KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC Interview: Madison Iseman On How The Manga Inspired Her Take On Athena
Talking about her role as Sienna in Knights of the Zodiac, Madison Iseman reflects on undergoing that epic transformation into Athena, her dynamic with the rest of the cast, and what she’d like in a sequel.
Based on the international anime sensation, Knights of the Zodiac brings the Saint Seiya saga to the big screen in live-action for the first time. In the movie, Seiya (Mackenyu), a headstrong street teen, spends his time fighting for cash while he searches for his abducted sister.
However, when one of his fights unwittingly taps into mystical powers he never knew he had, Seiya finds himself thrust into a world of warring saints, ancient magical training and a reincarnated goddess who needs his protection. If he’s to survive, he will need to embrace his destiny and sacrifice everything to take his rightful place among the Knights of the Zodiac.
Madison Iseman (Jumanji: The Next Level) plays Sienna, a character who played a crucial role in the beloved Saint Seiya anime and manga. This live-action adaptation focuses heavily on her journey to becoming the all-powerful Athena, and we recently spoke with the actress to learn more about that epic transformation.
We also hear from the actress about what it was like working on such a VFX-heavy project, her experiences sharing the screen with Sean Bean and Famke Janssen, and why this role was such an empowering one for her as a performer.
Iseman also shared an update on the next Jumanji movie and responds to fans who would like her to take on the title role in DC Studios’ Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. Finally, she concludes by sharing her hopes for a possible Knights of the Zodiac sequel.
Sienna is living with the burden of this huge destiny she’s been told about, so what about that arc did you find most interesting to explore as an actor?
You know, it’s interesting because there’s always the added pressure of jumping into a character that’s been loved by so many people for…I think it’s 30 years now? She’s been around a while. Also, we’re doing something completely fresh and new. We’re staying truthful to what was created so long ago in the original anime/manga, but the trick of live-action is you want to bring something new to it.
I think the parallels for me is that Sienna’s very much going through this imposter’s syndrome of dealing with these cards that she’s been dealt in life and I always find parallels between myself and the characters I choose to play, so at the time time, this is a big ask as Saint Seiya is a beloved IP. You want to be able to do the best job you can for the fans as it’s really for them. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing this in the first place. It was tapping into that in myself which really took me there.
I’m not going to get into spoilers, but we’ve all seen you suited up as Athena in the movie’s trailers. Can you talk us through what that transformation entailed?
It’s very cool. They did such a great job. From hair and makeup to costuming…it was a lot of collaboration and conversations about exactly what we wanted to do. Like I said before, we wanted to do something fresh and new, pulling from what was in the anime, but also bringing in fresh ideas and tapping more into the Greek mythology behind these characters. Athena has this bronze chest piece and there’s the symbol of the owl that was added there because it’s the symbol of Athena. All these tiny, small details come to play through the whole thing.
The hair was a huge conversation. Do you want to stick to the manga where she has this golden brown hair or do you go full-anime and do the purple hair? Everything was discussed, especially with her appearance and what exactly we wanted to do. I remember, when I tried on the wig for the first time, one of our producers, Yoshi Ikezawa, got emotional. He’s been part of Saint Seiya for years, so after that, I thought, ‘Okay, I think that’s the direction we need to go.’ It was also following your gut instinct and what felt right on the day. We jumped into thinking always with the fans in mind, and we want to give them the best live-action take they can possibly ask for.
This is a movie that features a lot of VFX in order to bring this world to life, so was that something that took a lot of getting used to while performing?
I always think those things are fun and enjoy when nothing is there [Laughs] and you just have to play pretend. I’ve always liked concepts that are bigger than me and I think it’s fun to tap into that imaginary side. I love fantasy. You get to play on set and find boundaries of what’s too much. You really, at the end of the day, have to trust your director and producers because all we see is a green screen and we’re in tracking suits giving battle cries. It’s kind of silly when you’re there on the day, but they have the full picture in their mind of what they want. It’s actor candy and playtime. It’s fun. It gets challenging at times, just because sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing, but all you can do is trust the source material and your director. I think everything turned out really great.
What sort of work did you and Mackenyu put into finding that great chemistry and dynamic between Sienna and his character?
