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Exclusive Interview with Holidays’ Star Madeleine Coghlan

Photo Credit: Wes Klain
Photo Credit: Wes Klain

Madeleine Coghlan, a native of Los Angeles, just saw her first film premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The 20-year- old actress can be seen in the independent horror film “Holidays” with Kevin Smith and Seth Green. She portrays ‘Maxine,’ a modern-day ‘Carrie’; a high school outcast who is bullied and out to get revenge.

Maddy, whose mother is also an actress, began her career at the age of five when she booked her first commercial. She continued to act in commercials as well as in stage productions through high school and can now be seen in shows such as “Wendell and Vinnie” and “Castle”.   Maddy was kind enough to sit down with us at Talk Nerdy to talk about her experience on the set of “Holidays” as well as her career in general.

What was it like growing up with acting and growing into your profession? 

It was interesting because I feel like it’s one of those professions where you almost start over every few years because you’re different and you’re not playing those same types of characters anymore.  So like when I was five I was going out to auditions and booking commercials based on the adorability factor and then it gets very different when I’m the awkward, braces, 13 year old growing into her limbs.  You have to start working harder and being more invested in the characters and that sort of thing because you don’t get by just by being cute with dimples anymore. 

Was there any other career that you considered?  Something that you thought ‘oh, I might like to try this’ or were you always totally focused on acting?

I think it was interesting because my mom was an actress and she was the one that got me into acting.  When I was younger I was like ‘oh this is fun’ and then when I got into middle school there was a part of me that kind of wanted to try out different things.  Especially because I was at that age where when your parents want you to do something you almost always want to do the opposite.  (laughs).  I was an athlete so I got into and really loved gymnastics and cheerleading and although I really enjoyed myself, I kept finding myself coming back to acting and performing.  I do love to write as well and I think those two things kind of go hand-in-hand.

Yes, I agree, they definitely do.  I think it would be really cool to be able to write your own perfect movie script.

Yeah, that would be the best!  Developing different characters, I love that.  I think it would be really fun to do something supernatural like balancing those human qualities with the fact that you have powers.  I think it would be cool to write something like that.

Yeah, you can create all of your own rules and really, anything goes!

Exactly!  I do improv and I find myself always playing characters that are just not human and they’re like ‘OK, we get it Maddy; you like that sort of stuff but you’ve gotta play people sometimes, too’  (laughs).

So you were involved in cheerleading and other extra-curricular activities at school, you weren’t totally focused on acting.

No, and I’m actually glad.  There were times that I thought that maybe I should be homeschooled and just focus on the acting, but being kind of adultish now, I can look back and appreciate the fact that I got a high school experience because I feel like I have so much more to pull from when I’m either auditioning for roles or writing.  Because I went to high school, I know kind of what/how people think to some extent and what goes on, so I think it actually really benefited me.

If you just grow up in like a bubble where it’s just acting, acting, acting… and already in Los Angeles, you are kind of in a bubble anyway because almost everybody is in the entertainment field.  So it was kind of nice to have that, even at the time when I was wishing I could already be doing what I loved.  Looking back now I can kind of appreciate the fact that my parents had me stay in school where I was able to learn how to act like a real person.

There’s quite a bit of buzz about your portrayal of Maxine in “Holidays”.  Everything I was able to find talks about what a good job you did in the film.

Oh, thank you so much! It’s kind of hard, I sometimes think I shouldn’t read reviews because people… the reviews are so mixed that it’s better to just be closed off.  So thank you so much.

Maxine has been compared to one of the most famous of all bullied teens, Carrie.  Had you seen either of the film versions of Carrie or read the book prior to taking this role? 

I actually had not.  I saw it after I did it because there were already so many Carrie comparisons already once I got the role and was being told about it. I thought it would be better to go in a little bit blind and create a unique version of this character.

How did you prepare for your audition for this role since you didn’t see Carrie?

I got the script, or the sides, a couple of nights before and it said in the breakdown that my character didn’t speak at all, but they had written a monolog that told her story so that they could see how you would perform her character.  Getting the monolog and reading through that and getting to know this character’s entire back story…  it was so helpful and made it kind of easy to get into character because I knew her story, I knew about her father and I knew all of the things that had happened to her that had shaped her.  So it was actually a luxury.  You usually don’t get that entire back story with roles.

So, you actually had some extra ammunition with you as you walked into the audition.

Yeah, I felt like I knew the nuances and complexities that would… it wasn’t just the umbrella of like anger!, sadness!, and that kind of thing. There were specifics that I could pull from.

