Maddie Holliday made her stage and National Theatre debut as Jill in After Life which ran from 2nd June to the 7th August and she is appearing in the upcoming release of the new Home Alone film in the role of Katie, set to premiere on Disney+ on 12th November. Recently, Maddie appeared as Shirley Munson in the hugely-successful mini-series The Queen’s Gambit, filmed a couple of episodes of the last series of The Durrells as Maud and starred as Toni in the short film toni_with_an_i. For Maddie’s first experience in a lead role, she played Connie in The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm alongside an all-star cast including Harry Hill and reprised her character in the second film in the series – Professor Branestawm Returns. In 2014, Maddie started playing Emily Zipzer (the sister of Hank) in the CBBC show Hank Zipzer and continued in the role for all three series as well as the film Hank Zipzer’s Christmas Catastrophe. We chatted to Maddie about her stage debut as Jill in After Life at the National Theatre, being on set of the upcoming Home Alone film for Disney+ and making her first lead role as Connie in the Professor Branestawm films.
How did your recent run in After Life go at the National Theatre and what was it like to be part of?
After Life was my first time working in theatre, so it was a huge mix of nerves but also excitement. I’m fairly open about my anxiety, and for some reason, TV and film work always felt a lot less intimidating to me, but I can’t even explain what an amazing experience After Life was. I’ve definitely caught the theatre bug!
Jeremy Herrin directed, with Bunny Christie on design and our script written by Jack Thorne. They were a dream team, and they have given me so much more appreciation for what goes into making a play.
The whole process from start to end was fascinating, and I always feel like I’ve cheated the system with my job, who gets to have THIS much fun at work?!
Our final curtain call was so emotional. I was gutted for it to come to an end, but equally I was so proud of each and every person that brought After Life to the stage, and myself on a personal level for pushing through a lot of self doubt to make it there.
Was there anything that drew you to the role of Jill and can you tell us about her?
In rehearsals, I realised quite quickly that I was a lot more like Jill than I initially realised. Thinking back to my audition, the way I remember nervously walking in and sitting down was exactly how I ended up doing it as Jill in my first scene. She is essentially a sweet and nervous thirteen-year-old girl, who has just died and arrived into the ‘after life facility’ among several others. We are guided to choose a memory to be recreated, which we would then live in for eternity. I also loved that I could just pretend my nerves were me being in character!
What did you enjoy most about working at the National Theatre?
The best thing without a doubt was the people. One role in particular I didn’t know existed in theatre was a Staff Director (TD Moyo on After Life), who is essentially the glue that holds us all together. For me in particular, I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome, but having TD around meant that there was someone there who I could ask questions to if I was unsure of things, but she was also there to celebrate our achievements with us.
The actors were also just stunning to watch and learn from. From June Watson doing her 24th (!!!) play at the NT, to Olatunji Ayofe straight out of drama school, everyone had their own unique way of working, and I was so in awe of all of them. I found a big brother in Jack James Ryan, a great mate to whisper to backstage in Nino Furuhata, and Millicent Wong, Anoushka Lucas and Danielle Henry were my go-to girls for everything! Watching Luke Thallon in the central role of Two was like a masterclass in acting, I’ve learnt so much from his process of playing such a complex role. I could go on all day about this amazing cast, but it would probably be longer than a dissertation on Stanislavski.
It’s been announced you’re in the new Home Alone film as Katie, how was it on set of the film and how much did you know about the franchise before being cast?
It’s basically law in our house that we watch the original two Home Alone films every year, so I still can’t believe I’m now a part of the franchise.
Even though it was such a huge production, it had a very creative and friendly vibe on set, and we all had so much fun. Archie Yates, who plays the lead role, is an absolute superstar, and working with Aisling Bea in particular was a huge moment for me as comedy is my favourite genre to both work in and watch. I actually didn’t know that she was in the cast until my call sheet came through for my costume fitting, I was mind blown!
I shouldn’t say much else about the production itself, but I am so excited to see the final thing. I saw a few clips in ADR and it’s looking amazing!
What are you looking forward to most for the release?
I’m just so excited for people to finally see what we’ve been working on. There’s been lots of delays because of COVID, but we’ve now got a release date of the 12th of November on Disney+! I can’t say much but I think people will really enjoy what’s in store.
Can you tell us about playing Shirley Munson in The Queen’s Gambit?
Shirley was a fun character, and I was given quite a lot of freedom to play her how I felt was right on the day. This was my first job in an American accent, and we had an accent coach on set called Judi Dickerson who was so reassuring, it was great to know she’d be able to pick up on anything that sounded off if we didn’t realise.
How was it filming for your role and seeing the huge success of the series?
The Queen’s Gambit was so exciting to film, it was my first Netflix experience, and probably the biggest set I’ve been on in terms of how many people were working at once.
I had a great time working with Jonjo O’Neill (Mr Ganz) and I also got to reunite with my lovely friend Rebecca Root (Miss Lonsdale) who I’d worked with before on Hank Zipzer. It was great to have a familiar face rooting for me!
