Madison Bailey is Kiara. The idea of anyone else playing the role on Netflix’s sunny teen drama Outer Banks seems laughable after watching her playful jabs and heart-to-hearts among the four men who fill out her crew. They're known as the Pogues, working-class residents from the south side of the OBX, named after pogies or "throwaway fish." Bailey's Kiara is a refreshing badass, a warm-hearted, open-minded, eco-conscious equal whose “one of the boys” status never bottoms out into sexism. She doesn’t pretend to be a Cool Girl among beer-guzzling, greasy-fingered men. She’s true to herself—a partner, not a side piece.
But this seemingly perfect casting almost didn't happen. Bailey, a North Carolina native who’d previously booked gigs in Constantine, Mr. Mercedes, and Black Lightning, had gotten her hands on the Outer Banks script and loved it—Kiara’s character in particular. She felt as if the writers had transplanted her own personality into a fictional character and swapped out their names. But after her first audition, she figured the showrunners didn't feel the same. Days passed before the casting directors sent out a re-release, asking anyone who’d already auditioned not to audition again. Bailey thought the story was over.
“And my agent was like, "No, you should [audition again] anyway. You should,’” Bailey says. “And I did. And [I] immediately got a callback and then flew to Charleston and booked it that day.”
Other cast members were already closing in on Charleston at the time, including Madelyn Cline (Sarah Cameron), Jonathan Daviss (Pope), and Rudy Pankow (JJ). Bailey knew of Pankow through a mutual friend, but they’d never crossed paths in person until their first run-in on the plane to South Carolina. She was southbound for the callback; he was moving there to start filming. As they passed each other while boarding, she offered a nervous greeting. Then she sat down and checked her phone.
“I had a DM from him,” she says. “He was like, ‘I knew you were Kiara the second I saw you.’ And I was like, "Oh my God, did this guy three seats up really just DM me?’ He went and found our mutuals, found my page, and messaged me.”
The chemistry was quick. Bailey had the opportunity to read with the cast during her callback, though she was the only actress who’d yet to book a role. Afterward, she sat in the waiting room with another almost-Kiara, the two of them quiet and anxious. The casting team walked in, thanked the other hopeful for coming, then dismissed her. But it wasn't immediately clear what that meant for Bailey.
“‘Does that mean it’s me?’” she recalls asking. “Or are you about to tell me, 'Hey, sorry. We just aren't finding what we're looking for’? It was insane. It was crazy.”
But of course it was her. She stayed in Charleston, spending her first night with the Pogues on the set of John B.’s house, warming up to her new family. They explored the chateau. They played blackjack. Pankow, Daviss, and Stokes (John B.) brought slingshots to strike cans off the fallen trees left in the wake of Outer Banks’s fictional Hurricane Agatha. After several failed attempts, the boys let Bailey have a go. She nailed a can on her first shot, in true Kiara style.
“It felt exactly how it should have,” Bailey says.
And so Kiara became her pet project. Shortly after booking the job, she wrote a short story for how Kiara met each of the Pogues: JJ and John B. on a surfing expedition, Pope at school. From there, bonding with the guys was practically effortless.
“If you look at all of our characters, we're all super different,” she says. “We have very different backstories and all of that. But I think it's really interesting to see a group dynamic where the thing that we have in common is not having anything in common. And so we connect because we're all solo. We're all our own entity.”
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Bailey was continually surprised by how much say she had on set. She’d propose a line or introduce a dynamic to the writers, and they’d hear her out every time. She'd improv bits of the script—just a word here or there—to better align it with her understanding of Kiara. There was a balance she wanted to strike: Kiara needed to have the light, airy nature that makes Outer Banks soapy and entertaining, without detracting from the story's serious themes of privilege, loyalty, and money. “It's nice to have a fun show where we're also like, ‘But the class divide is real,’” Bailey says. “We're still talking about it; we're just making light of it. Because sometimes you do talk about heavy things in a lighter way.”
Part of that delicate balance was assembling a look for Kiara, who comes from wealth—she’s an imposter, depending on your perspective—but blends in with the working-class Pogues. Costume designer Emmie Holmes worked with Bailey to establish a beachy, boho wardrobe with just enough rock ‘n roll to avoid cliche. Using reference images of tangled hair floating in the breeze and silhouettes against an ocean backdrop, Holmes helped Kiara become Kiara, the character whose outfits have inspired numerous TikToks and whose layered bead necklaces are selling out and getting re-created on Etsy.
