Celeste O’Connor Tells Sydney Sweeney Their Madame Web Origin Story

Celeste O’Connor

Celeste O’Connor wears Sweater, Shorts, Sunglasses, and Shoes Loewe.

Celeste O’Connor came perilously close to getting trapped in the nine-to-five deadzone until a phone call changed everything. The Johns Hopkins grad, who was already dabbling in acting, found out they’d be slinging webs opposite Dakota Johnson in the Spider-Man spinoff Madame Web, essentially locking up a career in front of the camera. But the 25-year-old Kenyan-born actor has aspirations beyond that, which made their Madame Web costar and budding Hollywood heavyweight Sydney Sweeney the ideal person to talk to.


FRIDAY 4 PM JAN. 12, 2024 NYC


SYDNEY SWEENEY: Hey, Celeste. I look so crazy. 

O’CONNOR: Sorry about the New York sounds outside my apartment.

SWEENEY: It’s okay. I can’t hear it. I’m on my way to set.

O’CONNOR: I like your under-eye mask, Syd.

SWEENEY: Thank you. I thought it would be a nice accessory for this interview.

O’CONNOR: You look like a football player. It’s kind of hardcore. 

SWEENEY: You kind of do, too. I like the hood tucked behind your ears. 

O’CONNOR: So I can really hear your questions. Do you have questions for me or are we supposed to chat? 

SWEENEY: I have some questions for you.

O’CONNOR: Oh my god, stop. Also, I had the shoot yesterday and it was genuinely so fun. I have to send you a BTS if that’s allowed.

SWEENEY: Tell me about the shoot. What was the vibe?

O’CONNOR: As soon as I got there, they were setting up a trampoline. I was like, “This is going to be a fucking amazing day.” It was Loewe, kind of preppy chic, which I love because I went to private school on the East Coast, so that’s my energy. Bobby [Doherty], the photographer, his vision was to mimic an ’80s catalog, where the models had really big facial expressions and really big dance moves and poses.

SWEENEY: So cool.

O’CONNOR: I was having so much fucking fun.


Celeste O’Connor

Sweater, Skirt, Flamenco Purse Fringed in Silver and Gold, Flamenco Purse Mini in Burgundy, Flamenco Purse in Burgundy and Emerald Green, and Shoes Loewe.

SWEENEY: I love when photographers and creative directors let your personality show, because so many times it’s in front of a white backdrop and there’s no energy, no playfulness. I’m so glad they got to see how fun and vibrant you are.

O’CONNOR: Thank you, Sydney. Literally, that’s how I was feeling the whole day. I had another experience where it was that vibe of blank, white backdrop. It felt really controlling. I was really happy that I had an experience where everyone was super collaborative and willing to play. We’ve had this conversation so many times, where being in a restrictive environment creatively is the worst feeling ever. It breaks my heart into a million tiny little pieces. Because I’m like, “If I wanted to be serious and bland, I would’ve worked in an office.”

SWEENEY: I completely agree with you. That’s also why, and I would love to hear more about this, you started your own production company. You’ve been directing and creative directing. Everything that you’ve put out so far with your company is so fun and colorful. I’d love for you to speak more on how that has come together.

O’CONNOR: I love you for asking about this. My company is called Pedestal. The reason why I started it is so that I and other women in particular could have a space to have creative autonomy. A lot of times, we’re navigating misogyny, white supremacy, and all these oppressive systems within our creative industries. The whole point is to empower, especially other Black women, and also just to make colorful shit. I’m over the black and white, the gray, the beige, the neutral earth tones. One of the best things about life is getting to express yourself through color. I started this company in my senior year of college, when I was at Johns Hopkins with my partner Mecca [McDonald]. We were just taking photos of each other because we wanted to look like bad bitches on Instagram. We succeeded at that. Then we were like, “Okay, what’s next?” It’s time to make other girls at Hopkins look like bad bitches on Instagram. That’s what we did. Then I was also starting to work in film at the same time. I was on these sets where I was like, “I don’t feel like a bad bitch here.” That’s when Pedestal turned into this idea that it could be a production company, that I could make colorful films where women are at the center of them.

SWEENEY: That’s super inspiring. I hope our companies work together one day.

