Madison Iseman On Learning By Doing, Making Your Life Count And Her Two New Projects 'Nocturne' and 'Clouds'
Madison Iseman has a busy October, let alone a busy week. First up, the Los Angeles-based actress can been seen in Amazon’s Nocturne (October 13th) a suspenseful film where she plays Vivienne, a highly confident pianist who grows increasingly competitive with her sister and attempts to overtake her. This is then followed by the touching and emotional film Clouds on Disney+ (October 16th), based upon the inspiring story of Zach Sobiech, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, yet decided to pursue his lifelong dream of music—he ended up releasing his song Clouds, which later went viral. I caught up with Madison to hear how she began, how she learned by doing and the importance of making your life count.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING! I’D LOVE TO LEARN WHEN YOU DISCOVERED YOU WANTED TO BE A PERFORMER.
It was one of those things—this might sound a bit cheesy—you are kind of just born with it. When I was little, my friends and I would do fashion shows at home; I always wanted to be in the spotlight in some way. As I got older, I did some musical theater in school, but it was hard because there wasn’t really a big musical theater department. Especially as I got older in high school, I don’t even think there was one and because of that, I was forced to find other ways to stay creative. I was always obsessed with horror movies. My friends and I would run around with my mom’s camera and we would make our own scary short films—we would kill each other off with ketchup (laughs). They are all on YouTube, so if you hunt you can find them. I also loved going to the movies, Harry Potter was one of my favorite books, so watching them go to the theater as a kid was a pretty epic experience. It was crazy that something like that could be transferred to the screen. I really fell in love with the editing and just the way that editing can really break down a film and make it really great or not.
HOW DID YOU GET THE WHEELS IN MOTION TO GO FROM MAKING MOVIES WITH YOUR FRIEND TO BEING ON THE BIG SCREEN?
I really convinced my mom (laughs). Really what happened was when I was 16, I would look up on the internet every possible way to do this. I found a talent search in LA and convinced my mom to let me do it. With those things, you never know what is going to come out of them, but I somehow got lucky and the right people came out. I ended up finding a school for myself so I could finish out my high school, then my mom came out and stayed with me. The rule was when I turned 18 to go to college or work; I got lucky, I booked a job that I could live for myself. All of the stars aligned for me.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ROLE?
My first role ever was a guest star on Modern Family; I played Manny’s fake girlfriend. It was the most surreal experience because I grew up watching that show; I worked with Ed O’Neil, who is just the coolest dude in the world. My first job job, where I was able to be a little bit more secure, was a show filmed in Nashville called Still the King, where I played the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus. It went on for two seasons and I got to live in Nashville, which was just awesome.
DID THOSE EARLY EXPERIENCES REALLY CEMENT YOUR FATE IN BEING AN ACTOR?
People always ask me how I did it, because I have friends who have been out here ten years and can’t really make their mark in Hollywood. I really had no idea what I was doing and in a way, I think it did save me. Was it the best thing? I have no idea, because I probably made a million mistakes, but I think it saved my mental health and psyche because I was clueless. I learned a lot from doing that show. I was 16 and I really had to figure it out. I am an old soul in a way that I always wanted to grow up really fast. I maybe had the maturity that a lot of people my age didn’t have. It was the perfect pocket so that I wasn’t so aware of myself, obviously as you get older it gets worse and worse every year (laughs).
YOU HAVE SUCH A BUSY FALL INCLUDING NOCTURNE ON AMAZON AND CLOUDS ON DISNEY+, WHICH ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT GENRES. WAS ONE HARDER THAN ANOTHER FOR YOU WHEN IT CAME TO GETTING INTO CHARACTER?
They both had their challenges in completely different ways. It’s hard to say if one was more so than the other. They both share places in my heart; I love scary movies, horror films and psychological thrillers and Nocturne really filled that hole for me. I always wanted to be part of project that was bigger than us here. Clouds is a real story about 17-year-old, Zach Sobiech, who passed away in 2013. We are playing actual people and we really got to know the people we were playing. I play Amy Adamle, who is three years older than me. It’s interesting because usually if you are playing someone they are 20 years your senior, not your peers. It was a very special project.
LET’S TALK IN MORE DETAIL ABOUT NOCTURNE. CAN YOU SHARE A BIT MORE ABOUT THE FILM AND WHAT DREW YOU TO THE ROLE OF VIVIENNE ‘VI’ LOWE?
