Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
August 30, 2022

In the supernatural thriller The Harbinger, two beleaguered parents (Will Klipstine and Amanda MacDonald) relocate to a small Midwestern town with their troubled daughter (Madeleine McGraw) in the hopes of starting fresh and recapturing the familial bliss they once enjoyed. But when a series of disturbing events continues to plague them, they fear that a curse may be to blame, and seek out the aid of a Native American seer (Irene Bedard) who may hold the key to saving their very souls.

2022 has been a breakout year for Madeleine McGraw thanks to a scene-stealing performance in Scott Derrickson's The Black Phone, which is shaping up to be one of the year's best-reviewed horror films. Meanwhile, the release of The Harbinger and an ongoing role in the Disney+ mystery series Secrets of Sulphur Springs are further cementing her credentials in the subgenre of the supernatural.

In this exclusive interview, Madeleine talks about filming The Harbinger and The Black Phone, working on an unnerving opening scene from The Curse of La Llorona that was ultimately cut, lending her voice to a pair of Pixar projects, and leveraging her penchant for acting to her advantage on the soccer field.

The Harbinger is available on VOD and digital platforms including Amazon and Google Play.

RadioFree.com: In previous interviews, you've talked about your parents not wanting you to watch scary movies, but how do they feel about you auditioning for them? Are they totally okay with that, or does it require some begging and pleading on your part?

MADELEINE: [laughs] A little bit of both, I guess. Definitely to watch them afterwards, definitely some begging. But for Black Phone, they were like, "Oh yeah, it's fine, she already read the scripts and I read them with her...We know that she knows that it's all fake, she was there when they made it." But yeah, it does take a little bit of begging sometimes.

You may not be allowed to watch many horror films, but how do you feel about the holiday of Halloween?

Oh, I love Halloween! Yeah! That's like my third favorite holiday. And this year, I'm thinking of being someone from The Purge, because I really want to see that movie, too. And at Hollywood Horror Nights, when I got to do the experience, I was like, "This is so cool, I want to be this for Halloween next year!"

If Halloween is your third favorite holiday, what are the first two?

So my first favorite holiday is definitely Christmas, and then Thanksgiving, because I love eating food. And Thanksgiving, there's just always amazing food.

For much of The Harbinger, your character Rosalie is an archetypal "creepy little girl" who threatens adults and terrorizes the other kids. How did you feel about getting to play an antagonist?

It felt really cool because I've always wanted to play a really creepy or mean character. So yeah, it was cool to get to play that when I was literally only 9. But even though she's possessed by this evil, she's still a scared, innocent, little, normal kid on the inside. But other than all of that, it was just so much fun getting to play her, even though she's very mean and scary at times. [laughs]

At one point, she crushes a frog with her bare hands. What was used to create that effect?

It was this bag, and it was filled with a bunch of makeup and pretend guts. I think it was jelly. They had so many, and so I got to crush so many of them. [laughs] It was really cool getting to see all the pretend blood and jelly come out of it, but it was really cold, so when I crushed it in my hand, my hand was, like, freezing afterwards. But I love stuff like that--special effects makeup and all that stuff. So it was cool getting to do that.

Between Rosalie in The Harbinger and Gwen in The Black Phone, which role was the bigger challenge for you to play?

Definitely Gwen, because she has to deal with that sense of abandonment, and I have such a loving and caring family. And Gwen has an alcoholic father, and her family's kind of falling apart, in ways. So Gwen was definitely the harder challenge.

In The Black Phone, you have a very intense scene with Jeremy Davies that I think will be a calling card for your entire career--filmmakers and casting agents and critics are going to know you from that performance...

Thank you so much!

What do you remember from that day of shooting?

Well, I remember we first just did a little rehearsal, obviously with no screaming and crying and stuff. But after we did the rehearsal, me and [director Scott Derrickson] had a long conversation, and he told me how it really feels to be hit with a belt. And I just really didn't want to let him down with that scene. So I tried to portray what it feels like to be hit with a belt. And I hope that I did a good enough job.

