Actress Margaret Qualley is the talented, statuesque youngest daughter of actress Andie MacDowell who is rightfully making her own name in Hollywood. This classically trained ballet dancer transitioned into acting in 2013 with the Gia Coppola directed, critically acclaimed, independent film, Palo Alto, which led to the successful HBO series, The Leftovers. Her extraordinary work in the current FX miniseries hit Fosse/Verdon, and the hot Netflix film written by Suzan-Lori Parks, Native Son, is making Margaret a household name.
Fosse/Verdon is an eight-part miniseries that traces the infamous and explosive relationship between legendary choreographer and director Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell), and actress and dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Qualley plays dancer Ann Reinking, Fosse’s collaborator and lover. In Native Son, the retelling of Richard Wrights’s 1940 novel adapted for the small screen by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, Margaret plays Mary Dalton, the wild privileged daughter from a wealthy white Chicago family.
Qualley spoke candidly about her experiences filming Native Son and Fosse/Verdon, the challenges she faced as a dancer needing to be perfect, why she fell in love acting, and the lessons the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld taught her in looking cool!
Miu Miu jacket, skirt, top, bra, belt, socks, and sandals
Tell me about your role playing dancer Ann Reinking in the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon? I understand that as a dancer you grew-up idolizing Anne Reinking. What was it like playing such a revered person who is still alive, and playing her during such a notorious period in dance history?
Oh my goodness, it was so surreal because I'm playing someone I grew up idolizing since I was 14, and now I’m working with two of the actors I very much admire today, Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell. It was really wild for me because I’ve looked up to Ann for so long and I really wanted to do right by her; I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity. To prepare for the role I talked to her on the phone roughly every weekend and filled her in on what my week was like, the scenes I had worked on, and I asked for her perspective. She was really giving. They say never meet your heroes because you will be disappointed, but that is not true for me and Ann; she's such a beautiful, generous human being. And, I am insecure and self-doubting so to get my weekly pep-talks from Ann helped fuel me!
Let’s talk about your role in the film Native Son on Netflix. It has a disturbing twist that I was not expecting. You play the character of Mary Dalton, and you captured qualities that were endearing, loving, rebellious, spoiled, selfish, decadent, privileged, fun-loving, lovable, lost—In summary, you brought a lot of depth to this character.
If you could get all of that from her that means a lot; thank you.
Kenzo Flying Phoenix dress | Rene Caovilla The Serpiana sandal | Begum Khan for Gemfields x Muse Rooster Party yellow gold earrings with Gemfield Rubies
You delivered a seemingly effortless performance. What it was like getting into that character, and what are your thoughts on the project as a whole?
I think Mary is someone who is well intentioned and progressive, but crippled by her privilege and openly blind to certain realities despite her painful efforts to be a person of the people; she is basically really out of touch with the deeper social issues in our country. But, as an actress, it's my job to love her and to understand her even though she can be very annoying. I'm someone who is very aware of my privilege and the jobs I get, and it's so very exciting for me to have the opportunity to learn new things about the world and about myself through my work, and working on Native Son gave me another opportunity where I can see the ways my privilege inevitably has affected my perspective and the way that I walk through the world. Richard wrote this book in the 50s and it's unfortunate that these topics are still extremely present today, but Suzan-Lori’s screenplay propels and dissects these issues a bit more, and the film is complicated and nuanced in the unfolding these issues.
You've been directed by Sofia Coppola, Shane Black and Quentin Tarantino to name a few. Out of all the directors you worked with, what has been the most important or useful lesson you've learned from them?
I learn so much on every job and I still have no clue what I'm doing. I love walking into something knowing that I have so much to learn, and I hope that I have that feeling forever; I just want to learn, and learn, and learn… So, it's hard to say what's been the most impactful lesson, but I think a good one between all the people that I really loved working with is that they have fun, and I think that's important.
