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SCHOOL SISTERS, SCARY MOVIES, AND A RESEARCH TRIP TO MINNESOTA: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MADISON ISEMAN

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
October 6, 2020

Set against the backdrop of a prestigious academy for the arts, the horror/drama Nocturne finds two siblings entangled in an ongoing rivalry of jealousy and sabotage. After a lifetime of being overshadowed by the achievements of her effortlessly brilliant twin Vivian (Madison Iseman), aspiring pianist Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) comes across an opportunity to steal the spotlight with the help of a dead classmate's notebook. As she immerses herself in the cryptic text, the previously marginalized musician begins to exhibit a newfound swagger that steadily pulls her to the forefront, garnering the accolades she has always seen lavished upon her sister.

With this psychological thriller, Madison Iseman adds another subgenre of horror to her filmography, which had already included the family-friendly fare of Goosebumps 2 and the supernatural escapism of Annabelle Comes Home. Meanwhile, in a coincidental turn of scheduling, her musical biopic Clouds also makes a streaming debut the same week as Nocturne, showcasing her talents in a markedly different arena. Based on the true story of singer/songwriter Zach Sobiech, a teen who battled cancer even as he relentlessly pursued his dreams and inspired a legion of fans, Clouds is a barrage of emotional impacts from its entire ensemble, all of whom get a moment to shine.

In this exclusive interview, Madison talks about her experiences of working on both Nocturne and Clouds, reflects on being a part of the universe of The Conjuring, and previews her title role in the indie thriller Fear of Rain.

Nocturne is now streaming on Amazon as part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse collection.

Clouds is now streaming on Disney+.




RadioFree.com: How did you work with Nocturne writer/director Zu Quirke and your co-star Sydney Sweeney to develop the dynamic between sisters Vivian and Juliet?

MADISON: It was a huge preparation for years, because Sydney and I actually went to high school together. [laughs] We had been friends for years already, so that made it really easy. We kind of had this chemistry right from the beginning. As far as working with Zu though, right before we started production, we worked a ton on this thing, from just going over the script and also learning how to perfect these pieces of piano and mock play them as if we had been playing them for years. It was a lot of hard work.

Had you and Sydney performed together previously in, perhaps, a school play?

No. So I grew up in South Carolina, and then I moved out [to Los Angeles] when I was 16. I found a school out in Burbank just to finish everything up, graduate early, get my high school [diploma], and then work--that was the plan. And so we actually met out here in Burbank. We went out to the school together, and it was a specialty school, kind of for industry kids, so there were no school plays or anything. But I think I can speak for the both of us, I feel like we've followed each other's careers and looked up to each other, and have stayed friends. And it was such a treat to work together, especially in a world where you don't really ever get to do that, with someone you're similarly "typecast" between--you know, I feel like we often go out for the same roles. So this was just such a cool treat.

To that point of auditioning for the same parts: were you always tapped for Vivian, and Sydney for Juliet, or were either of you ever considered for the other's role?

I actually did read for both of them. I kind of always felt more connected to V. And I think between casting, and Zu as well, it was kind of like, "Oh, this is great to have in our back pocket." And I think at the time, they had Sydney in mind, and they were like, "Why don't you guys come in together and read?" And then as soon as we entered the room together and did a couple scenes, it was kind of like a no-brainer from the beginning.



Vivian acknowledges that she probably wasn't always the nicest sister, but seems to feel as if she still had Juliet's back when it counted the most. Is that a fair assessment of their relationship, or do you think Vivian was only trying to convince herself that was the case?

I think it definitely plays a part of it. I think it definitely is more than this black-and-white, sisterly sabotage film, you know? I think deep down, they really do love each other, and I think V really does love Juliet. I just think she has a toxic way of looking at it, and somewhere along the way, it turned into this sort of manipulative relationship, and V just thought that Juliet was maybe okay being number two and always being there to lift her up, and in a way, thought Juliet enjoyed doing that. And then, obviously, Juliet kind of had more than she can take, and then when she got a glimpse of what being number one looked like, I think that was the end of that. And then V probably felt a little blindsided, in a way. Was V the greatest sister? Absolutely not. Did she think she was? I think so. So there's a whole lot of layers and weirdness kind of all falling into it.

With so many subgenres and flavors of horror, what types are your favorites?

