Margaret Qualley has Hollywood in her blood but is fast becoming a star in her own right. She opens up to Molly Creedon about being a total romantic, learning to let go, and playing a mother alongside her own mother, Andie MacDowell.
The streets of the East Village in New York City are alive with sensory plenty as it is late July. One would think if crop tops and bucket hats are the only acceptable clothing in the entire metropolitan region when seeing people walk down the sidewalks near Tompkins Square Park. The late-aught ballad “Say Aah” by Trey Songs blares over neon beverages and partygoers overflowing outside Miss Lily’s 7A café. Bikes, dogs, and skin are not permitted. There is a breeze in the afternoon. Finally, summer has arrived, and we are no longer in the midst of a pandemic (a magnificent pre-Delta era for which nostalgia will soon set in). If you’re 26 and in love with New York, like Margaret Qualley is, then this is the perfect location for you to be.
After spending nine months on Vancouver Island filming Maid, the new Netflix series based on Stephanie Land’s autobiography Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s will to Survive, Qualley has returned to Manhattan. She plays the role of Alex, a 25-year-old woman trying to rescue herself and her small daughter from an emotionally abusive relationship. As she falls into poverty, she bounces between family members and government safety nets that are ineffective. She accepts a position as a housekeeper, and while she excels at it, she isn’t as excellent at it as she is at writing about the lives of the clients whose credenzas and dildo drawers she dusts.
When Qualley came in Canada to quarantine before to production, the producers were still looking for a suitable candidate to play Alex’s mother, a free-spirited artist with untreated bipolar disorder. She explains, “It just occurred to me that my mom should do it.” She argued her point vehemently in emails to executive producers Molly Smith Metzler and John Wells, as well as to her co-star Margot Robbie from Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, whose firm, LuckyChap, coproduced the show. Of course, the fact that her mother is the Golden Globe-nominated actor Andie MacDowell was beneficial. The executives were won over.
PLAYING A DAUGHTER ACROSS FROM HER REAL MOTHER WAS A VERY POWERFUL EXPERIENCE. She claims that it has an effect on you when you enter a room and your mother is present. Rolling your eyes is a built-in reaction, just like crying from a well-timed embrace is, so you are not only allowed to touch her as if she were family, but it is also acceptable. Qualley adopted the role of a mother as her actual mother watched, complete with all the minor victories and struggles that come with spending a lot of time with a child. When Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, the actress who plays her daughter, is brought up, she is gushing about how having a strong relationship with her has helped her become patient and shrewd, just like a real parent. An unwillingness to sit in a car seat can occur in children as young as four.
In addition to having permission to touch her as if she were family, rolling your eyes has a built-in reaction similar to how tearing up after a well-timed hug has a built-in reaction.
Qualley is quite eager to have her own children in the future. “I’ve always wanted to get married, despite the fact that I dress like this,” she declares, pointing to the oblong top that someone sincere wore in the 1990s. A girly-girl part of me has imagined what my wedding might be like. (Big, inebriated, and wearing a dress that isn’t too long so she can dance, she adds.) And I’ve always wanted to have children. In that sense, I’m a great romantic.
Qualley has sweetness, a softness and playfulness that she can conceal for roles—certainly for her dominating performance in Maid, which is guided by grit and attentiveness. When she was inquired as to how she prepared, she responds, “Unfortunately, it’s so common,” using thoughtful word choice.
Anyone with a calendar and access to the internet may potentially deduce that Qualley was dating Shia LaBeouf at the time she was filming this role. A week after singer-songwriter FKA Twigs sued the actor for intentional infliction of emotional distress, deliberate sexual abuse, and other offenses during their past relationship, news of their romance leaked in December. Qualley and LaBeouf had separated by the beginning of January. When Twigs told her tale to Elle magazine in February, Qualley uploaded a photo of the cover on her Instagram page along with the message “Thank you.”
With her countenance open but unreadable, Qualley replies, “It was important to me for her to know that I believe her—and it’s as simple as that”, before apologizing for not wanting to discuss her personal life. She is not shocked, though, that inquiries concerning that era may arise in light of her most recent role. She responds, “Yeah,” accepting the questions that are certain to be directed her way. She begins, “all right,” as she pantomimes fastening a seatbelt around herself and shifting into drive with her graceful ballerina arms.