O’CONNOR: That’s why I admire you so much, because you were like, “I want to make the films that I want to make. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.” You took the initiative to put yourself in a position of power, especially in rooms where you weren’t in a position of power originally. You went after that and made that happen. I think that’s fucking sick.

SWEENEY: It’s really incredible when you can have a say in the choices that are made on set. It’s super inspiring to show other females that we can take control. What’s really cool for everyone to know is you did go to Johns Hopkins and you didn’t go for anything in the arts. You went for premed.

O’CONNOR: That was so hardcore. 

SWEENEY: So hardcore. I’m going to walk and talk, gotta walk to my trailer. We talk about school and education all the time, how it’s really important. I’d love to know what your college life was like or if you use anything you learned from school in your career now. Just tell everyone how badass and smart you are.


Celeste O’Connor

Jacket and Flamenco Purse Fringed in Silver Loewe. Headphones Stylist’s Own.

O’CONNOR: Thanks, babe. I was always really into school. I thrived in academia, because I’m smart and good at following directions. I got to Hopkins because I had gotten straight As throughout high school, done everything as I should have perfectly. The perfectionist in me was thriving. She was the main character operating my life in high school. She really ate that up. But as soon as I got to Hopkins, I was taking Intro to Chemistry, and the professor warned us. He was like, “The average in this class is going to be really low.” I was like, “Whatever. He doesn’t know about Celeste O’Connor.” I studied a lot, took the exam, got the test back, and it said 57 percent. I had never seen a number that low next to my name before. That’s when I knew I was in for a ride.


O’CONNOR: So annoying. But anyways, I feel like the thing I got most from Hopkins was learning organization and discipline.

SWEENEY: That’s awesome. 

O’CONNOR: Because something I’ve noticed as I’ve navigated life as a young person in New York City is that a lot of young artists don’t necessarily have the same level of discipline or organization that you get when you’ve been filtered through such an intense institution as Hopkins. Or even working as a young person in the entertainment industry, you develop that discipline because you have to continuously show up to auditions and perform your best. I had to continuously show up to exams and perform my best. I never told you this, but I was auditioning for three years before I really booked anything. It was the summer after my freshman year; I was taking Organic Chemistry, loved it. We had one exam every single week.

SWEENEY: Oh my god.

O’CONNOR: We crammed the whole course into a month. I got a call that I booked this independent film called Selah and the Spades. I called my mom crying, because I was like, “I don’t want to leave Organic Chemistry.” My mom was like, “This will be a good experience. Just see if you can work something out with your teacher.” My agents emailed my professor and were like, “Please let her leave class.” I met with him and I was like, “What if I go make this movie in Massachusetts, come back in the fall, and take the remaining exams on my own?” He was like, “That’s really bold of you, but sure, go ahead.” I was like, “Okay, bet.” I went to do Selah and the Spades, a completely transformative experience because I was on set with an all-Black cast with Tayarisha Poe as a young, Black female director. It was the first time that I really realized I was Black. It was also the first time I realized that I could be an artist.

SWEENEY: It seems like you found yourself.

O’CONNOR: Literally.

SWEENEY: Did you know that you wanted to be an actress before you went to college? Like you said, neither of our families knew this industry. When you have a family that’s not connected, it’s very daunting, especially when you’re young and a female. You’re taking anything you can get as it comes. No one in my family looked at it as a stable job.

O’CONNOR: Yeah. I grew up in two separate households. My dad is this white, Irish-Catholic man from Boston who went into the Peace Corps and did the whole NGO thing. He got a job and was at that job for 30 years. In that household, it was very much, “Stay in school, get a real job.” My mom is an African immigrant from Burundi who came to America with me when she was 30. She had to work all kinds of jobs, and finally became an ac- accountant. But of course, as a woman who’s also an African immigrant in a corporate space, she was not very happy. She was like, “Whatever you do, don’t have a nine-to-five. Don’t do this cubicle shit. Follow your heart.” I think it was because she planted that magical belief in me that I could do anything I wanted.

SWEENEY: Wow. Also don’t mind me, I’m literally getting my wig on. 

O’CONNOR: I love that for you. You’re always doing 17 things at once, Sydney.

SWEENEY: Always.


Celeste O’Connor

Sunglasses, Sweater, and Shirt Loewe.

