Madison Iseman tells Olivia Holt how she intends to keep taking people by surprise
Madison Iseman is brave, poised, and warm-hearted. As far back as she can remember, she grew up with a passion for creative outlets. Hailing from Myrtle Beach on the South Carolina coast, she thinks back on the short films she enjoyed making with her friends. Almost a decade after she convinced her parents to let her move to Los Angeles to pursue acting, here she is, ready to leave her mark in the industry with already several movie franchises such as Jumanji, Annabelle, and Goosebumps under her belt. This fall, she was seen as the lead in Amazon’s YA thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer. The eight-episode series, filmed in Hawaii during the pandemic, was a new kind of experience for the 24-year-old actress who was given the opportunity to play two roles at once and expand her acting range.
A couple of days before Thanksgiving, Madison was back home in South Carolina, just hanging out in her dad’s office where she caught up on Zoom with her friend and fellow creative Olivia Holt. It felt like the right moment for Madison to look back on her journey since coming to Los Angeles at 16. After having a busy and exciting year, she found time to discuss her challenging double performance as twins with opposite personalities in I Know What You Did Last Summer, standing up to stereotypes, and proving there is more to her than meets the eye.
On the inspirations to pursue in the entertainment industry …
OLIVIA HOLT: I’m so excited that you asked me to do this! When we hang out, we both are so good at not talking about our jobs and work. There is a lot about you that I don’t know, so I’m excited to ask you stuff that we have never talked about before.
MADISON ISEMAN: I’m nervous.
OH: No don’t be, I’ll just ask you all of the hard questions [laughs].
MI: The nice thing about [our friendship] is that we don’t have to talk about it, because we talk about it so much in the everyday life.
OH: Right, I agree. On that note, you are currently in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where you grew up. Do you remember what inspired you to be an actor or to enter this entertainment industry?
MI: You know this, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I think it was the first movie I saw. I even told my mom at the time,“I have to be Hermione Granger,” and she was like, “I don’t know how to make that happen, but sure, go for it.” From then on, I grew up in a school that wouldn’t have a theatrical department, so my friends and I would make stupid short films. They are all on YouTube, but I don’t remember my password to take them down.
OH: So, they are still out there, living in the world [laughs].
MI: They are out there, but under a fake name. That was what I did all through middle school and high school to have fun and be creative. I think putting [those films] together was my favorite part of it. And I was gonna go to school — I really wanted to go to SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design] but somehow [moved] to Los Angeles.
OH: That’s amazing. I remember you already had a decent amount of work [when we met], so you would have already been [in Los Angeles] for a while.
On auditioning and standing up to stereotypes…
OH: I think it would be interesting for people to know about what it’s like auditioning for roles where you would get stereotyped. I’m very fascinated to know [if] it has determined what you seek out in roles.
MI: The biggest one for me was probably after Jumanji. I feel like the only roles I was going out for were the blond girl with a phone in her hand. When I originally got the audition for Amy [in Clouds], I think I caught [director] Justin Baldoni by surprise — he didn’t say he didn’t think I could do it, but he wasn’t expecting anything. I think that’s because [Amy] was a very emotional role and a very much grounded person.
OH: And a real person too!
MI: Yeah, so I think that’s why after Jumanji I purposely tried to find roles that were very different. I wanted to do so many different things — to cut my hair, to dye it brown — because the number one thing people knew me from was the blond bimbo who’s taking selfies in her room [and] I was tired of playing that. I love Bethany and I would do her a million times again, but I don’t want to play million different versions of Bethany.
OH: I think it’s so fascinating for people to know what the auditioning process is like. I didn’t know that you took a risk and played the other role.
MI: Auditioning in general is interesting. You’re trying to get them what they want, but you’re also trying to stand out. Going back to Jumanji, I was on a tiny TV show at the time, no one knew my name. But I went in there and I was like, “There is no way I’m going to get this.” [I think] I watched Bridesmaids [and] just did this weird Kristen Wiig [whiny] thing. I don’t even think that it made the cut, but I think it made me stand out in some way [laughs]. Because of that, I always try to find things in my auditions that are different because they are going through millions of tapes. I guess that’s my special thing. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. But you never know.
On I Know What You Did Last Summer…
OH: You know I’m obsessed with I Know What You Did Last Summer.
MI: I do [laughs].
OH: I watched it every week. As soon as I got the notification that a new episode was out, I was on my couch watching. I would legitimately FaceTime you and tell you our theories in hopes that you would tell us the ending, but you never did.
MI: You guys were wrong, I thought you would catch on, but you didn’t.
OH: [We were] so very far from what the actual ending was. Do you remember what made you gravitate towards I Know What You Did Last Summer?
MI: I’m a huge Scary Movie fan, always have been. So obviously, the title grabbed my eye straight from the beginning. And then, I saw ‘‘twins’’ and I was like, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to do that.” I read the pilot [which] was so insane and interesting. It had the right amount of all the good things I wanted. I remember they had me audition for one of the twins, and I was very confused.
OH: [Laughs] Did the breakdown say that you were going to have to play both roles?
MI: It was very vague. It said, “Allison, Lennon, identical twins, read for Lennon,” and they sent the sides for Lennon. I was like, “I don’t have an identical twin and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s identical to me, so I’m gonna take both.” I put my hair in a ponytail, grabbed the sweatshirt, and taped for Allison too, which you know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It was a long round of auditioning right before Christmas, and I was actually here in South Carolina. I tapped a bunch, did a bunch of fun pandemic Zoom chemistry reads like we do right now, and in two weeks I was out in Hawaii, it was crazy.
OH: With all of those different challenges, you guys still really crushed it. I, as a fan, just loved the show. Are you happy and proud of how the fans found out about the show? Without giving any spoilers away.
MI: It’s a show that’s gotten a lot of mixed reviews, especially since the ending came out. My favorite thing about the show from the beginning was [its boldness]. The writing is insane. If you love chaos, it’s definitely the show for you. You also take those risks when you jump onto a show that is that bold — those are always the projects that I gravitate towards. I am very happy with how it ended. It’s a pretty crazy show, the people who do love it are obsessed with it and that’s awesome. That’s all you can ask for.