Interview – Madeline Zima

Involved in film professionally since only 7 years of age, Madeline Zima has earned critical praise for her debut role in 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Taking various roles in the years to follow, now over 25 years since, she has become an accomplished veteran actress who expresses a great deal of pride for the cultural significance of a performance.

Known for many roles, including the hit sitcom The Nanny, Showtimes Californication, and, more recently, the relaunch of Twin Peaks in 2017, Zima has made a lasting impression on audiences. Most recently starring in the heartbreaking Thriller Painkillers, she continues to seek a diverse mix of roles, proving she is an extremely talented actress in the process. Recently we caught up with Madeline Zima to talk her lengthy career in cinema, her part in Painkillers, her desire to direct, plus more.

Cryptic Rock – You been involved in film and television professionally for over twenty years. Starting very young, you have had a lot of success. So, tell us what inspired you to continue to pursuing an acting career into adulthood?

Madeline Zima – I guess I’m a masochist. (Laughs) Honestly, around 12 or 13 years old, I worked with Glenne Headly and Tom Irwin for this made-for-TV movie based on a Garrison Keillor book called The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (2000). That was a turning point in my life, because at the time I was really interested in Greek mythology and storytelling in general. That film, and the way Glenne Headly and Tom Irwin treated me, changed me as a person and artist. I look at that as a turning point that I decided I wanted to pursue this. I felt that storytelling had a lineage all the way back to ancient Greece that can be a profound way for people to heal and understand their lives. I think that is something really important and valuable for humanity.

That was really the time being on a set that could be more valuable than saying lines, being told to stand somewhere, and trying to get laughs. Which I think is still valuable, but you understand what I am saying.

Cryptic Rock – Understood. Because of your passion, you have gone on to do some great things. You have had starring, regular roles on television and work in many feature films. How would you compare the two mediums?

Madeline Zima – Television is more like a marriage of some kind, because it is just a longer commitment. With that, you can sometimes take it for granted and maybe not be putting your best foot forward everyday for seven years. In a movie scenario, it’s more like a love affair. You are basically working between one to three, or six months, if you are a bigger production. You want it to be your best work; you know you can show up everyday for a month and be the best version of yourself. The difference is just the timing. How long can you sustain working out every single day and eating salads? Usually about a month. (Laughs) I think it’s just the difference between being in a marriage type scenario or a love affair. That is the way I see film and television.

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Cryptic Rock – That is a very interesting analogy. One of your latest features is a film called Painkillers, which was released in select theaters on January 31st and on VOD February 4th. It has a bit of a tragic story to it. How did you become involved with the project?

Madeline Zima – I read the script, then had met with Roxy Shih, Vincent Masciale, and Luke Barnett; the director and producers of the film. I just really liked them, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and they wanted to make a production as enjoyable as possible, considering the heavy material. I liked the project, and to be perfectly honest, I will usually say yes to a role, unless there is extenuating circumstances. I’m very eager to work, so whenever there is the possibility of working, I generally say yes. (Laughs) I did in particular like this script and the people involved.

Cryptic Rock – It is a compelling script. Without giving the story away too much, yourself and your husband in the film, played by Adam Huss, tragically lose your son. He starts to experience this strange amount of pain which is unexplained. What were your thoughts when you read the script about this pain of guilt?

Madeline Zima – I think it’s something that is very relatable on a metaphorical level of something we can all relate to. The difficulty of continuing to exist, to being a human being, the unbearable weight of blaming yourself for things that go wrong in your life. I know I’ve experienced that, I’ve beat myself up mentally for things that were beyond my control; we all do that. I thought that was something that was really smart, a true analogy and a way to sort of explore these emotions.

Cryptic Rock – It is all something we can all relate to, whether it be something we did or something out of our control. We hold onto things.

Madeline Zima – Oh yeah! (Laughs) We all hold onto a lot of stuff. I’m trying to let go of stuff all the time – even if it’s sitting in L.A. traffic when someone cuts you off. We hold onto it, we are experienced sponges.

Madeline Zima Chloe Clarke in Painkillers.

