Lilia Buckingham Is Redefining What It Means to Make It in Hollywood

The 'Hocus Pocus 2' star almost gave up — and then she manifested the role of a lifetime.

Lilia Buckingham
Photo: Petros Koy

As fate would have it, Lilia Buckingham's first big break into Hollywood didn't come until after she'd planned to give up acting altogether — a near-tragedy, seeing as her infectiously bubbly energy, enviable cool-girl style, and impressive social media presence to boot tick all the boxes of a bonafide Gen Z starlet. But honestly, we can't blame her.

After spending a great deal of her 19-year-old life span in and out of casting rooms, Buckingham admitted "nothing had ever really come out of it" (well, if you consider executive producing a Brat TV series and starring in a handful of short films "nothing") and decided to metaphorically pack up her dreams of starring onscreen by physically packing her life up ahead of her freshman year at Boston University. Keeping her sights set on Tinseltown, but shifting focus to production by pursuing a degree in film and television, the once-aspiring actress was excited to finally put drama on the back burner in favor of a normal college life — until she got the call to audition for Hocus Pocus 2, which premieres (just in time for spooky season) Sept. 30 on Disney+.

"I got the audition for Hocus Pocus and it was one of my favorite movies as a kid," Buckingham recalls, "I love Halloween. So, I was like, 'Of course, I have to do the audition. I'm not going to book it. There's so many girls out there. There's no way.'"

Lilia Buckingham
Petros Koy

A monumental moment on its own, Buckingham's initial submission for the role of Cassie Traske — one of three best friends (along with Gossip Girl's Whitney Peak and Sex Appeal's Belissa Escobedo) who team up to save Salem from the Sanderson sisters — only marked the start of what would become a grueling seven-round (!) audition process. Which, while intense, made total sense for a film like Hocus Pocus. Starring in a long-awaited Disney cult-classic's sequel alongside the definition of a legendary cast (Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimi, reprising their roles from the original, to name a few) wouldn't just be a way for a young star to get their foot in the Hollywood door. It would be the way, and Buckingham was sure to treat it as such.

Luckily, the actress was well-equipped to take on the challenge, and after weeks of callbacks, chemistry reads, and a little old-fashioned manifestation — "I have literally a 30-page journal from last summer where I'm manifesting, that says, 'I booked Hocus Pocus. I am Cassie in Hocus Pocus. My agent will call me and tell me I booked Hocus Pocus.' I would sleep with it under my pillow," she admits — Buckingham eventually received her first life-changing 'yes,' immediately pausing college plans to start filming in Rhode Island.

"I don't think I will have an experience like that ever again in my life," Buckingham says of days on set. "Every day, I was like, 'You should be pinching yourself.' I mean, I was. I would go back to my trailer and I would call my friend and I would be like, 'This is not real. This is not real life. There's no way that this is happening.'"

It was cool to see that they kept the campiness of it all — and even camped it up a little bit more.

Joining a franchise beloved by millions, working with major Hollywood players, and adding a Disney credit to her résumé all before the ripe age of 20? It'd be hard for Buckingham to dream up a better official career start if she tried, but the newcomer knows better than to get ahead of herself. As she continues honing her craft and working towards her next project, Buckingham plans to take full advantage of any downtime by finishing out her degree, living in the moment, and carrying lessons learned from the magical experience into whatever life decides to throw her way.

InStyle spoke to the Hocus Pocus 2 star about Kathy Najimy's words of wisdom, planning Halloween costumes in July, and living life as a die-hard Gleek.

Congratulations on Hocus Pocus 2! Tell me a bit about your character, Cassie. 

Basically me, Whitney [Peak] and Belissa [Escobedo] are these three best friends. And at the very beginning of the movie, we're in this fight, because I have this new boyfriend … Classic teens, young girls dealing with life when you're a sophomore and you're getting your first boyfriend. And so we start off in a bit of a fight, but we end up getting tangled up in all the witch business and the three of us have to rekindle our friendship in order to save Salem.

What role did the original Hocus Pocus play in your childhood? 

I've always been a huge Halloween kid. I start planning my costumes in July ... So, of course, that came with the classics like Hocus Pocus and all those other movies. But Hocus Pocus was always just a favorite for me, because it was comforting growing up. And honestly, I was a scaredy cat as a kid and it was one of the only ones that didn't scare me. 

I just feel like as I got older, I really started to appreciate it, because I was going to school for film and TV and it was such a campy movie. Why are we not appreciating them more? Hocus Pocus is the campiest movie, ever. So, I just grew to love it more and more as I got older. Getting this audition and then getting to film it and read the whole script, it was cool to see that they kept the campiness of it all — and even camped it up a little bit more.