So once you got the role, what kind of additional things did you do in order to prepare to play Maxine, this bullied girl?

I definitely, when on set tried to isolate myself from the other cast members and crew because I didn’t want to be all happy-go-lucky and having fun and then have to get back into this character; so I would have my headphones on and would listen while getting into my own world.  So that when I was then standing on the diving board and getting taunted it helped me get into that world because I hadn’t ever really left it.

That makes me wonder about how hard it was for you to let go of those feelings at the end of the day?

It was very hard, harder than I thought it would be, because when I was standing there, getting bullied and hearing those names called, it actually started to affect me.  It didn’t feel like it was just my character getting taunted, it was really powerful because I wasn’t, I hadn’t already gotten ‘buddy-buddy’ with these cast mates and everything. It was… it felt so real.

So what did you do to clear your head of that?  Sure you need to stay in character, but you probably want to leave most of that at work.

This was also my first time playing that type of character… you know, not the kind that you’d want to take home with you or to want to stay in that mindset since it was so disturbed and troubled.  Music helped me a lot because it helped me get into character like when I would sit alone listening to my headphones and then I’d do a big switch when I was in the car driving home.  I think putting more fun music on, music that was a little bit happier, helped a lot.

What was it like filming an anthology?  Did that feel different from other projects you’ve worked on?

Yeah, it was really cool because… the thing is we didn’t meet any of the other people from the other segments of the film until the wrap party and then again in Tribeca when the film premiered. So it was interesting, it felt like this was its own project when we were filming because it was its own story. It was interesting to see all of them come together and see how different they were, but they were all horror and had a unique spin on it.

What I thought was cool is you’re sitting in the theater watching one segment and it’s full of suspense that you’re scared about already and at the same time you start to worry about what the next segment will bring because it is like watching all these horror movies.  (laughs).  So you have all of this fuel for your nightmares!

How long did it take to film the segments? 

I don’t know how long it took to film the others, but I think we did ours in about three days of filming.  They were long, long days and I think the other segments tried to keep within that same time frame.

How long, in the finished film, how long does each segment run?

They are about twelve to fifteen minutes each.

Wow, so you’re getting right into the horror as each section opens.  There’s not a lot of time for build up at all!  You kind of get hit in the face with the horror from the first minute.

Yeah, it’s not like most horror films.  You know how they start off with the nice family that you don’t know yet, but here they do have to hit you right away with the horror.

Which director(s) handled your segment?

Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch.  They wrote and directed the segment, they were amazing.  I think they also wrote the last segment New Year’s Eve but didn’t direct that.

What other holidays does “Holidays” explore?

It covers Valentine’s Day, which is ours, and it covers Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Halloween I believe… oh, and St. Patrick’s Day.

I can see all of those holidays taking a creepy turn.

Oh yeah, there are a couple that I’m still getting nightmares from!

Was the first time you saw the completed film at Tribeca and did it live up to your expectations?

Yeah, that was the first time I saw it and it was really cool as a whole because the editing was really cool.  Each holiday opened with a greeting card with the holiday on it as well as a tagline.  Like, ‘Holidays are Hell’ that was a good one and it made you feel like they closed each segment properly so that you were ready for the next holiday.

Is there anything you can share with us about your segment?  

 

I think there’s a point where people will kind of see where this is going to go and I think it does go there, but then you… there’s something else.  It may get there, where you think it’s going to go, but there’s more.

If you could choose to appear in one of the other segments, which one would it be? 

Father’s Day.

Which one is the creepiest?  

St. Patrick’s Day!  It involves snakes and that’s my phobia (laughs).  You know everyone has things that they can deal with and then there’s that one thing that’s like ‘nope’ and that would be snakes for me.

Have you experienced bullying first hand? 

I have, yes.

Will you share that experience with us? 

Yeah, definitely, the cool thing about Valentine’s Day was, I mean I know a lot of people are like this, but I’m one of those people who if something bad happens I try to block it out and not think about instead of dealing with it in a healthy way.  So for a long time I kind of blocked out those years of life, like ‘oh they didn’t really happen’ and being cast as this girl kind of forced me to bring them up and deal with them because not only did I have to pull from those to remember how it felt, they were also my issues that I did have to deal with.

But, I was definitely bullied and I think the thing about girls when they bully each other is that it’s very calculated and it happens so fast.  Like in a friend group if one of them is not… says that you’re not part of the group anymore then the whole group can turn against you. I remember, coming to school one day and none of my friends would talk to me and I didn’t know why.  It was never explained to me, they just decided that I wasn’t cool anymore, that I wasn’t worthy anymore.