Another memorable scene features Gwen cursing at two cops in the principal's office, which is amusing because she says things that many viewers might be thinking. If your parents don't want you watching scary movies, I'm guessing they also wouldn't want you behaving like that in real life?

Oh no, definitely not. And in the audition that I did for The Black Phone, I didn't actually cuss, because I didn't feel comfortable cussing like that in front of my parents. [laughs] Then when I booked it, we were doing the table read, and Scott said, "Maddy, do you feel comfortable cussing? Of course, you don't have to, we're not going to make you cuss." But I was like, "No no no...This brings so much to Gwen as a character and portrays so much in the movie about who she is. And I think it's going to make the audiences die laughing and just be like, 'Whoa! She's got an attitude!'" [laughs]

You're obviously able to bring emotions to the surface and cry on cue. Have you ever used that power for evil in your own life, to manipulate friends and family?

You know...Maybe? I mean, they're immune to it. Obviously my parents are. But whenever me and my sister get in an argument or something...I don't know, maybe I try and use it, but it never works. Like, me and my sister know each other too well, so we know when the other one's faking it. [laughs] But I do use it on the soccer field, like if someone pushes me or something. Because you have to draw the foul! If the ref doesn't call it, you have to be like, [fake cries and grabs arm] "Oh no, it really hurts!" You do get really hurt sometimes, but dragging out the injury...That is part of the sport, I swear!

You totally have to let the refs know that contact happened.


As an actor, is it more gratifying for you to scare audiences or to make them cry?

Both! Definitely both. My favorite thing is getting to see people react to the movie. Especially The Black Phone. It's just awesome, getting to see how many different emotions a movie can give you--people are super scared at one point, they're excited, and then they're bawling their eyes out. I think that's one of my favorite parts about getting to be in movies, just getting to see other people react to them.

Some sources include you in the credits for The Curse of La Llorona, while others don't. Were you actually in that movie?

Yeah, I was, but the scene got cut, sadly. [laughs] I was the opening scene of the movie. But that was still so much fun. Getting to work on that was scary, too, because La Llorona is in this terrifying outfit. And in the scene that I was supposed to be in, she was drowning my friend, and they had this dummy in the water which was so creepy. And I never saw that movie, and I don't think I could now, because that's actually really scary.

As part of the universe of The Conjuring, maybe you'll want to check it out some day...

I'm going to have to watch that with my family, though, not by myself!

You had the opportunity to do some voice acting with Toy Story 4 and Cars 3, which actually named your character Maddy McGear after you...

Yeah, I still can't believe it. It's so insane that I'm a toy, and I just can't believe that they named the car after me. When I found out, I was freaking out! It's a Pixar movie! And they were like, "Do you mind if we name the car Maddy McGear?" I was like, [squeaks] "Do I mind? Of course not, go ahead!" It was just such an amazing experience.

How did you enjoy working in the recording booth and performing through your voice?

It was amazing, because I feel like when it comes to voice acting, you have to really use your body [while you] express stuff through your voice, and so it helps when you're using your hands and just really getting into it. And I feel like there are some similarities when it comes to voice acting and acting in general, but also there are some differences. That's what was cool about it, I got to do something really different and fun.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm actually in New Orleans right now finishing season three of this Disney show that I'm on, Secrets of Sulphur Springs. And I just can't wait till this comes out so everyone can see it.

Incidentally, I agree that you have to do all the beignets when you are in New Orleans...

Oh yeah, that's like my favorite dessert here!

What other places have you been excited to visit while filming on location?

Actually, for The Black Phone, we didn't film in New York, but we got to go for the press junkets that we did. And I love New York so much. I usually only go during Christmas time, so it was really cool to get to see New York without all of the lights. But still, it's such a beautiful city, and I was just so happy that I got to be there.

Madeleine, thanks for your time today, and congratulations on all the success so far. I'm sure we'll be seeing much more from you in the future!

Thank you so much. Nice meeting you!

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