An Interview with Madison Pettis
AN INTERVIEW WITH MADISON PETTIS
She exudes gratitude. Actress and social media star, Madison Pettis began working in the entertainment industry at the early age of five years old. The now twenty year-old woman is flourishing in Los Angeles. The down-to-earth valley girl was accepted to NYU’s Tisch school for Cinema Studies but deferred to co-star in Facebook’s hit teen drama web series, Five Points, with Hayley Kiyoko, Ray Cham Jr., Spence Moore II, Nathaniel Potvin, Jake Austin Walker, and Trey Curtis. Madison talks about the role her mother played in the start of her success, growing up in the entertainment industry, her inspirations, and goals.
MR: Walk me through your upbringing…
MP: I grew up in Arlington, Texas. I started dancing when I was four years old. Being comfortable on stage came easily to me. My chance to break into the industry came one day when my mom and I were at the Arlington mall. A parenting magazine was having a contest, giving out balloons and taking Polaroids of kids for a chance to be on the cover of the magazine. A few months later I got a call that I was selected. The photographer told my mom, “Your daughter is so natural in front of the camera. You should get her an agent.” My mom was hesitant because she wasn’t involved in the entertainment industry on any level but she could see how much I loved it. Soon after, I started modeling and then I booked some commercials. The first TV show I was in was Barney and Friends. Around that time, I started taking acting classes with Cathryn Sullivan, an amazing coach in Texas. She had an agent come from LA to scout me. He said if I flew to LA for pilot season, he would represent me. We had zero expectations. It still felt like a hobby back then.
MR: When did it start feeling like more than a hobby?
MP: It started feeling like that the first time we came to Los Angeles. We were here for a few months.
MR: Was your mom working at this time?
MP: She was a stay at home mom while I was growing up. She had planned to go back to work when I was in kindergarten but then she put me first and helped me focus on my dreams.
MR: That’s a lot of dedication from your mom. She must really believe in you.
MP: I think about all the amazing things she did for me all the time — driving me to auditions all over this brand new city, printing out MapQuests, always making it fun for me. I was halfway through second grade when we came to LA for the first time. For those few months, my mom homeschooled me. While I was in LA, I booked Cory in the House and The Game Plan. The Game Plan audition came on the last day I was in LA. I was supposed to go home but the agent told me I had a movie audition. I was so excited but I never thought I would book it. Hundreds of girls auditioned. They told me I had a call back while I was in the room and eight callbacks later, I booked it.
MR: What do you think it was that made you stand out over the hundreds of girls who auditioned?
MP: During one of the auditions, there was a chemistry reading with Dwayne Johnson. The director of The Game Plan, Andy Fickman told my mom they were amazed with how comfortable I was throughout the whole process. I wasn’t star struck by Dwayne because I was so young and hadn’t watched wrestling or his other films at the time. I didn’t realize the gravity of what I was doing and how big of a deal it was because I was just having fun. I think about it now and I don’t even know how I memorized lines at such a young age.
MR: Do you ever think what life would be like if your mom hadn’t entered you into that contest at the mall?
MP: I think about it all the time. I would still be living in Texas. I’d still be pursuing dancing probably. But I can’t picture my life any other way. She is the most selfless person I know.
MR: You’re starring in the Facebook series, Five Points. What is it about Five Points that sets it apart from other teen dramas?
MP: It’s the cast and the writing. I’ve had the best time working with everyone on set. The cast is comprised of people in their twenties who I now call my friends and it’s so much fun to work together. Hayley Kiyoko is amazing. I’ve had the best time working with her. The writing is what drew me to it initially. Adam Giaudrone is so talented. When I first read just a few pages of it, I really connected to how he captured teenage life and how we really talk. Adam has such a nuanced way of showing what is below the surface of these stereotypes.
The whole series surrounds one dramatic tragic event. Watching my cast mates perform these super emotionally raw scenes and give incredible performances is so inspiring creatively and such an honor. They inspire me to perform at my best. I believe we did the series justice.
I think the popularity comes from the characters’ relatability. The story is told from the perspective of five different characters’ points of view. It’s the jock, the geek, the popular girl, but people get to see so much more than that and realize people are so much more than the boxes we place them into. The show features deep problems and hardships and forces the viewer to empathize because it is so real. One of my favorite messages from the show is that you never know what other people are going through behind closed doors. Even if someone’s life looks perfect from the outside, chances are it’s not. Everyone is struggling with something so you should always be kind to everyone.
MR: What do you think of Facebook as a platform for TV series?
MP: I think people are still getting used to social media as a platform for consuming television narratives. It’s still a new platform. This short form content is very different. People are watching a huge storyline unfold during just these short ten-minute episodes on Facebook. If you binged it, it would be about 120 minutes to watch the entire season. I think being on digital platforms like that — like Apple and Disney — it’s becoming a bigger trend. In general, social media is a huge part of my career that allows me to keep up with my fans and has actually allowed me to grow up with my fans.