Girls can be kind of mean.

They are!  And they can be manipulative too.  I remember that social media could be the worst too.  I grew up in a time where it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, but it was just becoming popular and I remember looking at my friend’s MySpace page and it was dedicated to terrible photos of me and it said ‘I hate her so badly’. It was really terrible.

I’m so sorry, that’s just awful.  At least when I grew up there was no social media to worry about.

It’s amazing how it’s affected every part of our lives, but as bad as it was, I think it’s still better than actually being the bully.

What would you like to say to people who have been or are currently being bullied and are still really hurting?

Well, definitely don’t take my character’s route! (laughs).  I wouldn’t advise that to anyone.  It hurts so much at the moment and it feels like the end of the world.  I love that saying that it gets better and just holding on because the day after things change so fast.  I think there’s something to be said of just hanging on because it does get better and there’s not always an answer in the moment but just like being yourself and going through…not trying to change because kids are being mean is just so important.  People who hold on to who they are, those are the people I want to be around, those are the good ones rather than the ones who change and bring people down.

I get anxious and worry a lot, but it’s that thing that just because things may not be the best right now, doesn’t mean that an hour, a day, a week from now things won’t change.  It’s kind of scary, but also exciting.  Things are constantly changing.  There are things happening behind closed doors that you don’t always see or know that they’re happening, but they are.

What would you like to say to people in order to convince them to see the film?

I think one of the coolest things about it is that you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck because you’re not just seeing one movie you’re seeing a bunch of mini movies, so I think that’s really cool.  I also think that what every filmmaker does is make everything so real. 

I think in some movies you know the school outcast is the one who’s bullied and they cast someone and just put glasses on them and are like ‘yep, they’re nerdy and weird now’.  I think in this film they did a good job of keeping it really raw.  I mean I have on no make-up and it’s scary, my hair is greasy and everything feels based in reality, which I think is really important to do especially in a horror film where things can get a little crazy.  It’s really cool that they keep it grounded as well.

Do you have a preference for comedy or drama? 

I actually have a love for both, I couldn’t decide.  A lot of my more recent roles have been dramatic but I really love comedy and I think I love writing for comedy and then performing it and acting in drama more.  I really love both.  I think there are cool things in both and I love how similar and different they are at the same time. 

I would imagine that you end up using your body a little differently depending on whether you’re in a comedy or drama.

Definitely.  I think that you’re probably going a lot bigger with your body language in comedy.  More exaggerated.

So in terms of your writing, you’ve said you like to write comedy…

I do, yeah.  I like writing sketch comedy and my next project is one where my friend and I wrote a series for Radio Disney.  They have an app and we get to act in it too, which is awesome because we’re actually getting to act what we’ve written, which is so fun.  You don’t always get to have that chance and to be able to do it with a friend as well is just really cool.  So we’ve been having a lot of fun with that.

It seems like more and more people are taking advantage of the social media platforms that are available to self-produce short sketches that allow people to really stretch their creativity without breaking the budget.

That’s like one of the things we were talking about with social media… what now is such a cool thing about it is that so many people are able to create content and have their ideas come to life since you have so much freedom and you’re really just trying to please yourself and live by those guidelines and write by those, put it out there and then see the feedback.

What is your project called?

Right now it just goes by our names “Maddy and Chase” and we have different videos as well as guests.  The Radio Disney Awards were held this past weekend on Saturday and so based on that and all the Disney stars that were there we did little bits with them which we loved and they were happy to play along.  I really liked doing that.  It is just so… to have that freedom.  Most of it is improvised and we have that freedom to goof off, which is how we create!  It’s really so much fun.

What role, past, present or not yet written would you like to tackle?

Oh, that’s a tough one… um; I think if it’s not yet written, I think it would be very cool to do a supernatural character.  I think I’d be very into doing something that was part human and part something else. I think that would be my pick – having to balance the human qualities of the character like, you know, part witch.

What do you do that qualifies you to Talk Nerdy?

Ok, there’s definitely a few, I don’t even know which one to pick!  So, I’m obsessed with anything vintage or antique so I basically… my room is a bunch of 1930’s boxes and that sort of stuff.  I like to dress in the old-timey garb which my brother would say is not exactly hip or trendy, but I really enjoy that kind of stuff.  I also love Alton Brown and all those cooking shows – that’s basically what I watch all the time.

“Holidays” is available for rent on Amazon, Vudu and Google Play

Maddy doesn’t have a Twitter account, but you can connect with her on Instagram MaddyC17!

*Featured image photo credit: Lauren Porcher Photography

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