Despite hailing from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Madison Iseman has long traded the Atlantic for the Pacific. At sixteen, the starlet was preparing to make a move to Texas for boarding school but “somehow” convinced her family to move to Los Angeles instead. Almost seven years later and after many auditions, Iseman is leaving her mark in Hollywood. Known for projects such as Annabelle Comes Home, Goosebumps 2, and perhaps most notably Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Iseman has made of L.A. her home turf. And though she still misses home — “that definitely doesn’t get better seven years later,” she muses — she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
As 2019 draws to a close, Iseman prepares for the release of Jumanji: The Next Level, the highly anticipated sequel of her big, global break. But there are plenty of things on her plate, with leads on Justin Baldoni‘s Clouds and Amazon’s Nocturne already secured. Back in October, we caught up with Iseman to talk about her past, present, and future projects — and everything in between.
So, right off the bat, I wanted to ask you about Jumanji. You said booking the first film was a surreal experience. How did it feel when the order for the sequel came in?
I was very excited! I’ve never been a part of a sequel before so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was like a giant family reunion, like coming back to summer camp after a year had passed by. I was really curious as to what they were going to do with the script — if they were going to make sort of the same version of what they already did or go further — and I’m really happy with what they decided to do. I know everyone’s going to be very excited to see it. They really tried to expand on what they already created in the first one. But it’s nerve-racking, in a way. It’s been two years since you’ve seen these people, and you want to show growth. I think we got to take our characters in really cool directions this time, which is exciting.
Obviously, you said it was nerve-racking, so I assume you felt pressure going in the first time. Did you feel even more pressure the second time?
I would say it was a different kind of pressure, but it was definitely there. For our initial table read, we got the script twenty-four hours in advance, so we didn’t even have that much time to read it before we went in and read for the first time all together. The movie was such a success that you have big shoes to fill, and you only want the film to do even better than the last one. There are high stakes already…
You’ll be reprising the role of Bethany, but she changed a lot during the first film. So what can people expect to be different this time around? Did you have any new challenges portraying her?
It was definitely interesting because that was something that [Director Jake Kasdan] really wanted. We sort of start where we left off from the other movie, and Bethany is sort of this newer version of the Bethany from the beginning of the first movie. She’s still definitely Bethany, but her heart is changed, and she has a new perspective on life and adventure — and it really helps in this movie, you’ll see. She takes on a different role this time. She’s still the same Bethany but definitely has a new perspective.
The first film already had a star-studded cast, and now there’s Danny DeVito and Danny Glover joining you guys. How’s it been working with such established actors, on top of Jack Black, The Rock and everyone else?
What’s made this even more special, I think, is [the first time] we did get to work with Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black, but at the same time, we weren’t necessarily engaged with them, because they were playing us. This time, getting to work with Danny Glover, Danny DeVito in the actual scenes was just so cool. They are the nicest guys in the world, and I think they were just really excited to be with these new, budding young people. They had so much wisdom and were really down to create and play with us. It was definitely a bucket list thing — not many people can say they’ve worked with Danny Glover and Danny DeVito. Also, Awkwafina — she’s amazing in this too! They really topped themselves. It’s going to be really cool.
Do you feel there’s going to be a third movie? Do you hope? Would you be down for it?
We would all love it. There are so many different things to do in this world that they’ve created, and I think we’ve only slightly touched on part of it. I personally would love to see Jumanji come into the real world, much like the original Jumanji with Robin Williams. There are so many different things that could happen. I think there’s so much room to make more. And I hope they don’t stop!
You are in Montreal at the moment. You’re there filming Clouds, right?
How’s it been working with Justin Baldoni? Can you tell us how it’s going? I know you’ve only been there a few days…
It’s only been a few days but we did a bunch of stuff before we even got here, because this movie is based on these real people and this real family. We took a trip out to Minnesota to meet everyone and had all this one-on-one time with the real people. It’s really been an ongoing project the past two months that we’ve gotten to dive into now. It’s going to be a really special movie. Every day it touches another part of you that you didn’t know you had. Justin is amazing. I think he’s the first actor I’ve worked with as a director. He’s just really good at helping with tapping into specific emotions. And he was really close, too, with the real Zach and their family personally, which makes it even more personal. It’s been such a great experience. We’re in day five right now, I think.
Do you feel a responsibility to do the story justice and portray these real-life people fairly?