“Even if someone’s life looks perfect from the outside, chances are it’s not. Everyone is struggling with something so you should always be kind to everyone.”
“I want to work more with military families and share common ground with them.”
MR: Do you have any aspirations to be behind the camera?
MP: I want to produce. It’s been a dream of mine to have a production company with my mom. I’m not sure how short term or long-term that goal is but it’s definitely something I want to do. I’ve had a lot of ideas being on set for so long. My mom was on set with me all the time and she made a lot of observations over the past 13 years in this industry. Now I have my own perspective.
MR: Do you have any specific role models in the business?
MP: Kerry Washington, our executive producer on Five Points is a huge role model for me. She really brings stories to life and it is so inspiring to watch. Working with her has been an honor. Viola Davis is one of my favorite actresses. Reese Witherspoon has her own production company similar to Kerry. It’s so great to see women behind the camera and I hope to be part of that one day as well.
MR: Did you have any favorite actresses growing up?
MP: Raven Symone was my favorite actress. I loved The Cheetah Girls. I would reenact it on the playground and direct my friends. I’d tell them which Cheetah Girl they were. Being on Cory in the House was a dream come true for me because that was basically all I watched back then. Kyle Massey has always been like a big brother to me. Everyone in that cast felt like a big family. When Raven would guest star, I was so star struck by her. I saw her a year ago and I was still star struck!
MR: What is a cause you feel strongly about?
MP: My brother is in the military. He’s been in the army for about ten years. I have worked with the USO in the past, traveling to different military bases, in Germany, Hawaii, all over… sharing my experience with having a loved one in the service. I know how hard it is for military families and how emotional it is to go through the experience of deployment. Sharing those feelings and stories with families who are going through the same thing is something I feel super passionately about. I want to work more with military families and share common ground with them. There are so many military families all over the world. I think it’s nice for some of them to see someone on TV going through the same things as they are. The traveling and moving from place to place is very stressful alone. My brother and his wife just moved from North Carolina to Japan two weeks ago.
MR: What are some of your favorite shows and films?
MP: I love feel good cinema, movies you can watch over and over. 13 Going on 30 is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love Atlanta, which isn’t always “feel good” exactly… I think Donald Glover he is a genius… He’s so talented that it’s crazy! I love Insecure on HBO Issa Rae wrote and created it. It’s fantastic and hilarious. My mom and I are Law and Order junkies. I’ve watched every episode of SVU. Coming back to your role model question, Mariska Hargitay is wildly inspiring to me. She has been doing the series since the very beginning and is now an executive producer. When I guest starred, I saw how hands on she is. She knows her character and the show so well and she makes sure everything is perfect.
MR: Are there any scenes from movies that have stuck with you over the years?
MP: So many… One of my favorite scenes is probably a from Sex and the City which is one of my favorite series of all time. The season finale of Sex and the City, the final episode when she decides she’s moving to Paris with the Russian, Big shows up and she screams, “…you can drive up this street all you want because I don’t live here anymore!” Their relationship is so beautiful. Saying goodbye to someone when you know you still love them is so hard and that scene is such an incredible representation of that. It also really speaks to timing in relationships and what a significant role it plays. That scene just breaks my heart. Their relationship was so intense and they are brilliant characters. I would never want them to remake it but I wish I could be in a series just like Sex and the City.
MR: What is one of the challenges find yourself facing in this industry?
MP: Sometimes it’s easy to get down on yourself by comparing yourself to other people. But you have to believe in yourself and not compare yourself to others. I get inspired reading interviews from people like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone where they talk about the whole journey to where they are now. Nothing is overnight even if it might seem that way from the outside. Dwayne Johnson tells a story of how he had 7 dollars in his pocket and nothing else. The fact is, you don’t know anyone’s story or how hard they’ve worked to get where they are. Never give up. In the social media age, it’s so easy to compare yourself but it won’t make you feel any better about yourself.
MR: Do you have any goals as far as acting goes?
MP: I’m striving to create a balance between TV and film. As an actor, I don’t want to get stuck doing one certain thing. I like a variety of genres and I want to explore them all.
MR: Do you have any advice for young women who want to break into the entertainment industry?
MP: If you love it, do it. There are so many reasons why people get into the entertainment besides the pure joy. So many people are in it to be famous, make money or get followers but if your heart isn’t in it, then it’s not a great industry to be in. There is a lot of competition and rejection. What keeps me going in such a hard industry is being on set and being inspired by other people who want to make art that they’re proud of, whether it makes people laugh and feel good or makes them emotional and touches on important topics. If you have a genuine love for it go for it. Work hard and practice all the time. It’s very hard and very challenging. I’ve been doing it for 13 years and I’m proud of where I am, but I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. Don’t give up. ■
“If you have a genuine love for it go for it. Work hard and practice all the time."