I know I’m not alone when I say that Jenji Kohan ‘s “Orange Is The New Black” is one of the best new shows of the year. In fact, I had to stop myself from binge watching it, only allowing myself to view 2-3 episodes in a row because I just didn’t want the first season to be over. This is the type of show that many actors, myself included, dream of being on. It’s smart, funny, poignant and full of incredible roles for women. One of those roles is played by newcomer Madeline Brewer, and her performance is absolutely captivating.
Thanks to the power of the internet, I recently had the opportunity to do an email interview with Madeline. So without any further ado…Madeline Brewer!
Helenna: Hey Madeline! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with the “Ms. In The Biz” community. We have a lot of readers all across the world who are actors, so it’s wonderful to be able to get a glimpse into the life of an actress who is on the rise and really making waves.
I have to say that while all of the performances are absolutely stellar in “Orange Is The New Black,” I feel like yours is a breakout performance. Your work is brave and strong and watching you made me want to work at my craft even harder.
This show really opens the door for the types of roles that women can play. While working on OITNB were you aware of how powerful this project would become?
Madeline: (I am going to start by saying that I am not very articulate so sometimes what I say doesn’t really make any sense so I just want to apologize in advance… alright, let’s do this!)
Thank you!!! AHhhh I’m so thrilled to be on my computer doing this interview so thank you for asking me. Also, thank you times a million for saying such nice things about my work, really, that is so cool of you. While working on the show I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I know a lot of the women, well, most of them, all felt that it was a very powerful concept… yet I don’t think anyone was really prepared for how quickly the success would sky rocket. I remember talking to a few women on set who have been working for years, and they were saying how they really felt that this show would change the way people think about women in prison, about women on screen, about women in general. This show opens your eyes to see what women are really capable of in the acting world.
Helenna: I read that you just recently graduated from AMDA in New York ( American Musical and Dramatic Academy) and that even though you have worked in theater before, this is your first film or tv booking. Could you share a bit about your background, where you grew up, and what drew you to New York as the place you chose to study acting?
Madeline: Yessss I’m actually at AMDA right now doing this interview because I didn’t want to go all the way back to Harlem in between auditions ha. The rumors are indeed true. OITNB is my first and only tv or film gig thus far. Luckiest girl in the world, honestly. Anyway, I grew up in Pitman, NJ which is about 30 mins East from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny 2 sq mile town where I went to school with a lot of the kids from preschool to graduation. I was actually “Miss Pitman” the year after I graduated in 2010 haha! I was drawn to New York because of obvious reasons being that I was 18 and I wanted to be Glinda in “Wicked” on Broadway more than anything on the planet. AMDA was the one and only school that I felt was right for me. The curriculum, the teachers, the location… It was all so perfect for me. I consider myself a hard-worker and AMDA is only a 2-year conservatory during which you get your ass whipped into shape to go out into the real theater world so I figured I’d cut out the history and math classes, etc. and really start focusing on my career.
Helenna: When you graduated from the program did you begin auditioning for tv and film right away or had you started out mostly diving into theater?
Madeline: Noooooo way I went off 2 days after graduation to Connecticut to do a show called “Liberty: A Monumental New Musical.” I really had no STRONG interest in doing tv/film when I graduated. It wasn’t until I started working on Orange that I caught the camera bug. I fell completely in love with being in front of a camera. Right after I finished Liberty in July last year, I moved home for a month, quickly moved back to New York in September and went on my first tv audition (aka OITNB,) booked it, and started work in the beginning of October 2012 and it has been a fairy tale ever since.
Helenna: How did you land your representation?
Madeline: I was able to land an agent much faster than most people right out of school because AMDA has an opportunity for their 4th (final) semester students to go through an audition-like process for a panel of casting directors, agents, managers, etc. I had been talking to an agency for most of the summer and then we finally tied the knot about a week before they sent me out for Orange. Ahhhhh life is crazy sometimes.
Helenna: Professional actors are always talking about “branding” and how the industry sees us. I’m curious, what was the audition process like for “Orange Is The New Black” and was it a role that casting was open to seeing you for from the beginning?
Madeline: Ah well.. Tricia was a bit different. I mean, I am so very opposite from Tricia looks-wise so that was a complete transformation for me. The audition process was short and sweet. One audition, no callback, a week and a half later I was experiencing my first day on set.