But even as all this work came together, the cast had little idea how big Outer Banks would become. They also had no way of knowing a pandemic would derail any semblance of a normal television premiere.
“I think sometimes when a show comes out, not in quarantine, you go from 'I left my house, and nobody knew who I was' to 'Everybody knows who I am,’” Bailey says. “I feel like with the quarantine, I've gotten to let things sink in a little before it just hits me head-on. I'm gradually leaving my house, and everything's happening a little slower, and I get to process things on social media. I have plenty of time to sit here and read everything."
Even with limited trips outside the house, Bailey's still getting recognized. "I can't go anywhere without somebody being like, 'Are you that girl from Outer Banks?' I'm like, 'Oh my God, you watch that??’”
The cast remains in regular contact. They have an Outer Banks group chat on Instagram and Snapchat. They have an email thread, a Pogue group text, an “OBX” group text with the cast and creators, and a “Pook” group text for the main cast members. They’re not just faking it for the cameras. This is true love.
Which leads us, of course, to the question of Season 2. Surely there has to be a Season 2. But with no official confirmation from Netflix at the time of writing, the fans (and the cast) are left biding their time. Bailey seems to think the announcement is inevitable, and she’s got big plans for when the day arrives.
First, there’s the issue of romance. It’s a teen drama; romance is unavoidable. But Bailey remains cautiously skeptical of the Kiara/Pope debacle. During the first season, Pope admits he’s in love with her, but she rejects him, worried over breaking the Pogue code: friends, never lovers. But in the season finale, she kisses Pope back, and the pair are last seen embracing, grieving together over Sarah and John B.’s disappearance.
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“I genuinely don't know,” Bailey says, laughing. “I don't even know what was really in Kiara's mind [when she kissed Pope]. I was like, 'I don't want to develop that part on my own, because I don't think Kiara really knows either.’ It'll be interesting to see once the craziness dies down if it was an act of love or an act of emotion.”
One thing she does know: Kiara will be the glue holding the Pogues together. After the finale, John B., their ringleader, is presumed dead. The only thing standing between the Pogues and the dissolving of their friendship is her.
“I think it's going to be an interesting balance of Kiara being broken, absolutely shattered, and also being that heart of the group,” Bailey says. “I feel like JJ is the type of person to get really detached during all of this, and I don't think Kiara's going to let him do that. And I think Pope is just going to be very solemn. I feel like he's going to kind of become numb, which Kiara is not going to want for anybody.”
That isn’t to say Kiara’s only purpose will be catering to the boys’ emotional needs. She’s got her own arc to trace. Bailey’s biggest hope for a second season is that Kiara will have the chance to plumb her own past, to decipher her attraction to the Pogues in spite of her upper-class upbringing. Maybe we’ll even get flashbacks. Maybe we’ll meet more of her family. Bailey thinks the best way to do that is obvious: Show the audience Kiara’s time as a Kook.
“You see [Kiara] in a Kook environment at Midsummers, but what does it look like when my parents bring their friends to the house?” she says. “What did it look like when I went to school? I would love to see a flashback to me and Sarah's friendship. I want to see our friendship grow because we had this whole bond that we never saw because we pick up with it being over, and I just want a little more one-on-one time with Sarah, one-on-one time with the Kooks.”
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For now, Bailey’s got plenty of free time to brainstorm. She checks her phone a lot. She reads through thousands of fan comments on her social accounts. She’s quarantining in Charleston, going on walks downtown and peeking her head into the shops as they slowly start reopening.
She doesn’t know what comes next. No one does. She’s safe at home amid the pandemic, but she’s concerned about her industry, and she’s anxious about her fans. She wants them to take care of themselves, to prioritize their mental health.
When asked if she could say anything to the million-plus fans now watching her every move, she started to tear up—not a showy, good-for-PR sort of tearing up, but an obvious helplessness. “This is making me emotional.” She takes a quick gulp of air.
“I would just tell everybody it's really, genuinely okay to be selfish right now. Seriously, don't hesitate to give yourself an extra 10 minutes. Don't be afraid to tell the people you love that you need a step back. Now’s the time to really take [your mental health] seriously and to love yourself. Don't let anybody tell you you're being selfish or self-centered or any of that. Take care of yourself. Anybody who's not down for that, you need space from them.”
Sounds like something Kiara would say.
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