Speaking of lessons, when Karl Lagerfeld passed away you posted on Instagram something I loved: "Dear Mr. Lagerfeld, thank you for teaching me how to pretend-put my hands in my pockets, and for showing me how to stand cool so people think I'm really cooler than I am." I love this! How did he tell you to stand cool?
(laughs) Oh gee! You know I didn't model for long, but when I did model I was really fortunate to walk in a couple Chanel shows. I had never walked in a show before, but I came from the ballet world so I had very good posture, and a lot of the time models do this thing where they intentionally slouch their shoulders which is not my nature. So, Karl taught me how to stand and walk with hunch my shoulders, which was really wild coming from Karl Lagerfeld.
Tell me a little about your childhood. What became your influences, your likes, and your dislikes?
I was born in Montana and moved to North Carolina when I was four. Much of my childhood was spent dancing, which was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; well, it was what I hoped for as a kid because dancing was my world.
“I'm intrigued by the grayness of acting, storytelling, and character explorations.”
I want to talk a bit about your years modeling. I know they were brief, but it was a bridge from dancing to acting, and that in and of itself is important because it served a purpose in your life’s evolution. As we all know modeling has physical requirements, but a good model has real talent and must have an understanding and interpret of the mood of the clothing, the theme of the shoot, and they must have a relationship with their bodies in order to convey the specific requirements the clothing and the art direction is demanding. Do you see a through-line from modeling to acting?
Honestly, the main reason I modeled after deciding to leave dance was to have a job. I am used to always working because even at 13 or 14 years old I was taking ballet really seriously. When I look back at the short time I spent modeling is wasn’t fulfilling for me, so I don’t feel there was much of a crossover for me.
Would you discount that there is a creative thread between the three?
In my case I think I would. For me, dancing and acting are opposites in the sense that with dancing you have a specific goal in mind, where in acting it's not so direct, it's much greyer, where ballet is black and white. I'm intrigued by the grayness of acting, storytelling, and character explorations. And with modeling, I was never creatively inspired like I was with ballet and acting.
How much of your desire to act was influenced by your mom?
My mom is obviously a very talented actress, and she had such a great career, but a lot of times kids don't want do what their parents do because it can add a lot of extra pressures. And, for me growing up I didn't have an interest in acting because it was what my mom did; it wasn't until I did an acting class in New York in 11th grade when I fell in love with it.
DUNDAS by Peter Dundas black jacquard jacket, and black/white flocked lace pants | Ella Gafter NY spider brooch with golden pearl and diamonds; bird brooch with coral and yellow sapphire; bird brooch with coral ruby, South Sea pearl and diamonds | Longchamp shoes | De Grisogono Crazymals Collection monkey ring in white gold, yellow gold, and pink gold with black and white diamonds; and seal ring in white gold with white and black diamonds
That’s hard to answer because there is so many. But, if I had to pick one, it would be having the opportunity to step into other peoples’ shoes and to try to see the world through someone else's eyes.
What do you look for when choosing your projects?
I like to do things that make me feel uncomfortable and challenged. For example, Native Son was hard for me because I had to love the person I’m playing, be on her side, and understand her perspectives. Mary is someone who's not always the easiest person to love, but I really like playing roles that challenge me and being in projects that inspire me.
Describe your perfect day.
It would start with me making breakfast; I’m not a cook, but I love to prepare big breakfasts with different kinds of eggs, toast, avocado, croissants, the works. The rest of the day would be spent hanging out with my sister, friends and dog. I find happiness in simple pleasures!
Longchamp calf hair vest, and silk dress | Cartier Panthère de Cartier ring in yellow gold, tsavorite garnets and onyx, and earrings in white gold, diamond and onyx
No.21 shiny sleeveless top, multiprene skirt, black feather basque | Ella Gafter dragon bracelet with diamonds | Begum Khan for Gemfields X Muse Muse Rooster Party yellow gold earrings with Gemfields emeralds