I was so overwhelmed seeing the response, even to be such a small part of a show so popular is so exciting. It was really funny seeing actors/celebrities that I’m a big fan of tweeting that they’d seen the show, they know I exist!
You filmed for a couple of episodes of The Durrells Series 4, can you say about the character and working on your scenes?
It’s always more nerve-racking playing a guest role, but everyone was so welcoming. I got to work again with Felicity Montagu from Hank Zipzer, and I was made to feel so at home immediately. My character of Maud was amazing to play. I got to do some moody scenes, a bit of crying, and there was a soft side peeking through at the end.
I worked mainly with Daisy Waterstone, who I’m still friends with now – she came to see me in After Life a few weeks ago!
What was toni_with_an_i like to be part of and what was the story like to tell?
Something so beautiful about short films is that, while the crew is smaller and the budget tighter, it’s the most creative atmosphere because everyone has a genuine passion for their jobs. It was my first job where I got to work properly with a movement director, and James Berkery was so much fun to work with. We had half a day of rehearsals along with the director Marco Alessi, and we just had the best time playing around with what we were creating. It was then only two days of filming, but I have so many memories that I will treasure forever. And I know I keep saying it, but it was the people involved that made it the most amazing few days. I’m still friends with them all now, and I’m so proud seeing everything they’re achieving.
I remember I first self-taped before having a recall. I was on holiday in Budapest, and while my family went out travelling, I stayed in our hotel and had to dance around the room lip-syncing to Lady Gaga. Definitely time well spent.
In 2016, the short film Crush was released where you play Ella, how was it playing the role?
Crush was my first short film, so I learned a lot from the process. Working with director Rosie Westhoff was so inspiring. She showed me this huge book/mood board of her plans, with details of lighting, shots, animations etc. As an actor, this made it a lot easier knowing what the final product would look like.
We also had a primarily female crew, which isn’t common in the industry. I loved seeing women creating amazing work in what are typically very male dominated roles.
After shooting, it was really exciting going to screenings of the film, hearing people’s thoughts and experiencing all of that for the first time.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time as Emily in Hank Zipzer?
Where do I start? Four summers of playing such a sarcastic, clever and funny character. There’s too many moments to choose from, but one of my favourites was improvising with Javone Prince after a scene should’ve finished which went on for ages. The crew were laughing so much so it couldn’t be used, but I’d love to see the footage of that one day.
Do you remember how you felt booking the role and filming for the last time as Emily?
All I remember from the phone call was running around screaming and laughing, I couldn’t believe it.
On the last day of Series 3 (before we knew we’d get to do a film the next year), the final shot was of me crawling along the science classroom floor, and I was supposed to say a line at the end. I hit my mark and then there was silence, I was so sad we were almost over that I completely forgot to act. It took a while for us to stop laughing but we got the take in the end…
You played Connie in the Professor Branestawm films, what did you enjoy most about being part of the cast and playing the role?
Professor Branestawm will forever be one of my favourite jobs I’ve done. Not only did I get to play a badass feminist icon that was Connie, but I got to do that surrounded by some of Britain’s greatest comedy actors/comedians.
I remember looking around at the readthrough table seeing Ben Miller, David Mitchell, Sophie Thompson and more, and then having Harry Hill by my side. Reading our scenes together was surreal, my favourite thing to work on as an actor is comedic timing, so that was a blast.
What was it like watching the films for the first time and having them as your first experience working as a lead role in a film?
I always find watching myself back a bit embarrassing, I’m quite bad at criticising myself. But equally I was so proud watching them back, and amazed at seeing how they made what we were messing around with into actual films!
Is acting something you always wanted to do and how did you start?
It was always something I wanted to do, but I never realised that it was an achievable career for ‘normal’ people. I don’t come from a showbiz background, so the industry was so new to me and my family. To cut a long story short, I ended up doing some drama classes in Brighton, and Mark Jermin (who is still my agent now), did a workshop and spotted me for the agency. I think most actors would agree, we do all work really hard to get where we are, but there is a large element of luck if the right role comes up for you. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky with what’s come my way.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career and do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
I love writing and reading, and I also play a lot of squash. Now I’ve realised what a cool community of theatre people there are, I’d love to watch more plays, particularly supporting all the talented cast and creative team of After Life.
But I can’t lie, I spend a lot of time watching great TV shows (it’s technically research for my job so you can’t judge me on that). My favourite genre to watch is comedy/sitcoms, so things like Ghosts, Taskmaster, Friday Night Dinner, Plebs etc. Basically anything with Mawaan Rizwan, Rose Matafeo or Ryan Sampson and you’ve got me hooked!
I’ve recently watched Jerk on BBC iPlayer written by and staring Tim Renkow which was hilarious, and I finally got round to watching some essentials like PhoneShop and The IT Crowd. Next on my list is Series 2 of This Way Up by Aisling Bea, she’s literally a genius.
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