One look at 17-year-old Maddison Brown and it’s clear why she’s already walked the runways for some of the hottest designers in the industry (e.g., Calvin Klein, Jason Wu, etc.). With cartoonishly full lips and no visible pores on her face, she’s beautiful to an almost avatar-like degree. So when Brown booked her latest campaign, this one for Miu Miu’s fall collection, lensed by Steven Miesel, it was her first fashion shoot with which she was there in an entirely different capacity: as an actress.
She’s starring in “Strangerland,” releasing in the U.S. today. In it, Brown plays Lily, one of Matthew Parker’s (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Catherine’s (Nicole Kidman) two teenage kids who go missing.
In the film, the family has just relocated from Canberra, Australia’s capital, to a remote desert town in the Outback. Both kids seem thoroughly unhappy to have been uprooted with Lily either moping around the house, wistful for the life she’s left behind or acting out.
Lily’s rebellion is of the promiscuous strain. She’ll entertain a flirtation with literally any guy who looks her way, slinking around the house in her underwear drawing the attention of the hired help or loitering around the skate park in a miniskirt and what would barely qualify as a top, eager to feel the muscles of the tatted-up drifter-types. Then, she suddenly vanishes, hours before a blistering dust storm hits, sending her parents into a panic.
But this isn’t the expected small, starter role for a model-turned-actress (e.g., limited to a scene or two). Lily is a meaty character and Brown handles her frailties deftly. “Lily doesn’t fully know or understand what she’s doing with these men,” Brown says. “It’s more interesting to play to her subtleties. You see her sexuality bubbling underneath the surface.”
Here, WWD talks with Brown about her first film role.
WWD: What was your initial reaction to seeing yourself onscreen?
Maddison Brown: Honestly, I was surprised because I didn’t really have a reaction. I thought I would be cringing and uncomfortable but I was pretty neutral. I think after doing so many self-tapes in the last 12 months, and watching them over and critiquing and directing myself, I was immune to seeing myself act on camera.
WWD: How did this part come along?
M.B.: One of my agents had read an earlier draft of the screenplay and immediately thought of me for the role of Lily. When casting began I was called in to audition.
WWD: What was the audition process like?
M.B.: Long, arduous, draining, rewarding and absolutely 100 percent worth it. The process made me learn a lot. I went in for my first audition in October 2013 and got the part in March of the next year, so yeah, it was a long, tough process. I auditioned several times, almost seven. But like I said, it was worth it, a total labor of love.
WWD: Tell me about Lily.
M.B.: Lily is very much a teenager starting to discover herself. But in other ways, she is lost. She lives in a dysfunctional family. Her relationship with her father is a very thankless and loveless one. He loves her based on principle, but he resents her and her burgeoning sexuality. Basically, Lily has daddy issues, and it’s because of these issues that she craves the attention of other males. She craves the male connection she is lacking from her father, and the only way she knows how to connect with men outside her family is through sex.
WWD: What was it like the first time you met Nicole Kidman?
M.B.: I was nervous but she was so warm and lovely. Nicole is someone who wants to nurture and support young actors and it was such a relief to be able to connect with her in a real way. I’ve heard stories about more established actors not taking too kindly to young talent, but with Nicole, it was nothing like that.
WWD: Did she give you any acting advice?
M.B.: She didn’t give me tips as far as techniques, but one day we were chatting and I was telling her about all of my modeling experiences. I was sort of at a crossroads: I wanted to pursue acting 100 percent but still felt ties to the modeling industry. I still do. So she said to me, “You should keep doing this. You’re good at it.” Which was, obviously, really encouraging. One day she said to me, “You never complain! That’s good.” And I was like, “Nicole, I’ve been a model for four years — I have nothing to complain about.” Treatment on-set as an actor versus treatment as a model is very, very different.
WWD: I quickly just wanted to ask you about the Miu Miu campaign. How did you find out you had been cast in that?
M.B.: Ha! Oh dear. I was in bed, I had slept in and woke up to like, 10 missed calls from my managers in L.A. I kept trying to call them back, and we kept missing each other. The suspense was killing me, I knew something was up and I wanted to know!
WWD: What was it like shooting with the other actresses [Stacy Martin, Mia Goth and Hailey Gates]?
M.B.: It was pretty cool; as a model, shooting with Steven Meisel was one of my ultimate career goals. It was one of those pinch-yourself moments. They were all supernice and insightful. I was the youngest by a long shot and I enjoy hanging out with older people who are more experienced in the industry than I am. I am a sponge, soaking up information.
WWD: Did you give them modeling tips?
M.B.: No way. I left the modeling tips to Meisel.