Lilia Buckingham
Petros Koy

Now I have to ask, what costume are you planning for this Halloween?

It's with three of my best friends and we're doing [The Rocky Horror Picture Show] and she's being Sexy Brad and I'm being Sexy Janet.

What was it like working with legendary names like Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy?

The first thought I had after I was told that I got the role was like, "Oh, okay. It happened." And then it was, "Oh, you actually have to work with these people. You have to act next to them." That was pretty intimidating at first, just because this is my first real job and my first day on set with the witches was also my first day on set without Whitney and Belissa. So, I was a little nervous, and the second that I stepped onto the soundstage, it was like being greeted by three very motherly presences. 

It took maybe 20 minutes to really realize that I was in the presence of these actual legends. And then it felt like I was working with mentors, like people that were giving me incredible advice and making me feel so comfortable. Watching them turn it on and do their thing, it just inspires you to do it, too. And to be in this world of witches and magic and craziness and going over the top and a sense of fun. We're having so much fun with it. Their energy is so contagious that it was impossible to not feel like you were on their level. 

I don't know if I have the luxury to wait around for a job to come about. I want to learn until I'm able to be employed again.

Can you think of any specific advice the women gave you?

There was a time that I was sitting with Kathy and she asked what projects I had lined up next. And I told her that I was actually going to Boston University … I just explained that I don't know if I have the luxury to wait around for a job to come about. I want to learn until I'm able to be employed again.

And she said something like, "I hope you know, I think a lot of people will tell you that you shouldn't be going to college, because it doesn't matter and you don't really need it for what you're doing. I want you to know that's a really, really awesome and incredible thing and I know that this is probably a crazy experience for you and it's probably super jarring, but I never want you to lose the fact that you are putting your education first" — kind of saying it was nice I wasn't getting a big head, in a sense. As someone who is a big fangirl herself, and just really loves movies and TV, hearing that from someone that you really admire, it was a lovely little moment.

How does this film differ from the original?

I think it focuses a lot on female friendship and female relationships. That's very much a forefront of this movie, which I really love. We also have a very female-driven cast, an incredible female director, and an incredible female executive producer. 

How does it feel to be in the sequel of one of the most iconic Disney movies of all time?

It's crazy. There's really no other way to put it. I think I still have not really come to the conclusion that it's a thing and people are going to watch it. And I know, because I'm such a fan myself and I've been in fandoms and I've been on the other end, being at the forefront now is something that I can't comprehend ... It's such a mind-blowing kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I think I'm waiting for the movie to come out for it to really kick in.

Hocus Pocus is undoubtedly a cult classic. Are there any films you find yourself watching year after year?

If we're talking about favorite cult classics, I gotta say Jennifer's Body. I do watch it at least once a year, but probably more. At some point, I just had to stop reviewing it on Letterboxd, because it was embarrassing how many times I've watched it because I'm in love with Megan Fox.

Do you believe in witches or ghosts?

Of course. I've had some spooky supernatural experiences. We actually were filming at this place called The Armory on set. And I think it's like a military base, but it looks like this giant, old, tiny castle. So, me and Belissa used to run around the basement and I swear we would see shadows. We both just accepted that the place was totally haunted.

SMALL TALK

Do you believe in astrology?

Yes. I am an Aries sun with a Cancer moon and a Leo rising. And I don't think that there is anything more accurate to describe me. I'm the queen of astrology. ​​I love it more than anything.

Which celebrity were you most starstruck to meet? 

The gay in me wants to say the icon Bette Midler, but weirdly I think it was ... no. You know who it was? It was Tony Hale. He plays my dad [in Hocus Pocus 2]. My best friend had been making me watch Veep before I went onto set. So, I would be watching him in that show the day before working with him, and I think weirdly I was surprised that I was so nervous.

Who was your first celebrity crush? 

I think my first celebrity crush was Ross Lynch. And he still is. Still. 100%.

What was your last binge watch?

I've been binge-watching Glee at the moment.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?

Is it bad if I say Glee again? I'm listening to only the Glee versions of songs.

If you weren't an actress, what would you be doing?

I don't know if this is allowed, but I would be a writer. I don't know if that counts since it's in the realm of the whole film industry. My goal is to end up owning a production company that develops books into film. That's why I'm working. That's why I'm going to school, because I'm trying to learn how to do that before I get thrown in completely.

Photographs by Petros Koy. Styling Creative Direction by Mickey Freeman. Hair and Makeup Styling by Ammara Rana. Booking: Christopher Luu.

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