It was pretty easy. I feel like I’m pretty easy to work with [Laughs]. I would like to think so. Mackenyu is so sweet and so great and talented. It’s always fun. Chemistry is always something I’ve taken very seriously, and I think it helps shape a movie. It’s interesting too because these characters start sort of in the same place where they’re both stubborn and don’t want to accept the cards they’ve been dealt; they kind of hate each other! Through that, they find this bond where they know they’re in similar positions and come together in the end. It’s easy when you work with easy people and the scenes take you there. We try to have fun on the day and actually be friends on and off set. Sometimes, that’s all you need to show it on screen.
You’re also part of some fantastic moments with two legends in Sean Bean and Famke Janssen, but what about working with them was perhaps most beneficial for you as their co-star?
It was such a treat. I love working with actors that make you a better actor. It’s always such a treat, and I think Sean Bean could literally read the dictionary and you would just buy everything that he says. He’s so incredible. Those are some of my favourite scenes between the two of us because I think they really ground the movie as well and show a deeper side of these characters in this crazy world. Famke is so brilliant. That was actually one of the first scenes I filmed with the two of us together. It’s always hard starting from the end and going backwards, but they’re both so incredible. I feel like sometimes you just end up being on the other side of the camera watching them and getting lost in their eyes. They’re so great.
We obviously see that Sienna is far from a damsel in distress despite her being guarded and protected, so was the fact this is such a strong character one of the biggest draws for you?
Yeah, and that was a big conversation we had from the beginning. It is a live-action remake and the trick of doing that is staying truthful to what has been done in the past while bringing a new light to it. It’s 2023. We want to see women doing incredible things so that was really important for me. I don’t want her to feel helpless. Obviously, she has these Knights surrounding her and everything she needs, but I want the audience to believe she can do this on her own and where that strength comes from is an important message. That was a big conversation from the beginning. We didn’t want Sienna to come off as weak. In the end, you also want to be able to believe her as the Goddess of Warfare. She could kill everyone if she wanted to, let’s be honest!
When you did get to do those scenes as Athena, it must have been quite empowering given the shift that comes with Sienna’s transformation?
Oh, it was so much fun. Also, the rig they created and the beautiful long gown…I’ve always been a very physical actor and, for me, the moment clicks when I’ve got on my full hair and makeup and the costume. Even though we were surrounded by green screens, even the rig I was on lifting me into the air, it helps it click into place. I’ve always loved fantasy and these larger-than-life characters. That was always a very exciting aspect to me from the beginning, so it was so much fun.
On another note, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but DC and James Gunn are thought to be looking for an actress to play Supergirl in a new movie, and you’re a name I see come up a lot. How would you feel about that?
Really? [Laughs] Am I? Okay. You know, that would be awesome. I love larger-than-life concepts and characters. I don’t know, maybe I’ll call my agent [Laughs]
I’ve always had so much fun with the Jumanji movies and, like a lot of people, would love to see a third movie – have you heard any rumblings about coming back to finish the trilogy?
I mean, look, Jumanji changed my life. I love all of those people so, so, so much. They’re so dear to me. I would love nothing more than to go back and do another one. It’s so funny because there have been rumours about it for like three years now. The Rock is just the busiest man in the world. I don’t know, I just think two is a weird number to end on. You need one more. Also, we left it on such a big cliffhanger…I’m still waiting for that phone call. If they call me, I’ll be very happy to jump in, but we’re getting old [Laughs] We can’t wait that much longer! We’ll see. I’d love to work with those guys again and I miss Jack [Black] as Bethany. He’s the best.
Knights of the Zodiac feels like a property with real franchise potential so, should a sequel take shape, would you be open to continuing Sienna’s story and, if it happens, do you have any ideas about where you’d like to take her?
Do I have ideas? Yes! Of course, I’d love to come back. I think they’re calling it a beginning. It’s just an introduction to these characters and, if you are familiar with the manga or anime, there is a whole lot of source material and new Knights to be introduced. Personally, and this is not a formal pitch, I would love to see trials held as it would be a great opportunity to bring in fresh new actors to play some of those Knights and there are some really great characters we’re missing out on. There are a lot of fun ways you could go with that, but that’s what I would love to see. I think it would be fun.