Cailee Spaeny really took those photos in “Civil War” climax

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“I got to use all the research and practice that I had done with composing a photograph," the actress tells EW.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Civil War.

Dream, baby, dream. Civil War ends with a march on Washington, but this is no peaceful protest. The climax of Alex Garland's latest film is a military assault on the American capital, from the streets of D.C. all the way to the White House where the fascist president (Nick Offerman) is still trying to hide.

And through it all, our journalist protagonists Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), Lee (Kirsten Dunst), and Joel (Wagner Moura) are trying to do their jobs. Jessie and Lee are busy snapping photos as they accompany soldiers of the Western Forces (many of whom were played by real-life veterans) on their final attack. Once they reach the White House, the action is intercut with black-and-white images, as seen from Jessie's point of view, most of which were snapped by Spaeny herself.

“The ending sequence was really fun because I composed the shots. I chose what shots I wanted to take,” Spaeny tells Entertainment Weekly. “Since I didn't have a speed of film that was fast enough in that low light, my photos did come out, but they're a bit blurry. So I then got to do a really fun round with our amazing camera operator, Dave. We went around and grabbed those actual shots that I had chosen.”

<p>Murray Close/A24</p> Cailee Spaeny in 'Civil War'

Murray Close/A24

Cailee Spaeny in 'Civil War'

Dunst previously told EW that the moment she accepted the role in Civil War, she took up a camera and began photographing as much as she could to get into the headspace of her veteran photojournalist. Spaeny prepared similarly for her role, and got to deploy that experience for the film’s finale.

But even though this sequence represents a professional high point for Jessie (and Spaeny herself), it also brings personal tragedy. Jessie is so focused on her photos that she starts to lose track of the real danger in the gunfire around her, but Lee never does.

“In the last part of the film, there is something inside of Lee telling her, ‘Don’t go,’” Dunst says. “I watched this TV show on Netflix with people who had experienced death and then come back to life, and they talked about how your body experiences it. How I saw it was that Lee's body knew that something was happening to her, and it was this fight between herself and her unconscious mind saying, ‘Do not go into the White House.’ But at the same time, that's all she wants to do.”

<p>Courtesy of A24</p> Kirsten Dunst in 'Civil War'

Courtesy of A24

Kirsten Dunst in 'Civil War'

In the end, Lee puts her body in the line of fire to protect Jessie — and loses her life doing so. Without speaking a word, Jessie gets the photo of her friend and mentor dying.

“We choreographed how it would go down, but I like that it wasn't dramatic. It was literally just what you do,” Dunst says. “Lee saved Jessie's life. It was her maternal instinct. This girl had gotten to her heart, and she did what she had to do in that moment.”

Civil War was shot chronologically (filming the scenes in the order they appear on screen), which Spaeny says helped her feel the weight of those closing moments.

“I always felt really nervous about the ending, because there was no dialogue and it felt really unspoken,” Spaeny says. “You’re watching a transition right before your eyes. I think that is the moment that Lee is passing that torch on. Jessie's now crossed over into the same zone as her hero. For better or for worse, this is her life now."

<p> Courtesy of A24</p> Cailee Spaeny and Kirsten Dunst in 'Civil War'

Courtesy of A24

Cailee Spaeny and Kirsten Dunst in 'Civil War'

Spaeny continues, "And I think that last ending frame, with that Suicide track ‘Dream, Baby, Dream’ playing, and you see her make that switch, I think that was really beautiful. We didn't know what it was going to be until it happened. The intensity of shooting that in sequence and having to get it done in time and having the veterans surrounding us, it all came to head in that final moment.”

Civil War is in theaters now.

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