointe shoes.
‘I wrote to my mum saying: “Look, I don’t think I want to be a dancer anymore”’, Qualley told the Evening Standard in 2017, ‘“so I’m going to quit ballet and stay here [in New York City].” I laid [the letter] out in a way that she couldn’t say no because I was so organized.’
Her sights had been set on modeling and made her debut at the 2011 New York Fashion Week, walking for Alberta Ferreti and then again the next year for the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter Chanel shows. Nowadays, actually, she leads Chanel’s Coco Crush campaign and was recently appointed as house ambassador for the high-end brand. A long way away, I bet, from the early days of modeling in New York. She also to this day still works alongside big fashion houses, such as Tory Burch (starring in the short promo film, L’Américaine), Kenzo (appearing in a recent Spike Lee-TV advertisement for their WORLD brand) and Vogue, to name but a few.
It was around 2012 that her then-boyfriend at the time, Nat Wolff—most known for his role as Isaac in the 2014 teen-flick, The Fault In Our Stars—took her to an acting class where she found her love for playing around as different characters.
‘Ballet, there’s a right way to do things,’ Qualley told The Wall Street Journal in 2016. ‘It’s black and white, and it’s all striving for perfection. Acting is not that way. It’s very gray, and the messier you can be, the better. The mistakes that you make are the gold and the beautiful stuff.’
Acting taught her to open up her much-oppressed feelings about life. Nat, at the time, was working on Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, and the next day when visiting Nat on set, Qualley was offered a job on the spot.
In the film, Margaret plays Raquel, a classmate to Emma Roberts’ character, and truly found her footing in acting.
In the same year (probably due to the reviews streaming in for her performance in the Coppola film), Qualley was cast in the super-big, post-apocalyptic, The Leftovers, as Jill Garvey, the daughter of Kevin (played by Justin Theroux) and Laurie Garvey (played by Amy Brenneman). The premise of the show follows the Garvey family three years after a global event called the Sudden Departure, the sudden disappearance of 140 million people.
‘With The Leftovers, I was actually super, super lucky,’ Margaret said to Vanity Fair in 2015. ‘It was my first major audition. When I came out, the casting director was kissing me on the face and I was like: Oh…that’s probably a good sign.’
After The Leftovers (in which she returned to reprise her role in 2015 and 2017, respectively), her acting resume started to really grow. A smattering of film roles were sent to her via her agent. She performed alongside Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in the 2016, The Nice Guys, with Elle Fanning and Nathan Lane in The Vanishing of Sidney Hall and Melissa Leo and Dianna Agron in Novitiate. And if that’s not enough to impress you, she also starred in the supernatural crime-thriller film, Death Note, directed by Adam Wingard, a loose adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name all in the same year. The Vanishing of Sydney Hall and Novitiate both made their screen debuts during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In 2018, Qualley appeared in the drama film, Donnybrook, directed by Tim Stutton, and Jonothan Herbert’s Netflix film, Io, which garnered more rave reviews for the young star. She played Sam Walden, a teenager surviving as one of the last people on an abandoned post-cataclysmic Earth.
It was in 2019 that Qualley really struck gold by playing the small role of Debra Jo Hillhouse, AKA Pussycat, a hippie and devoted member of Charles Manson’s Family in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. Being cast in such a highly-anticipated blockbuster really opened up many doors for the young actress.
‘Actually, I sang a song too,’ Qualley told American fashion magazine, W, in 2020 about her audition for the Tarantino flick. ‘Always is Always Forever [written by Charles Manson]. They told me to do something ‘a little extra’. It was a terrible choice—I’ve got a bad voice and I’m really nervous about singing. I don’t know why I did that to myself but I did. And then…I didn’t get the part.’
Not getting the role of Pussycat didn’t perturb Qualley, though. She just shrugged her shoulders and went on about her life. After being denied the role, she had actually flown to Panama to visit her dad (who had told her that if she visited him she’d get in the ‘Quentin Tarantino movie’—using the logic that if she plans ahead and makes goals, her dreams will come true).
Manifestation at its finest.
‘My third day [in Panama], I got a call saying that I had to come home to do a chemistry read with Brad Pitt. Now my dad thinks he has magical powers.’
Taking place in 1960’s Los Angeles, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood centers around actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Throughout the course of the film (which follows a very Tarantino’esk novel-like structure) Rick struggles to find work in Hollywood, and spends most of the first half of the movie drinking and just hanging out with his buddy. Rick also happens to live next door to Roman Polanski (played by Polish film and theater star, Rafał Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (played by the always-fantastic Margot Robbie), whose future is drastically changed by members of the Manson Family.
