Madison Thompson is an American actress, known for her role in Netflix's Ozark. We are thrilled to speak with Madison about her audition experiences, balancing school and life, staying creative during the COVID lockdown, and more.
1. What are you currently working on? I would imagine that your role in Ozark is a very big moment for you. Do you have any upcoming projects for when the industry gradually resumes shooting?
My role in Ozark is certainly one of the biggest steps I have taken so far in my career. Being a part of season three taught me so many life lessons as a performer and as a person. I was incredibly fortunate to work closely with heavy hitters such as Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Julia Garner, and Janet McTeer. This type of experience trains you to be on your A-game at all times.
Right after Season 3 of Ozark dropped, I guest-starred on American Housewife. Because COVID quickly shut down productions, the episode I was in ended up being the finale of Season 4 and aired on ABC’s special Prom Night. Getting to work on a great comedy show like American Housewife right after a heavy drama like Ozark was an incredible acting experience. It makes you hone all your acting skills.
Outside of Ozark I have a couple of projects in the works that unfortunately, like most shows and movies right now, are currently postponed due to the pandemic. I am saddened every day by the way this virus outbreak has altered the lives of so many people in the industry, which for many means being stripped of their main source of income. This also means sharing more information on these new projects remains postponed as well.
On a more exciting note, I just experienced the biggest “pinch me” moment of my career: Season 3 of Ozark received 18 Emmy nominations including Best Drama Series. Being a part of shows like Ozark has offered me incredible opportunities for mentorship, friendships, and accolades I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.
2. What was the audition process for Ozark like?
The audition process for Ozark was so much longer and at the same time so much shorter than probably most people would expect. That sounds confusing, but I can explain! The audition process for Ozark was long because it happened over a couple of years. The first time I auditioned for the show as a whole started in Season 1. I then came in for another role or two in Season 2, however, nothing ever moved forward. At the same time, it is also important to note that I had been auditioning and working on other projects for this same casting office for over five years at this point. Acting means auditioning, lots of rejection, and sometimes when you are very lucky, an incredible role falling into your lap. For me, that was the role of Erin Pierce in Ozark.
This is where the audition process for Ozark became very short. I auditioned on tape for the role of Erin and my agent sent it into the casting office. The following week or so I received a call from my agent with congratulations and a contract. They offered me the role without meeting me in person. I would later find out, however, that my tape had been sent to lots of people involved with the show. Joining Ozark meant being vetted by some of the most incredible minds in the industry. Thank goodness they liked me!
3. Do you have any audition horror stories?
I sure do!! When I was younger my mom dropped me off at this big casting office building for a movie audition so she could go find parking. As I walked inside, I found hundreds of other kids my age. There were evidently a couple of different casting offices in different rooms on the floor. Naturally, I followed all the other kids that were my age and signed my name on the sign-in sheet for the casting group. Then I sat down with the other children and moms and started reviewing the 9 pages of script I had been asked to prepare. After 30 minutes of not hearing my name, the mom sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder. She asked me what dialogue I was preparing because her child had never gotten sides for the role. I explained that my agent had given me 9 long pages and that she might want to ask the casting director. She gave me a confused look and responded “9 pages of dialogue for a Target commercial?”
It was at that moment that I realized not only had I signed in for the wrong audition, but I was also very, VERY late for the actual movie audition. Needless to say, I did not book that movie.
4. Is there anything specific you do to get into your roles?
When preparing for roles, there are different “tiers” of research that I find equally important to really get into my characters. My research includes understanding the tone or style of the show if it is already existing on-air, investigating other projects the creative team has worked on previously, and learning about the background of the character, whether it be the area they grew up in, the circumstances, accent, physicality, the list goes on and on. I also carefully consider the wardrobe and makeup style of the character before an audition. To embody a character, you need to connect with them both inside and out. Finally, I also make it a priority to be as “off book” as possible. I always find it easier to get into a role when I am free from the burden/fear of messing up or forgetting a line.
5. How has quarantine been for you? Have you jumped on any of the recent trends like binging Tiger King, baking bread, doing Tik Tok dances, or Youtube workout challenges?
I think I am guilty of jumping on every single one of those trends… I would be lying if I said quarantine hasn’t been difficult for me. I am a total people person. I love hugs, talking, meeting new people… and clearly, it is very unsafe now to do any of those things. Therefore, I am trying to find some positives in this time to keep me moving forward!
Quarantine has given me an unprecedented chance to take some time off working professionally, because well… there is not much work happening. Considering I have been working and training for 8 consecutive years, having a little time off has been really refreshing! If anything, it has given me a deeper appreciation for acting and the entertainment industry as a whole. As nice as this time off has been, however, I am also (like so many) ready to get back to work! To fulfill my creative juices, I have been writing my own projects and collaborating with my artistic friends. For example, I worked on a project with my friend Jake Smith (@thesongsmith) and McClain Portis (@livetwocreate) to produce and star in a quarantine parody music video (which you can find on my Instagram). The song is a parody of When Will My Life Begin from Disney’s Tangled, except it has a quarantine spin on it. This little creation combined my passion for acting, musical theater, and my interest in producing. So, I am in some senses grateful for this quarantine silver lining because, without this new free time, this project would never have happened.