Helenna: The role of Tricia Miller is incredibly raw and you do such a phenomenal job of bringing her to life. Is there anything in particular that you did in order to prepare for the role, and is that any different than how you have prepared for roles or auditions in the past?
Madeline: Ah jeeze louise thank you, really. The only thing that I really, really researched to make sure I was believable was Tricia’s accent, which is a Bronx/North Jersey hybrid of sorts, as well as Tricia’s withdrawal scene. I’ve known plenty of heroin addicts, a couple of them being very close friends of mine. It was a little awkward to ask them what that was like but that’s what I did. Also, I watched “Requiem for a Dream” which was phenomenal and I was about 30 mins in to “Trainspotting,” which I really enjoyed before, but I couldn’t really STUDY it without wanting to vomit.
Helenna: I saw that someone at Nylon magazine tweeted that Tricia’s hairstyle had been showing up on the runways of New York Fashion Week! I’m curious did you have any input into the look of the character?
Madeline: haha yes! I know! I like to think that Tricia has become a sort of hairstyle trendsetter. I had no input. I think Jenji knew exactly what she was looking for and it really worked.
Helenna: Working on this show seems like it would be a really rewarding and incredibly fun experience. Do you have any favorite moments from the set?
Madeline: Well of course. One of my favorite moments was working with Taylor as she’s at the payphones and I come up to her right after getting out of the SHU. I loved watching Taylor work, really studying her. She always amazed me. OF COURSE I felt that way with everyone but I felt Taylor was so magnetic. Also, I loved any scenes in the cafeteria where everyone was able to be all together. Lots of special moments that I’ll treasure forever.
Helenna: A lot of our readers are women who are either just breaking into the acting industry, or are at a stage of their careers where they have a number of credits but are looking to break through to the next level. Pursuing an acting career can be a tough ride, and many of us are still having to work side jobs in order to make sure the bills are paid while in the midst of bookings and auditions.
Through the world of “Google” and twitter I learned that you are currently working at a restaurant on the Upper West Side of New York. Is this the same job that you had before booking the show, and how do you juggle your career and working at your survival job (aka. “thrival job” or “civilian job”) at the same time?
Madeline: No waaaay not that same job. I was working at Victoria’s Secret when I booked Orange and I immediately quit VS after I received my first paycheck from Orange. haha not the best idea but I was excited to feel like a real actor. Lately, juggling the two has become harder and harder as more auditions are coming up and more callbacks and more time that needs to be taken for rehearsals and what not. I am lucky enough to work with A LOT of other actors and we all understand the importance of covering shifts. So it’s not only me giving up shifts, I try to take as many as I can from others because we all need to help each other out. I’ve given up 3 shifts just this week alone. I was bummed about losing the money but my mom told me it’s an investment for the future haha, so I try to really think of it that way. I’m mostly trying to take it one day at a time, focus on the task at hand, give it my all, and then move on to the next thing whether it be work or rehearsal or an audition.
Helenna: Has having this recurring role on “Orange Is The New Black” opened a lot of doors for you career wise, and how are you handling the exposure?
Madeline: It’s definitely opened doors. I have so many more auditions now which I am so grateful for. I’m mostly trying to remain confident that the RIGHT role will come along. As for the exposure into my everyday life; I’m stopped on the street once or twice a day. I love it. I just hit 10K followers on Twitter, I have had countless marriage proposals, I LOVE IT. I’m so thrilled that people are watching and enjoying the show and that Tricia has touched their hearts and it’s all so rewarding.
Helenna: What types of roles would you love to play in the future and what career goals do you have?
Madeline: I would like to play anything that really challenges me as an actor and as a human being. I really just want to work and to do good work on good material whether that be on tv or in movies or on stage, anything really.
Helenna: Lastly, are there any words of wisdom that you have for other actors out there who are doing everything they can to “break into” the business?
Madeline: Honestly, I am a total noob myself but what I’ve learned is to stay positive! BE YOURSELF, always. Find a hobby outside of acting that is rewarding and makes you feel like a sane person. There is no one like you… not in the entire world is there ANOTHER you. USE it.
Helenna: Thank you again for taking the time to share all of your experiences with me and with all of our readers. Your insight has been invaluable. I’m really exited to see where your career goes from here and hope to run into you on a set one day!
Madeline: HELENNA! Thank you so much. Best of luck to you!