Oh, absolutely. It’s interesting, too, because their story really takes place in 2013 so the people we’re portraying, they’re really not that much older than us, which is actually fun because I’ve become good friends with the real Amy and the real Sammy. I feel a lot of pressure, but the way everyone is so excited about it and everyone is giving their two cents. Even the real people have put a hand on this project. Everyone is a part of it, which makes it feel a lot more personal. I’m excited. There’s definitely that pressure that comes with it, but I really believe that they’ve got the right people in it. It’s going to be really, really special.
Were you familiar with Zach’s story at all before joining the project?
No, I wasn’t necessarily familiar with Zach’s story. I had seen some of Justin’s My Last Days episodes — I think I’d seen the one with Claire [Wineland]. So I was familiar with that series, but I’d never watched Zach’s episodes or when the song came out. As soon as I did some research, I was like, how did I not hear about this? Because it really did blow up everywhere, like crazy.
Yeah! The film has been teased as having a major music component, and I know back in your YouTube days you used to do music stuff. Will you be singing or showing your musical chops in Clouds?
Not necessarily singing, because Amy in real life is not the singer. Sammy and Zach were the two who sang together. But the whole movie is really about the sharing of arts in general, so there are definitely some other aspects to that. That’s actually so funny you mentioned YouTube. Fin Argus, who’s playing Zach, me and him used to make YouTube videos singing together all the time when we were younger, so it was kind of this very full circle, surreal thing to be able to work together on this.
So you guys knew each other before landing the parts?
Yeah! We were good friends when we were sixteen. He was one of my first friends I ever made in L.A. It has been really, really exciting that we’re doing this together.
Has it been weird working with him? Because I know Amy is a romantic interest as well…
Oh, no. It’s been so great. You really never get to work with good friends. It’s a very rare occasion when you get to, and when you do, you really need to cherish them. We already have this great chemistry just from being friends for so long, which I think they really felt too when we did our chem reads together. We’re doing this with Sabrina Carpenter and she’s amazing, too. She’s so so so talented. Yeah, I mean, we’ve kind of taken over Montreal, the three of us — the coolest kids in town, not gonna lie [laughs]. No, but really, the story is just so special. It really is. We had our table read, and I think even our narrator, who was reading some of the in-between stage direction couldn’t even keep it together. It’s going to touch everyone’s hearts.
Another role that you landed was on Amazon’s Nocturne with Sydney Sweeney and Jacques Colimon. How’s that been? Can you tell us a little bit about the project and your character?
The film is about these two incredibly talented sibling pianists in this prestigious art school. One sister is taking over the other one, and the total sabotage… It’s a really awesome script. This year I really wanted to focus on projects where I could grow myself artistically and try new skills. Getting to play an incredible pianist which, you know, I don’t really play piano [was one]. We got to take the time to really learn and dive into that. We learned our hand choreography — we weren’t really pressing the notes, but our hands were always in the right position. That was really fun. It’s a really technical movie. And Sydney is incredible. This is funny too — Sydney and I were friends before we started filming as well. We went to school together for a year, so it was fun to get to do that with her and actually play sisters, because we usually audition against each other, because we’re very much in the same world as far as how we look
It’s a nice change, to get to play together rather than against each other. Have you wrapped filming on that?
Yeah, so we just finished actually. We just finished right before we came to Montreal. And she comes to Montreal on Saturday!
You mentioned you wanted to do more intense roles this year. Is there any genre or something you’d like to do more in the future? Is there a role in your bucket list that you want to absolutely do in the future?
Yeah, I mean… There’s nothing really in particular. I’m a big reader, so I read scripts like a book, and if it affects me the same way that my favourite books do, I know that’s the project I want to do. I really just look for a moving script, with powerful characters. I think it’s important, as a woman, to display these super-powerful women in cinema. I look for good stories. I think that’s really where I start.
Looking back on your career, is there a particular role that you’re most fond of or that you found particularly formative?
There are really two that stick out to me. Jumanji in so many ways really opened up so many opportunities so I will always be so grateful for that project and that family of people. They’ve really done so much for me. As far as an artist and an actor, I did a little tiny tiny indie film called Fear of Rain with Harry Connick Jr. and Katherine Heigl, and that, as a creative person, was just the best experience in the world. It’s just a great script and a great story, and it talks a lot about mental illness. It was really special for me, and I’m excited to see where they’ll end up taking that which, I’m sure they’re figuring out right now. That one should be really special.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” premieres on December 13. Watch the trailer here.
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