Purity: : An Interview with Madison Iseman
MADISON ISEMAN on doing what feels right, DIY horror films, being a part of JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, Riot Girls, and projects that encourage women and challenge people’s opinions.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Madison, how are you?
MADISON ISEMAN: I am amazing! How are you?!
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Absolutely magnificent—I just came off a spiritual weekend with family and friends and have been pondering a few ideas since. Discipline, the relationship between identity and behavior, and gratitude.
MADISON ISEMAN: I’m jealous. I could definitely use a spiritual weekend like that. I’ve been going nonstop, I’m starting to feel a little delirious!
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Let’s take it back for a moment and begin with an introduction, the bright ray of sunshine that is Madison Iseman. I’m aware you’re on location shooting Riot Girls at the moment in Canada, so thank you for finding the time to speak.
MADISON ISEMAN: Yes! That’s me, I am Madison Iseman, if you don’t know how to pronounce it, think of it like ice-man, it’s cooler that way anyway. I actually just got back from Canada, which was amazing! I had a blast. It was my first time and I’m already planning my next trip back.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: So you’re basically a superhero. I actually still haven’t gotten the chance to properly visit Canada yet, but I’ve heard wonderful things. Where do you call home now?
MADISON ISEMAN: Home is definitely LA. Even though I’m hardly here, LA is like my “reset” spot. South Carolina is still where my family is, but I only make it out there about twice a year. And this year my mom changed my high school bedroom into the guest room, so I think I’ve been officially kicked out haha.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: You moved here quite early on, no? At what age?
MADISON ISEMAN: Yes, I was 16. The perfect age I think. Old enough where I was able to have a normal childhood and go to normal school growing up, but young enough to get some experience before I was 18.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Was your family supportive of the move? I would imagine as a parent one might have reservations about their daughter pursuing acting, especially coming from an environment where the discussion was so rare.
MADISON ISEMAN: It took a lot of convincing, but my mom was pretty desperate to get me out of my hometown. I was actually planning on going to boarding school before LA was even an option. I was very sad back home. I didn’t excel in my environment in my old high school.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: I’m glad you didn’t allow that to affect you. Systems can break spirits if we don’t find we fit in or excel, and sometimes the best move is to separate from them. I’m curious, how did that conversation ensue?
MADISON ISEMAN: I met an individual in LA that really believed in me and convinced my mom and I to make the move. To be honest, we didn’t really have time to think about it. We took a trip to LA to meet people and see what it was about, and met my soon to be agent and manager, flew back home, packed up the car within a few day, and drove across the country. Like I said, my parents are the greatest in the world. They just wanted what was best for me and that meant getting away from home.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: What a blessing. Had you been playing make believe with your friends consistently? Because each and every one of us acts at a young age, but the inner child gets beaten out of us, or rather, silenced. Did you make a conscious choice to pursue this professionally?
MADISON ISEMAN: Yes, all my life. My friends and I were constantly making our own horror films and fake movie trailers. They are absolutely awful, but I love every single one of them. We even once found the original Pretty Little Liars pilot online and shot the entire thing ourselves. I’ve always wanted to be a part of film before I even knew it was a tangible thing.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: DIY horror films always remind me of Lauren Alice Avery’s “Tears of Santa Barbara.” It’s hilarious, because so many of us make them at some point or another. In her short, after her grandmother’s passing, as means of grievance, her character steals her stepfather’s Bentley, drives to Santa Barbara, rents a room at the Four Seasons, and employs one of the hotel staff to film her crawling around with fake blood dripping out of her mouth. It’s brilliantly campy. Now I’m dying to see one of yours.
MADISON ISEMAN: That’s incredible!!! I wish I had thought of that. I ended up just having to employ family members and use a LOT of ketchup blood. Mine are pretty hidden on the internet. You can dig and try to find them, but best of luck! I lost my password to my old YouTube account so they’re up there forever.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: If you weren’t acting, how do you think you’d be contributing to the world?
MADISON ISEMAN: I’d definitely be creating somehow. I’m not sure what exactly. I love to paint, I love music, I love art.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: So the pulse of creating would have to just find another way out. What do you do when no one is watching, what brings you joy?
MADISON ISEMAN: My little kitty Owen! He’s my everything as silly as that sounds. I just adore animals (probably more than I adore humans).
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: You’re preaching to the choir. I foster puppies every now and then, and when they’re in my possession, I’ll opt out of almost all social activities. How could you leave such a sweet little nugget? I love and miss every one of them, no matter how many of my things they’ve ruined.
MADISON ISEMAN: That’s amazing! I’m always terrified to foster because I’ll have to keep them all, and I’ll officially become a cat lady with 20 cats. Kudos to you!