6. It looks like you began acting at a relatively young age, during your teenage years. What initially attracted you to begin your career, and did you always know that you were going to become an actress?
I think everyone in my family would tell you I was always destined to be in show business in one capacity or another. Ever since I was a little kid, any social gathering turned into a performance opportunity. If there wasn’t a stage, I would create one in my bedroom, invite everyone in with tickets and perform a one-girl version of Annie. Growing up in New York City, Broadway and musical theater significantly influenced my understanding of acting and performing. My parents were constantly enrolling me in new camps and after-school productions. Eventually, when I was in 6th grade and looking for a good excuse to get out of soccer practice, I asked my mom if I could take acting classes. At the time, the only ones with open spots were the Film & TV classes. I remember at first never having any intention of doing it professionally. To me, the acting classes were just fun! Meanwhile, the entertainment industry started booming in Atlanta and gradually sucked me up into it. I booked my first local commercial a couple of years later and realized that this was a career path and I was already on it. The rest is history!
7. What was your very first performance like?
The first real performance I really remember participating in was Sound of Music. My school Lovett was doing a high school spring musical and they ended up casting a few middle schoolers in the show to play the Von Trapp children. I was so fortunate to audition and be cast as Brigitta. As I was only in sixth grade, our 3 performances in front of 500 person audiences were some of the most magical moments of my life. I remember twirling around in the most vibrant and stunning costumes and being in total awe of the high school performers around me. Even though it was only a high school production, every aspect of the show felt so big, real, and professional. That show definitely gave me the performing bug.
8. I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but a lot of our readers are also college students and art students. How is it like to balance work, life, and education?
It is both the most rewarding and the biggest challenge in my life! Education and a professional acting career seem to work against each other in almost every way, which is why so many child actors choose to focus on their work more than school. Doing both means that I need to always be ahead on my schoolwork. Therefore, I am constantly trying to get ahead so that I build in pockets of free for if and when professional gigs come up. Being an actor means that your schedule must be completely flexible for last-minute auditions, travel for a project, or even a surprise extra shoot day. So far, I think I have mastered how to manage education and professional work. But for personal life? I am still working on that. In high school, my social life was built into my school day. In college I found it to be a lot different. I have to be much more disciplined to make sure I’m working efficiently so that I can schedule in important personal time.
9. USC has become one of the most well-known film schools in the country. Are there any on-campus clubs or opportunities for film professionals, and are you involved in any of them?
There are almost too many incredible programs and groups at USC! This fall I joined the Women in Cinema club at USC, which encourages relationships amongst women at the university who are pursuing degrees and careers in the cinematic and entertainment industry. In addition to film clubs, I also made it a priority to join non-industry focused groups so that I could have a more well-rounded experience. For example, this spring I joined the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta. I absolutely love being a part of a cohort of brilliant, hardworking women whom I can depend on for mentoring, academic help, and moral and emotional support. Unfortunately, with the semester being cut short, there were many clubs and groups at USC that I never got the chance to explore. I am hoping this coming semester to have opportunities to learn more about these groups.
Do you have a celebrity crush?
Zachary Levi – Not only is he a beautiful human being, but I also have a major crush on his career. He has achieved all of my acting goals: Star in a Broadway show (She Loves Me), played a Superhero (Shazam!), and guest-starred on one of my favorite television shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Is there a fictional character that you really identify with, from books, movies, or TV shows?
This one is sooo easy, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde! Just like Elle, I thrive in the classroom and love a challenge. Throughout my life, many people have underestimated my abilities because of my identity as a woman. Instead of letting those assumptions discourage me, I use them to fuel my tenacity and determination. People need to understand that being a blonde woman, loving the color pink, or enjoying shopping is not mutually exclusive from being hardworking, intelligent, and ambitious. Similar to Elle, I could see myself pursuing a graduate degree from Harvard one day (but in the business school, not the law school). I love learning and forever want to embody Elle’s response when her incredulous boyfriend was shocked to learn she had been admitted to Harvard Law: “What, like it’s hard?”
What party trick or hidden talent do you have?
I am a Wii Bowling grand champion. I will beat anyone and everyone. I will score a turkey as a warmup folks.
Top 3 movies you’ve seen this year?
Fun fact about me: Even though I am a professional actress and work in film and tv, I am the worst at watching movies. I used quarantine to catch up on the movies I most certainly should have watched by now…
1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Frances Ha
Photos by NETA ZUK