It’s about a girl who finds a journal that once belonged to a deceased classmate. In a way, she makes a deal with the devil to overtake her sister at this prestigious art school. Vi is the girl who has it all; she is extremely confident, super-talented and everything comes easily to her. She really does love her sister, Juliet, in her own sisterly way, but she starts to grow upset and increasingly hostile towards her sister‘s artistic success more than her own. Vi has her own agenda and no one is really allowed to get in between.
SINCE YOUR CHARACTER IS A PIANIST, DID YOU HAVE TO DO ANY SORT OF TRAINING OR ARE YOU ALREADY MUSICALLY INCLINED?
It was really cool and a part that I was really excited about. I played piano when I was younger and had that in the back of my head. I also played violin in my orchestra in high school. I am classically trained, but was I amazing? Not necessarily, but we read sheet music and did concerts, the whole thing. I remember when I played violin, it was a pretty cut-throat world, which is why I think I didn’t do very well, because I kind of checked out and said this wasn’t for me. For the film, we worked with a piano coach and we basically drilled these songs that we were playing in the back of our head and she taught us how to mock play them. It was like dance choreography in a way, but with our hands because we had to put them in a certain way. We would watch her and she would walk us through the exact hand placement.
ON THE OTHER END YOU MENTIONED CLOUDS, WHICH IS NOT GOING TO LEAVE A DRY EYE IN THE ROOM. THE FILM IS BASED ON A BOOK CALLED FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, ABOUT A 17-YEAR OLD NAMED ZACH SOBIECH, WHO DYED OF A RARE BONE CANCER. IT WAS WRITTEN BY HIS MOM. WERE YOU AWARE OF HIS STORY BEFOREHAND AND DID YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE PLAYING SOMEONE BASED ON A REAL-LIFE PERSON?
I wasn’t aware of the book, but I was of Zach because of his viral song Clouds back in 2013. I remember seeing YouTube and Facebook posts back then and when this appointment came into my inbox, I remembered. Getting to know the whole family, like Laura and Amy was really cool because I know they were a huge part of the casting process as well—they screened everyone. I didn’t know they were doing that, so I was honored. It was so special and collaborative. I play Amy, who is Zach’s girlfriend and our story takes place the last year of his life when he found out his cancer was terminal. She plays this rock for him, as well as Sammy who is his best friend. The three of them carry the weight of his cancer as he lives the last year of his life and writes his music. I think what is so special is that it’s less about a movie of loss and saying goodbye and more about a movie about making your life count and doing something that is you and fully you and no one else can touch it. It’s about making your mark on the world. It’s really special, I have watched it three times now.
THAT’S SO GREAT. I THINK THAT WITH EVERYTHING THAT HAS HAPPENED THIS YEAR, I THINK THAT PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT THEIR OWN LIFE AND HOW THEY CAN LEAVE THEIR MARK.
I know, I have had those questions for myself over the past couple of months too.
SINCE I CAN ONLY IMAGINE YOU HAVE BEEN VERY BUSY OVER THE PAST YEAR OR SO, HOW DO YOU RECHARGE AFTER A LONG DAY ON SET OR AFTER A PROJECT ENDS?
I explain it to people like this, it’s the best summer camp ever—you go and work with strangers for three, four, five months or however long it takes for 18 hours a day. You are crying or laughing with these people and you create a family and then you come home. I always call it my ‘post-work depression’ because you go back to normal and back to auditioning. It’s a weird cycle and you have to have tough skin to get through it. That’s why people who work on shows are really lucky because they get years of working together. Recharging is important because you can definitely work yourself to death.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SELF-CARE RITUALS?
Taking care of myself, eating well and getting a lot of sleep—it’s the number one thing that saves my life because half of the time you don’t. Eating right is really important, I have had a lot of gut issues that I have had my whole life, so if I don’t have a proper diet, I am not feeling great.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOUR CAREER, ARE THERE ANY TYPES OF ROLES OR OTHER OPPORTUNITIES THAT INTRIGUE YOU LIKE PERHAPS, WRITING YOUR OWN MATERIAL?
Absolutely, quarantine has been very interesting, it’s forced me to figure out what I want to do next, whereas before, I was going so fast I didn’t even really have time to think about it. I have been writing and reading a bunch. I’ve always wanted to adapt a novel to film that’s the Harry Potter nerd in me. It’s a goal for the future and to tell stories that mean something to me. Clouds was really special and I want more like it.