Being home-schooled and an only child in Goose Creek, South Carolina, made for a pretty quiet upbringing for Madelyn Renee Cline. The town’s current population: 48,949.

Cline, 25, considered a few practical career paths, similar to her mother’s, a real-estate agent, and her father’s, an engineer. Perhaps she would become a doctor, she thought. Or a veterinarian, or maybe even a journalist. Her odd jobs in commercial acting and modeling since she was around 11 years old were just a means to raise money for her college fund.

Ultimately, Cline ended up attending college for the same amount of time that Sarah Cameron, her character on Netflix’s Outer Banks, which has its Season Three premiere this Thursday, spends stranded on a deserted island: six weeks.

Cline dropped out of Coastal Carolina University, which is two hours away from her hometown, during her freshman year, in 2017. “I was ready to go. I was ready to see what life had in store,” she explains. “And I was excited.”

Her parents were not. “They really wanted me to finish out college, because I think they were just afraid … like any parent [would be] when their kid packs up the contents of their life and drives cross-country.”

Madelyn Cline in a scene from Outer Banks with her co-star, Chase Stokes.

That February, Cline, then 19 years old, packed most of her belongings into her 2007 white Toyota 4Runner, which she called “Dory,” and drove 2,474 miles west, to Los Angeles. She planned to pursue a full-time career as an actress, live off her college-tuition money until she secured a steady job, and leave South Carolina in Dory’s rearview mirror until further notice.

But the notice for her return arrived sooner than expected: a callback audition for Outer Banks, in Charleston, a short drive from her hometown.

“I was ready to go. I was ready to see what life had in store.”

When Cline walked into a room full of aspiring Sarah Camerons, she had no reason to believe she would get the part. Because casting directors told her “no” more often than they did “yes,” she approached auditions in the same way one would a romantic fling: enthusiastic about its promise yet unattached to the outcome.

But then, like the beginning of most happily-ever-afters, he texted first.

Jonas Pate did—one of the show’s co-creators. “He’s like, ‘Where are you at?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m back in L.A.,’” Cline recalls. “And he said, ‘Why are you in L.A.? You have to be here [Charleston]. We’re about to start shooting. I need you here,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, holy shit.’”

The show—an action-packed teen drama about four friends’ perilous search for ancient treasure on an island—began filming in 2019, two years after Cline’s migration to the West Coast. She couldn’t have asked for a better reason for her homecoming than getting cast in a leading role in a new Netflix series.

“I was on top of the world,” says Cline. “I felt like I had proved something to myself and to my parents.... It wasn’t so much an ‘I told you so’; it was more like a quiet pat on the back to myself.”

Dave Bautista and Cline in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

Cline describes shooting the first season of Outer Banks as an exciting, almost intoxicating experience, but, most of all, like a boot camp for her acting career. She believes the daily 12 hours on set that summer, starring opposite Chase Stokes, helped her develop a tenacious work ethic. It proved especially useful two summers later, when she was on location in Greece to play Whiskey in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, alongside Daniel Craig, Kate Hudson, and Ed Norton.

“Each job informs the next,” says Cline. “I’ve always appreciated Outer Banks, but I’ve never appreciated it more than I did on [the Glass Onion] set.” In the film, she plays the deadpan girlfriend and assistant of a video-game streamer and men’s-rights activist.

When we speak, she looks like she’s in character, either Sarah or Whiskey, because her hair is wet, perhaps from a day at the beach, and her cheeks are rosy from the sun. But she is nowhere near the South Carolina or Peloponnese coast. She is back in L.A., her home for the past six years.

Cline entertains the thought that if she were asked to do it all over again, she might not be able to leave Goose Creek a second time, because she’d be too scared.

My guess is that she would go West again. As Cline explains a bit later, “I’ve always had a bit of restless energy. And I’m always happiest when I have a purpose and I have a direction to go.”

Season Three of Outer Banks will premiere on Netflix on February 23

Carolina de Armas is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL