Madeleine Madden first captured our attention in late 2010 when she became the first teenager in Australia to deliver an address to the nation. A spot usually reserved for politicians and sports figures, the then 13-year-old owned her moment and charismatically spoke about the urgent need to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia. Her hope? To see Aboriginal people supported in education and employment and provided with equal opportunities. Fast forward nearly a decade and the 22-year-old indigenous actress has made it to Hollywood.
From her roles in ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘Mystery Road’ and now, starring as ‘Sammy’ alongside Eva Longoria in Nickelodeon’s live-action flick ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’, Madeleine – or M&M as she allowed me to call her! – is paving an exciting path.
It was a pleasure to sit down with her to chat all things Dora including the movie’s important message about being true to yourself:
Your character ‘Sammy’ turns out lovely, but she starts off as a mean girl! Tell me more about her growth:
Madeleine: Always fun to be a mean girl or villain! (Laughs) Everyone may have been in Sammy’s shoes of rejection or insecurities or keeping your guard up. This happens often before you get to know someone, especially at school. Her nice character arc softens things up, trusting people as she’s accepted for who she is. That message really resonated with me. Life at school or work can be hard. But by staying true to who you are, you’ll attract others in life who respond and love you for who you are. I believe we shed light on that in this film.
That’s a sign of maturity also which, I assume, is needed to adapt as an actor?
Madeleine: Yes, exactly. The thing about acting for me – in my home or at work – I was always treated like an adult intellectually. Many people asked my opinion on things, ideas or thoughts on everything from the world to certain scenes. Often, I would go back to school and think, no this is wrong, I should have opinions heard. In a world where we have so much information at our fingertips, people are becoming more aware of respect – Students protesting or marching all around the world for causes is something I admire.
Was this film something a little different for you considering the more serious work within your career like Picnic at Hanging Rock?
Madeleine: Initially a big change. Comedy freaks me a little! Stepping out of my comfort zone.
Was it harder to get comic timing right than perfecting dramatic beats?
Madeleine: Definitely. You need to much more courageous for comedy. Being quick and fast and responding takes time to (do with) confidence. My good friend Nicholas Coombe who plays Randy, was so good to bounce off for advice on set. He secured my confidence to just have a go and fall on your feet. Director James Bobin often let the camera roll so improvisation took over. Even now I have anxiety speaking about it!
You sing in the role too!
Madeleine: One of the great things about (Director) James, he loves those funny little moments encouraging you to be in the moment then let go in the name of fun. You think when it’s all done, kids watching the film might laugh. But actually, everyone on-set was laughing!
What was it like to be working on a massive Australian shot production with local crew?
Madeleine: It was nice to be in the comfort of Australia albeit an American film. I love working with fellow Aussies. It is universally known around film circles that our crew get the job done while being easy to work with. I take it for granted sometimes while visitors often remark on our efficiency. The variable special landscapes also appeal to me. You drive an hour in any direction and life blooms differently!
That accent you conveyed never slipped! Is it hard to do when you’re filming in Australia?
Madeleine: We had an outstanding dialect coach. She was always there to nurture and support us.
It seems Dora had many practical effects or sets – tell me about the quicksand.
Madeleine: Oh my god! It was the absolute worst! Even watching the movie, I shudder! The quicksand was shredded cork. Looks like sand, feels like sand but floats on the surface of the watertank. Underneath was a mini-lift slowly sinking us down. Filming the scene was insane! We were in and out of that, including reshoots, for six days. It was cold. Cork got everywhere. I’m still finding it a year later! (Laughs) It’s horrendous, but looked amazing.
Why did you initially get into acting?
Madeleine: My family is heavily involved in arts. My mum’s a cheerleader while an aunty is a director. My entire life, I was surrounded by creatives – almost a constructed path of normality to become a struggling artist! (Laughs) I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It excites me and scares me at the same time. Both emotions, I know I’m heading in the right direction.
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD Rated PG 102 minutes
NOW SHOWING in CINEMAS ACROSS AUSTRALIA.