Over the past several years, Madison Iseman has been quietly taking on a plethora of diverse projects, expanding her skillset and building a dedicated following. The South Carolina native uncovered her passion for the arts in middle school when she became involved in videography and photography, creating her own short films. With limited theatrical opportunities in her hometown, she took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles to immerse herself in her craft full-time. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to take notice! In fact, chances are you’ve seen some of Madison’s work with high-profile roles on film like “Annabelle Comes Home,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and the “Goosebumps” sequel, “Haunted Halloween.” While this is an impressive resume for any young actor, it’s her breakout role in “Riot Girls,” that pushed her into ambitious creative territory. The results are undeniable and are garnering well-deserved attention from audiences and Hollywood decision-makers.
From award-winning, genre aficionado, filmmaker, and all-around badass Jovanka Vuckovic, “Riot Girls” centers around life in a small town after a mysterious illness has wiped out all adults. As if being a kid wasn’t hard enough, in the wake of the disaster, Potter’s Bluff has been divided into two rival factions. The East-side is made up of scrappy scavengers living amongst the ruins, and the West-side hoards its wealth in the former high school and is ruled by brutal dictator, Jeremy (Munro Chambers, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”). When Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois, “Departure”), an Eastsider, is forced to kill two Westsiders while on a scavenging mission, he is captured and taken back to the West-side to await public execution. Jack’s sister, Nat (Iseman), and her best friend, Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski), cross into dangerous territory to save him. Their treacherous journey reveals not only the power of their love, but the depths of their courage.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Madison Iseman to get a glimpse inside her career, creative process and the making of “Riot Girls.” The film hits theaters and OnDemand via Cranked Up Films on September 13!
How did you get involved with the arts early on and what made acting a path you wanted to pursue?
Actually, it all started with Harry Potter! [laughs] I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter films when I was a little girl. I told my mom, “I’m going to be Hermione Granger one day!” She was like, “OK! Good luck!” [laughs] That was the first thing I connected with. I loved going to the theater and seeing movies. It let me go to a different world for a few hours. That was it for me – learning about these characters and being able to escape reality for a moment. After that, I was hooked and I knew I’d always be making movies for the rest of my life!
What lessons did you learn early on that impacted the trajectory of your career?
Yeah! I had an interesting start because I didn’t really start acting professionally until I was 16 to 18. When I was 18, I started working on a show in Nashville and I worked with Billy Ray Cyrus, who played my father. On that show is where I really learned everything I know! I was kind of thrown into it and hoped for the best. I was learning as I went and I am really thankful for that because you do learn so much on set. I learned all of my lessons on set really!
Your hard work is paying off! That’s evident from your latest role in “Riot Girls.” How did this project come onto your radar and what made it a story you wanted to be part of telling?
I was looking for projects that threw me out of my comfort zone and this was something so different from anything I had done before. When I first got the script, it was like reading a book from start to finish. I was just so enthralled with the characters and the story behind it from the start. Getting more involved with the process, I found out that Jovanka [Vuckovic] was directing, Lauren [Grant] was producing and Katherine [Collins] wrote it. I was really excited to work on something that had such a strong female backing. I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to play Nat!
Tell us how to prepare for a role like this one.
This one in particular was different from any of the other roles I’ve had to tap into. Nat sort of has this punky, hard exterior, so I would listen to a bunch of different music to get in the right mindset. It was exciting because we got to go to Toronto and hang out as a cast and hang out with Jovanka. We had a couple of weeks to get into the mindset of these punky kids. I dyed my hair bleach blonde and Paloma [Kwiatkowski] got her mohawk! We just stepped into these characters both physically and emotionally. Through that and through each other we were able to tap into the personalities of these people. Paloma and I hit it off right away! She’s still a great, great friend of mine. I love her as a friend in real life. When you have a chemistry that strong, it’s easier to tap into those other emotions on set and through the words that have been written so beautifully. That especially holds true for the one scene where Nat and Scratch sit down and I confess my love to her. It’s always well when those scenes go really smoothly because the chemistry and connection is there. It came really easy! That’s what you always hope for on any project; someone that you connect with on another level so those words and feelings come so naturally.
What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page? Do we see elements of your personality through Nat?
I think the hardest part for me, because we are so different, is to not let too much of myself shine through. One of the main things I wanted to do, since she is the voice of reason for Scratch, is to show the more human and grounded side of Nat. That is something that might have not been so clearly written on the page, along with how ridiculous the world they are living in is. Even though she is the level-headed one, she is still grappling with how to get a grasp on this world while also trying to keep a level head for everyone else. That was one thing that I felt was really important to hone in for Nat because I feel it’s something everyone can relate to as well. The ones who seems like they always have it together often don’t [laughs].
That’s so true! Your character presents challenging scenes. For example, the one you mentioned with Nat confessing her feelings to Scratch or her near rape at the hands of The Titans. It’s scenes like these that ground the movie.
Yeah, that scene! As we called it, “The Tollhouse Scene,” with Atticus [Mitchell]. I was really lucky that I got to work with such a great group of people. Atticus, if you ever get a chance to meet him, is the funniest human being on this planet! That scene actually took place over the course of two days, which it wasn’t supposed to but with all of the special effects and camera angles we had to get, it had to be split up into separate days. On the second day, we thought we were done with it. Then they called Atticus and I to set together and no one else was coming in the car, so we knew we were getting back into it. We were like, “Oh god, here we go again!” Atticus was great and he made me feel so comfortable. We would try to crack a joke between takes and he’d always ask me if I was OK. It was definitely a lot and it was really exhausting because there are so many emotions that go through your head when you are dealing with stuff like that. I was lucky to do it with someone like him. It was sort of the same thing when it comes to the scene with Scratch. Paloma and I care about each other so much as people. I always love those scenes and situations I always look for because they are so special. I think the most important thing is to show how much of a connection there is between the two of you, both on and off screen. That way everything starts to blend together. I was really excited for that scene and I know Paloma was as well.
This is a great role for you at this point in your career. What did you learn about yourself through this project?
Honestly, it was one of the most difficult projects I have done because it’s such a departure from what I’ve done in the past. There was a lot of physical work that I didn’t know I was going to have and that I wasn’t really prepared for but we did it! I was really proud of myself. Nat is a character who has to find this bravery within herself throughout the whole journey to save her brother. In the same way, I feel as if I had to find the bravery within myself to take on this role and this character living in this new world. To say it was easy would be a huge understatement. In fact, it was very hard but I’m so lucky for all the relationships I made throughout the process. I think I speak for us all when I say we are very happy with the outcome!
How have you evolved at your craft?
I’m a learner and I think with each passing year I unlock some part of myself that I didn’t have access to before, both in my craft and in life. It’s hard to say but I think I am always learning something new about myself and my work. I want to keep learning, growing and challenging myself. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do and that’s exactly what attracted me to “Riot Girls.” I’m always checking the radar for what I haven’t done yet and what I can push myself to do!
Thanks for your time today, Madison. We can’t wait to see where the journey takes you and I look forward to crossing paths again in the future!
Thank you, Jason! I look forward to talking to you soon.