Jumanji's Madison Iseman is More than Meets the Eye
The actress talks her love of horror and her new role in a film by the makers of ‘Get Out.’
Madison Iseman seems destined for Hollywood. All blonde locks and bright white smile, the 23-year-old actress fits right in in sunny Southern California. You would almost never guess she was a bona fide horror buff who spent her childhood making homemade slasher flicks on a camcorder. “My friends and I were having a sleepover and I burned a copy of the scary part of The Ring and put it into the DVD we were going to watch that night,” she laughs.
Iseman’s breakout role came in the 2017 blockbuster film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where she portrayed a vain high schooler trapped in the body of none other than Jack Black. She has since starred in the sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, indulged in her penchant for horror films in Annabel Comes Home, and played a gutsy high school senior in The F**k-It List, which released on Netflix over the summer.
Now the actress has two more films coming to streamers next month, one being Clouds, the Disney+ teen drama that follows the true story of Zach Sobiech, a teenager with a rare bone cancer whose song went viral prior to his death in 2013. She will also star opposite Sydney Sweeney in Nocturne, a Blumhouse Television thriller about a talented pianist whose competition with her sister takes a turn for the sinister. Here, L’OFFICIEL speaks to the actress about horror films, being stereotyped, and her upcoming projects.
L’Officiel: You’ve had roles across so many genres, is that a conscious choice? Is there a certain genre you enjoy more than others?
Madison Iseman: It was a little intentional, because after Jumanji came out there was a time where I would only get auditions to play the blonde bimbo with a phone in her hand. I’m so much more than that, so it was important for me to stretch myself so I wouldn’t be typecasted. I do love horror movies because they’re so much fun, but I definitely like to switch it up and try different characters.
L’O: You moved to LA at a young age—what was that like?
MI: I grew up in South Carolina and my dream was always to make it out to LA somehow. I struggled in high school back home; I never really fit in or had a ton of friends so I was eager to find a way out. I found a school in California and then I just packed my bags and left halfway through my sophomore year. That was pretty scary, but I’m glad I did it at the time!
L’O: You have two films coming out this month, Clouds and Nocturne, which are both about music but have very different tones. Do you have a musical background?
MI: I actually played violin in high school, so when I read the script for Nocturne I was super all in because it’s all about the competitiveness of classical music and I’m very familiar with that world.
L’O: Clouds is based on Zach Sobiech’s story, which happened not that long ago. What drew you to this project and did you know about Zach as his song went viral in 2012?
MI: I never followed the story too closely, but when I played the song I definitely remembered it from somewhere. I’ve always been wanting to be a part of something that was a little bigger than myself, and to be able to play a real person. It was really cool to get to know [Zach’s friends and family] and tell their story the way they wanted it to be told. They were very involved from the beginning and were on set the whole time. It was a really unique experience.
L’O: What was it like to be portraying real people? What sort of prep did you do for that?
MI: I talked to Amy [Adamle] a ton. She gave Fin [Argus] and I the letters that she and Zach used to write each other. We also took a trip to their hometown and to the house that Zach grew up in and to his grave site. It was definitely overwhelming but in a very special and cool way, and I don’t think the movie would be what it was if we didn’t have those experiences.
They have all seen the film now a couple of times, but the first time we were all really nervous!
L’O: Your other film, Nocturne, is a bit darker. Can you tell us a bit about the film and your character?
MI: Nocturne is about a young pianist, Juliette [Sydney Sweeney], who discovers a dead girl’s mysterious journal containing demonic diagrams that over time push her to do the worst and overtake her sister at their prestigious art school. I play her sister Vivian, who is the girl who has it all. She’s super talented, she’s uber confident, she has a spot waiting for her at Juilliard, and she kind of has everything going for her. Juliette tries to affect her artistic future, and that’s where all the conflict comes from.
L’O: Do we get to see any of your musical chops?
MI: Sort of, in a way! Obviously we’re playing Juilliard pianists, which I cannot do, but we spent hours mock-playing these pieces as if we’d played them our whole lives. It was a really interesting experience, and I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was. We kind of learned it like a dance, where you put your hands exactly where they need to be at the exact time.
L’O: You and Sydney Sweeney were already friends before beginning filming, what was it like to work together?
MI: It was awesome, and honestly it’s something we never get to do, being blonde women of the same age. We typically go out against each other so this was a really fun opportunity to get to play together. I remember during our chemistry read—I didn’t know she was going to be there at the time—we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, no way!’ It was so much fun, but it was a really exhausting chemistry read. Our director [Zu Quirke] is very, very in depth.