By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Young actress Madison Iseman is no stranger to the horror, thriller and supernatural genres. Perhaps most recognizable as Bethany, the teen whose avatar is played by Jack Black in the JUMANJI movies, she appeared as a child in TALES OF HALLOWEEN and the family-oriented GHOST SQUAD, co-starred in GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN and was one of the terrorized yet resourceful lead trio in ANNABELLE COMES HOME. Currently shooting Amazon’s I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER reboot series in Hawaii, she’ll be seen on digital platforms tomorrow and on Blu-ray next Tuesday, February 16 in the psychological suspenser FEAR OF RAIN. She spoke with RUE MORGUE about RAIN and touched on a few of her other stints in the genre.
FEAR casts Iseman as Rain Burroughs, a schizophrenic teen afflicted with disturbing visions who struggles to distinguish what is real and what is only in her mind. As her parents (Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr.) and a new classmate (HAPPY DEATH DAY’s Israel Broussard) try to help her, Rain becomes convinced that her teacher Mrs. McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant), who lives next door, is keeping a little girl captive in her house. FEAR OF RAIN, written and directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Castille Landon, gives Iseman one of her most multifaceted roles yet, and she tackled it wholeheartedly.
How did you come to play this part, and what about the role spoke to you?
The script was amazing, and Castille is awesome, and any opportunity I have to work with up-and-coming young women directors, I’m always jumping all over. But more than anything, it’s a topic we don’t often see portrayed in media, in television and film. So it’s a step in the direction of starting that conversation a little more, and destigmatizing mental health issues and what that means, especially in the film. I was just happy to be a small part of that process.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for playing Rain?
A ton. Castille and I worked very hard on her, and exactly what her schizophrenia is, because it differs from person to person; there aren’t really any two people who have the same experience. I watched lots of videos, and talked a lot with different peers and family members who deal with some sort of mental illness or psychosis. There was one memoir by Elyn Saks called THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD that was kind of our bible throughout the entire filming process. It was one of the only resources I was able to find that really took you through her journey from a young girl to adulthood, and how she navigated her schizophrenia, and her journey of escaping that into the real world. That was super-important for me, because Rain is young and in high school, and she’s really just an ordinary girl who has crushes on boys and has arguments with her father. So it was important for me to find something that sat in that same world as Rain.
Did Landon’s experience as an actress help when it came to guiding you through this performance?
Absolutely. She’s honestly just fantastic in general; she’s got the most amazing brain. And I love working with directors who have acting experience, because I do believe there’s a connection there that they’re able to speak to that not everyone fully understands. Also, I love working with women; it’s a treat every time I get that opportunity.
How did you deal with playing the scenes where Rain is reacting to voices in her head, and people who may or may not actually be there?
A lot of research and a lot of prep. Obviously, I will never completely understand what it’s like to be in those shoes, and all I could do was try my best to give the most accurate portrayal I possibly could. I found some interesting ways to help that; I have a friend who deals with psychosis who suggested I prep scenes with headphones in my ears, so that I’d have a distraction while trying to continue with the scenes and the lines and the connection with the other characters.
More than anything, it was just tapping into Rain. Castille had already laid down such a great foundation of who she is, and it was all there in the script. So I already had all the materials I needed, and Rain was already so layered; she was a real person to me. Everything just started easily fitting together, and it also helped that our cast was so phenomenal. Katherine and Harry Connick Jr. are just icons, and they made the work very…not easy, it was still challenging, but it was a treat to be able to work with them.
How about Eugenie Bondurant, who plays Mrs. McConnell?
She’s awesome. Actually, that role was originally written as a man, and I think Castille had a hard time finding someone who fit that mold of somebody who could be suspicious but also is Rain’s teacher, and have that balance. So they decided to bring in women, and Eugenie walked in and Castille was like, “This is our neighbor. It has to be her.” And she brings a whole other level to the film.
The opening scene of Rain being chased and attacked by a hooded figure is pretty intense, though there’s no explanation of who he is or where he comes from. Was there originally more about him in the script or the movie?
Yeah, at least for me in my character work and my breakdown. There was a great TED Talk that I watched with Cecilia McGough, a woman who also struggles with schizophrenia, and she actually had an artist draw some of her hallucinations, and she presented them to the audience. That was probably the first time that I truly understood how intense these visions are, and it made everything fall into place and make sense, and I fully understood at that point why Rain was seeing this man following her. There didn’t have to be any sort of personal connection, because she kind of made it up in her head.
Since you’ve done this film with Landon, what are the chances we’ll see you in the next two installments of the AFTER movie series she’s directing next?
[Laughs] That would be awesome! I love those films, and I can’t wait to see what she does with the next two. I’m so excited for her; it’s such a great opportunity, so who knows? If anything, I can’t wait to watch them!
You’ve been appearing in horror movies since the beginning of your career, so is it a genre you especially enjoy acting in, or watching?
Yeah, I’ve always loved it. Since I was a young girl, I’ve always kind of been fascinated by it. My friends and I, when we were younger, would make little short films around the neighborhood, and they were always scary. I think I’ve just always loved the fact that horror movies don’t have any boundaries. There are no rules; you can do whatever you want. And I love movie magic, so maybe that’s why I like them so much.
I really enjoyed ANNABELLE COMES HOME, and the fact that it’s about some terrorized girls and no one comes in and rescues them; they save themselves instead.
Oh, that was honestly one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had filming. I got to work with two of the greatest women, Katie Sarife and McKenna Grace; she’s a powerhouse. It was just so much fun, and we got to play with all kinds of practical effects; it was the most Hollywood movie stuff you could possibly do. I also loved what you mentioned, that the girls save themselves. In fact, there originally was a big kiss scene with [her character’s love interest] Bob–“Bob’s got balls”–who comes in at the end, and they ended up cutting it and adding a new ending where there was no kiss, which actually made me kind of happy.
What can you tell us about I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER?
I wish I could tell you something! We’ve been sworn to secrecy, but I will say we’ve started filming, and I’m very excited and working with a lot of extremely talented people. I haven’t done television in many years, so it has been an adjustment, but I cannot wait for everyone to see what we’ve been doing.
I also have to ask: How was it watching Jack Black play you in JUMANJI?
It was awesome! It was interesting; we actually auditioned with [their counterparts’] scenes, so when I booked it originally I was very confused; I was like, “Are we going to be voicing them, what are we doing?” But it was very collaborative from the beginning; actually, I’m in Hawaii right now filming, and that’s where we made the first JUMANJI. We just got together and talked through the script and the characters, and then went with it. Jake Kasdan, our director, was so great; he allowed us to watch everyone’s dailies and make sure we were on the same page. And I love what Jack did with Bethany! So hopefully we’ll be doing another one.
Have there been any discussions about a third film?
It’s been talked about, but the coronavirus really messed everything up, so hopefully we’ll find out something soon. Any type of plan they possibly had got put on hold.
How are you dealing with shooting I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER during the pandemic?
It’s pretty crazy. This is the first project I’ve been part of since that started, and we get tested every single day, we have strict quarantine rules; it’s very different from how it used to be. But we’re all staying safe, and trying to do the best we can, and I feel very thankful that I’m here and able to work. We’ll stick with the protocols as long as we have to, until hopefully we can get our world back to normal sometime soon.