You know, I love all types of scary movies. My all-time, go-to favorite is probably The Shining, as far as the classics go. More recently, I've really been in love with Ari Aster and everything he's done--Hereditary just shook my world when I saw it. I still have nightmares about it. [laughs] I'm a huge fan of everything. I think I've always kind of leaned towards the paranormal, just because it has scared me more. But I love goofy scary movies that don't take themselves too seriously, family scary movies...I've always been a fan of the genre.

As a horror fan, how was your experience of working on such a fun installment of The Conjuring franchise, Annabelle Comes Home?

Being a scary movie fan, being a part of that universe was such a treat. I've been a huge fan of The Conjuring, literally, for as long as I can remember. And then [writer/director] Gary Dauberman is the greatest. That movie, like you even said, was so much fun. And I feel like as a cast, we all had so much fun together, and I think it really showed through on screen. [Gary is] such a horror movie nerd as well, so he was just into everything, open to suggestions, just really wanted it to feel fun and scary, and gave us so much room to play around with.



Did you have any favorite items from the film's collection of "cursed artifacts"?

I'm kind of biased to all the stuff with the Ferryman, just because that's kind of where [my character] Mary Ellen goes, and [it's] kind of the thing that chooses to follow her around. And we got to have so much fun with that stuff. I don't know if you remember, but the creative stuff in the coffin room, walking down the hallway, and when Mary Ellen sees her dead self...We did so [many] cool things! And it all turned out really awesome. That was such a great experience altogether. I would love to do another one of those!

For the record, let's get a Ferryman spinoff rolling, because I would love to see that...

[laughs] Me too!

Coincidentally, your films Nocturne and Clouds will be debuting virtually back-to-back. In the former, you're looking to thrill and unnerve audiences, while in the latter, you're telling someone's life story that will undoubtedly move viewers to tears. As an actor, do you take more satisfaction in scaring people or making them cry?

[laughs] Ah! I mean, I do love both--I love being able to stretch myself, doing all these different types of genres. I never want to be stuck to one. It's hard to say, they're both so special in their own way. I really do enjoy scary movies, I think they're the most fun. I think you can have so many camera tricks and play with blood, and it's just dark and scary, and a lot of fun energy. And then obviously Clouds was just a whole nother level as far as the personal connection [with] Zach's real family. It was a project that's bigger than us, and I think there's something special about that, too. They're almost impossible to compare and say which one I liked doing more. I have no idea! [laughs]



In making Clouds, to what extent were you able to work with Zach Sobiech's family and his girlfriend Amy, your real life counterpart?

Before we started filming, Fin [Argus] and I flew out to Minnesota to meet the whole family and go to Zach's house where he grew up, and we sat on his bed in his room, which is also the same. Amy...We've actually stayed really close friends throughout all this. She was kind of my rock throughout the whole filming experience. She would share stories, and she would share letters that [she] and Zach would write back and forth to each other at the time of their relationship. And actually, the family was very involved in the whole filming process. They were there probably half the time, going back and forth. So they had a huge, huge part [in] this movie, which, you know...I wouldn't want it any other way. They're definitely like the main creators behind this thing.

We'll also be seeing you in the thriller Fear of Rain. What were some new, enjoyable challenges you got to take on with that role?

That was a really hard one. That was one that came across and I read the script, I instantly fell in love with it. It was one of those experiences that I think you only get every once in a while, where you read a script and you're like, "Oh my gosh, I have to do this." But I played a young woman with schizophrenia, and I remember just before I even went in to audition, I was like, "I don't know if I can do this, this is a lot to tackle." So I did a bunch of research, and then I ended up getting it somehow. And [in the] months leading up, [writer/director Castille Landon] and I worked a lot on just, "What is schizophrenia?" And we researched, we talked to people, and there was this book that was kind of our Bible throughout the whole thing, about this woman who's a lawyer, and she wrote a book about her experiences as a young child and growing up with schizophrenia. And it was such a rewarding experience. I'm really excited for people to see that one. It was one of those indie films that hopefully will make its way through "indie film world" and do something really awesome. So I can't wait to hear what their plans are with it!

Looking forward to talking with you more about that one down the line. Thanks for your time today Madison, I appreciate it!

Yeah, thank you so much! It was so great to talk to you, have a good one!


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