Cryptic Rock – It’s true. As mentioned, you play opposite Adam Huss, who does a great job with his role. Sharing a good deal of screen-time together, what was it like working with him?

Madeline Zima – He’s lovely. He’s super talented and a trained theater actor who has done musicals. He is just a very talented guy who is very sweet and generous. I respect him tremendously: he worked incredibly hard on his role, I know it was physically exhausting.

Cryptic Rock – He did do a great job, as you did. Another thing compelling about Painkillers is this unique twist on vampirism.

Madeline Zima – I know! I like it. It’s more grounded and realistic. No one turns into a demon face – that almost makes it too easy to spot who’s a vampire and who’s not. (Laughs) I like the more realistic and grounded tones of films.

Cryptic Rock – That has a more realistic vibe. As a young, talented director, Roxy Shih does a great job with the film. What was it like working with her?

Madeline Zima – She was wonderful. She’s so dedicated, prepared, and so emotionally invested in all the characters; it’s really inspiring. She really cared about performing, and not all directors are like that unfortunately. For such an emotional piece, it’s really important that we’re carrying those emotions throughout the story; she was really good at guiding that.

It was really great to work with a female director and one with such a deep understanding and care for the characters and pain of the story. It was really a delight to work with Roxy, she is really so talented and I hope she gets a lot of recognition for her work.

Kew Media Group

Cryptic Rock – It certainly carries that emotion, you can feel it. As a professional actor or actress, this is what you are trained to do. That in mind, is it difficult to get into that emotional place sometimes? It feels so very real.

Madeline Zima – It is real. Obviously, I did not experience the lose of a child, but I’m not faking the emotions – I’m really crying and messed up in the piece. Sometimes you don’t feel as depressed and can’t cry about your own personal problems; some days you feel just happy. It is very difficult to get to the place where you feel like your husband has abandoned you and your child has died.

When I get to those places I have a toolbox of different scenarios, ideas, heartbreaks, or people I think about who hurt my heart just enough to get me right back into that dark place again. I have to be honest: living in 2019, there are so many things to cry about; it’s really not too hard. If you have a beating heart and a pulse, there are plenty of things that you can find that are tragic that you can connect to, even if you don’t have your own personal problems. I can just read the news if I was feeling too happy that day.

Cryptic Rock – That is so very true, sadly. With Painkillers out now, what are some other projects you have coming up?

Madeline Zima – There is a movie called The Chain that we filmed around the same time, hopefully it will get distribution. I just finished the first draft of a feature film I had written. I’m just trying to keep writing stuff and trying to get things made myself, because the casting situation in Hollywood is very limited right now and a very weird place. It’s definitely not a meritocracy.

Cryptic Rock – That is unfortunate but it’s great that you are getting to writing, especially if you have a passion for directing and writing.

Madeline Zima – Yeah, I’ve wanted to direct for a very long time. As an actor, we deal with emotions, and we know how to communicate those emotions. We also know how to transmit those emotions. To direct other actors in that way is really special because I care about performance to a T.

It’s very specific the things I look for and the ways I would communicate to get those things. Performance is everything, although I feel like there are only a few directors that really care about it anymore; and those are the top tier directors. I just want to make stories I believe in and stories I like with people I like and think are talented. Hopefully there will be more projects that actually get made coming out that I get to share.


Cryptic Rock – It will be interesting to see what you have coming. Last question, what are some of your favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films?

Madeline Zima – I do love Science Fiction movies. I don’t know if something surrealistic counts, but I think Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is incredible. I think Being John Malkovich (1999) was amazing, it’s more surrealistic, but I think it’s amazing. I have to say I’m not big on Horror: I can’t watch them, I will have nightmares for months afterwards because I’m so sensitive. (Laughs) I did see It (2017): I didn’t mean to see it, but I watched most of the movie with my hands over my eyes. I was incredibly impressed with that film’s writing, the way they crafted different scares; it was incredibly well done. All the young and older actors involved in it were fabulous, their performances were amazing. The craft of getting those scares timed just right and the tension was very unique.

USA Films
Warner Bros.

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