Enter the Family, a collection of band-together misfits who worship the cult-leader Charles Manson. Big acting names like Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham and Sydney Sweeney got screen time as members. And of course our girl Qualley. Her character is speculated to be based on the real-life member of the Manson clan, Kathryn Lutesinger whose nickname was Kitty Kat.
For anyone who has seen the film, they’ll know the scene well. Cliff (Pitt) picks up Pussycat on the side of the road, promising to drop her off at the infamous Spahn Ranch. She’s louche, care-free, and mysterious, with LSD-dipped cigarettes in her back pocket. She props her dirty feet up on the dashboard as they’re headed to the Ranch—a nod to the eccentric director’s universally known (and quite unhygienic) foot fetish. Qualley’s character portrayal is instantly likable and unique. It’s pretty obvious at that point in the scene that Pussycat is planning on inducting Cliff into the Family.
It’s a real Tarantino flick, alright—gritty dialogue, exaggeration and unpredictability. Oh, and unnecessarily violent. But an absolute blockbuster, nonetheless.
Margaret had a blast on set, being surrounded by like-minded actors that all worked together as a well-oiled machine. Moreso, Qualley enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside Tarantino, who was always passionate about making the best movie he could.
In an interview with Deadline in 2019, Tarantino said this of Qualley: ‘If they had two scenes, they now had one scene, and if they had one huge, big scene, well, that huge, big scene was cut in half. That’s kind of the way it fell for everybody—except Margaret. Her scenes were just so good that they could never get cut.’
‘I remember Quentin came up to me after a take,’ Qualley recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 2019 about working with the master director, Tarantino, ‘and he was like: “if you have the impulse to do something, then just listen to yourself.” And I think that’s such great advice because it was definitely nerve-racking to be there, but he encouraged me to trust myself, which was really nice and meant a lot.’
The success of the film catapulted her to new heights, for sure. Margaret continued to work in film, accepting any role that came her way, like in Melissa Moody’s Strange But True, and 2020’s My Salinger Year.
In 2021, Margaret got a random call from screenwriter and award-winning playwright, Molly Smith Metzler. She had been working on adapting Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive into a limited edition series on Netflix and was looking for an actress to play the lead. Qualley had, the screenwriter told Margaret, been on her mind.
The limited Netflix series tells the story of a single mother, Alex (Qualley), who leaves her abusive boyfriend and tries to make ends meet by working tirelessly as a maid.
Qualley (absolutely nailing the character of Alex) obviously accepted and had the great opportunity of working alongside her mum, Andie MacDowell.
‘That’s a really special thing to happen to a parent,’ MacDowell told Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air radio station in 2019, ‘to have a child trust them and to want them to play opposite them.’
The protagonist’s mother, Paula, is along for the ride too and makes herself central to getting her daughter out-the-dumps, with a lot of bumps along the way. Paula seems to have a mental health disorder and is constantly in a state of mania.
‘It was my idea to cast my mum as my mum,’ Qualley told The Los Angeles Times last year. ‘I was already in Canada quarantining—we shot on Vancouver Island, so I was up there quarantining—and they hadn’t cast the role of my mother yet. This was one of the first productions back from the pandemic, and it was a time when I was questioning what mattered to me. I love working, and I love my family, and it was a great opportunity to do both of those things at once.’
The mother and daughter certainly paid off, with the series meeting critical acclaim on its release with three Emmy nominations, three Golden Globe nominations (including an acting nomination for Qualley), Critics Choice Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award. It also allowed Andie and Margaret some much-needed bonding time, which is pretty cute.
After the success of Maid died down (in which it was said to be one of the best shows to come out of 2021), Margaret went on to star Scott Cooper’s psychological thriller, A Head Full of Ghosts and in Stars at Noon opposite Joe Alwyn directed by Claire Denis. With the success of her many achievements still ringing in her ears from Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and the amazing performance she gave in Maid, we’re excited to see what comes next for the next actress.
This year, Qualley will executive produce and star in the erotic thriller, Sanctuary and star in Poor Things alongside Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo. It seems that Qualley isn’t slowing down too soon, and we can be certain that she’ll offer a brilliant, fresh performance in whatever she does.
Qualley now can look back at her career so far and be immensely impressed by all that she’s accomplished. From Southern-state girl to Hollywood blockbuster royalty, any role she puts her mind to is marvelous. She must’ve taken Tarantino’s advice when he told her to trust her intuition. She’s carved a new path (a dazzling, successful life too) for herself, and is having a great time doing it.
‘It’s been a weird, circuitous route to be able to accomplish these things that I don’t think I would have been able to had I strictly stuck with ballet,’ Qualley said to The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “All of these opportunities that I’ve had, my childhood self would f**king die.”