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: You would think so! But being a part of the process of finding a home for them is so gratifying. And the look on people’s faces who come to take them home— priceless. I feel fuzzy even thinking about it now. Let’s discuss Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle for a moment. I grew up watching the original, did we share that experience?
MADISON ISEMAN: I’ve seen it in my childhood, but not gonna lie, I had to re-watch when I got the audition for the sequel!
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: When auditioning, were you even aware of the caliber of what you were going out for? As I know some projects of the like are even kept hidden for some time.
MADISON ISEMAN: I remember, at the time, we were told it was going to be a sequel to Jumanji, but for some reason it never occurred to me how big it would be. Sometimes in the first round of auditions I don’t look up producers, directors, or who is attached to the project. It makes me nervous.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: How did the experience differ from other projects you’ve worked on? With a film, you’re on set for such a short, albeit intense period. Which is worlds apart from say, the series that you’re on, where you have a longstanding relationship with the cast and crew that becomes a family of sorts.
MADISON ISEMAN: In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, we only shot for about two weeks! So, you definitely don’t have as much time to get to know everyone. Where in Still The King we filmed for about four months! That was probably the biggest difference, though. Other than, that everything was pretty much the same.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Whoa, that’s quick. Can you share anything about the film “Riot Girls” you’re working on at the moment? Is there any relation to the Riot grrrls, the subcultural feminist punk movement of the ‘90s a la Allison Wolfe?
MADISON ISEMAN: Riot Girls is a post-apocalyptic thriller where a strange disease wiped out everyone over the age of 18. The story follows two characters Nat and Scratch in an alternative 1995 as they journey to rescue Nat’s brother after he’s taken. It’s not necessarily about the actual Riot grrrl movement, but it is absolutely a nod to it. Nat and Scratch completely embody everything that movement is about, from style to attitude. They are two bad-ass woman that won’t stop at anything.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: And there’s a romantic element to the two if I’m not mistaken, right?
MADISON ISEMAN: There might be! I can’t say too much, so you’ll have to wait and see.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: As far as acting goes, who might you regard as a source of inspiration?
MADISON ISEMAN: Saoirse Ronan is my all time inspiration. She is truly such an amazing actress and has made such an impressive foot print in this industry.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Brilliant choice. After seeing “Lady Bird” a couple weeks back, I was blown away. I’ve always had utmost respect for Greta Gerwig (and Noah Baumbach), so I imagined the film would be executed magnificently, but Saoirse truly knocked it out of the park. After going to a Q&A and screening of “Brooklyn” I recall how she perfectly marries poise and a relatable quality as an extraordinarily assured woman, then had a moment during LadyBird when I thought to myself, “She really pulled off youth admirably” to only find out she’s twenty-three years old. Mouth agape.
MADISON ISEMAN: I’M SO JEALOUS! I would have loved to attend that Q&A. Brooklyn was the film that made me fall head over heels in love with her. Lady Bird was also amazing. I hope it gets some Oscar love this year.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: You’ve been involved with Start With One Kenya, a nonprofit organization with initiatives of clean water, health care, education, micro-finance, and building to transform the lives of Kenya’s inhabitants. How did you get involved with them?
MADISON ISEMAN: I started working with Start With One when I was fourteen. I went out to Africa with my church for a mission trip with SWO and it completely changed my life. Not only do they do amazing things, but the people backing the nonprofit might be some of the most amazing people I have ever met. It is such a great organization, and I love to follow how they continue to grow and completely change people’s lives.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: I’m always curious about what inspires those to give time to others in need occupying spaces across the world. How information of these organizations reach individuals is empowering, and a reality probably made available through the internet, I can only assume.
MADISON ISEMAN: Right now, I think the internet is the main platform for these organizations. But the best thing I ever did was go out and see it myself. To surround yourself with these people and feel their joy and love even though they hardly have anything yet they are still so grateful. It will completely change the way you see the world.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: How could one get involved with the organization?
MADISON ISEMAN: You can learn more on their Facebook. That’s how I keep up to date with them. But if anyone’s interested in getting involved with other organizations, there are SO many. Find something that really moves and inspires you. Give give give! Or find an organization that’s really hands on and gives you opportunities to physically get involved. Do some research on the internet or ask your friends. They are everywhere!
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: On the topic of giving, if you could give one piece of advice to young women, what would it be?
MADISON ISEMAN: As cheesy as it is, life is just too short. Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be, love who you wanna love. Find out what makes you happy and do exactly that. As women, we are often put in a box of what we’re told we can do. But we are capable of so much more.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: “My life is mine.” And aspiring actresses?
MADISON ISEMAN: Right now is such an amazing time for women in every aspect. We are speaking out, and we are being listened to. So go after those controversial roles, challenge people’s opinions, and don’t let anyone take advantage of you and what you have to offer. We all have to stick together.