O’CONNOR: Yeah, we’re going to have to unpack that after. But no, I was on my way to school when I was 14. I heard this advertisement on the radio for a talent showcase where you could sing and do a monologue in front of industry professionals. I was like, “Mom, we have to do this.” It was a program that you paid for. We didn’t have the money. I emailed all of my family members. I was like, “Hello, I have the opportunity to become a star. Please donate $50 so that I can do this program.” Eventually we were able to find the money. I worked hard on my song, a little less hard on the monologue. After the showcase was done, I had all these callbacks for acting stuff. I didn’t have any callbacks on the music side. I was like, “This sucks.” I have no music callbacks. I only have these casting directors. I don’t even know what a casting director is. But I had this one callback with Christian Kaplan, who was a casting director at 20th Century Fox. He was like, “Celeste, you should really be an actor. Have you ever considered it?” I was like, “I hadn’t considered it until this exact moment, but all I know is that I was born to perform. So yes, I would love to be an actor.”

SWEENEY: That’s amazing. 

O’CONNOR: I took the Megabus from Baltimore up to New York and went to all of my meetings. Then I met my agents, who are still my agents to this day.

SWEENEY: That’s awesome. 

O’CONNOR: I didn’t think it was real even after I had agents. 

SWEENEY: Honestly, I sometimes feel like none of it is real. 

O’CONNOR: Yeah. Also, you’re continuously hitting new heights in your career. I’m sure you imagined that you’d be in movies, but a lot of these things are exceeding your wildest dreams, right?

SWEENEY: Yeah, no, it’s crazy. My dream was to be on a movie set, or to walk a red carpet one day. There was no dreaming after that. I’d love to know what your audition process was like for Madame Web, because we had a lot of our testing together.

O’CONNOR: I actually have two really good stories about Madame Web.


O’CONNOR: When I got the call, I was working at this marketing agency. It was the pandemic, I hadn’t booked anything. I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to get a job.”

SWEENEY: We’ve been there. 

O’CONNOR: No, literally. I was doing my Excel spreadsheets and whatever. I never thought I’d be going into an office, Sydney. I tried to wear business casual and dress the part. I was so sad. I felt like I failed a little bit at my dream. First day, I sit down, open my laptop, start working, and get a call from my team. They’re like, “We’re all on the call.” I was like, “Why are you all on the call?” They’re like, “You booked Madame Web.” In the hallway, I started bawling. I went back into the office, everyone turned and looked at me. I had tears streaming down my face. They were like, “What happened to you, Celeste?” I was like, “Guys, I didn’t tell you, but I’m also an actor. I just booked a Marvel movie.”

SWEENEY: That’s an amazing story. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing your character.

O’CONNOR: Dude, thanks. Also, do you remember maybe a year before Madame Web, my agents set up a meeting?

SWEENEY: Yes, we had a Zoom meeting.

O’CONNOR: I told my agents, “I really want to get into producing one day, but I have no idea what that world is like.” They were like, “One of our clients is Sydney. She’s a badass producer. Maybe you guys could talk.” I remember getting on Zoom with you. I had a list of questions. You were so honest and so open. I was like, “Wow, she’s really that girl.” It’s very rare to meet somebody who has the level of success you have, who is also really generous in sharing information, open, collaborative, and really cares about opening doors for other women.

SWEENEY: It’s super important for females to just have each other’s backs. Sometimes, we’re not lucky in that space. Being able to have you and Isabela [Merced], we’re just there for each other. I’m so proud of everything that you’re doing.

O’CONNOR: Thank you, Sydney. I was so happy when I saw the email. I was like, “Oh my god, Sydney’s interviewing me. Let’s go.”

SWEENEY: I love it when we get to do stuff like this.

O’CONNOR: I know, right? You’re in Australia right now?

SWEENEY: I am. I have three weeks left, and then I see you in L.A. at our premiere.

O’CONNOR: I’m so excited.


Celeste O’Connor

Shirt, Pants, Flamenco Purse in Emerald Green, and Shoes Loewe.



Hair: Andrita Renee. 

Makeup: Grace Ahn using Laura Mercier at Day One Studio. 

Nails: Daria Hardeman using Deborah Lippmann at Defacto. 

Photography Assistant: Amina Gingold. 

Fashion Assistant: Emmalynne Walpole. 

Location: 100 Sutton Studios.