South Florida Native Bailee Madison Takes The Big Screen Starring In 'The Strangers: Prey at Night'
A swing set in the backyard; birthday celebrations with friends; a diner down the street, close enough to walk to for breakfast with mom, followed by a stroll on the beach. They’re memories of home that could belong to anyone, but these are remembered by actor Bailee Madison.
“I go back to thinking of my first dog stealing my Laspada’s hoagie, which is still to this day my favorite hoagie spot,” she says. “I remember my dog at the time, Scampi, taking my foot-long hoagie and running around the pool while I was chasing him.”
Madison has been in movies and on TV shows since she learned how to talk, staring in “Brothers” with Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman; and “Just Go With It” with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. As her face appeared on screens across the nation, she was collecting early impressions of life—sandwiches, first pets and elementary school—while growing up in Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s my hometown,” she says. “I’m so thankful to have my Florida roots in me and most of my family still there.”
The now 18-year-old was in Toronto wrapping up filming the fourth season of “Good Witch”—a Hallmark Channel series in which Madison plays Grace Russell—when we talked with her over the phone in late-January. It was also the day her spring-summer clothing line collaboration with Nowadays launched at Macy’s.
“It’s crazy,” she says. “I just got on my phone and looked at the Macy’s website and it says my name. All the clothes are finally up there for people to get to buy and put in their closets, and it’s a very surreal day.”
Actor, clothing designer—and author. Madison released her first novel, Losing Brave, co-written with her friend, Stefne Miller, four days after fans began pulling her pieces off the racks. Madison wrote the psychological thriller about the disappearance of protagonist Payton Brave’s twin sister during late-night calls to Oklahoma (where Miller is based) after Madison’s long days on set.
“We made sure that every piece could easily be translated onto the screen and the hope is that if people fall in love with the book, we give them the most authentic and true experience in the theater or in a mini-series,” Madison says.
The teen is not only accomplished, but she also presents herself with an air of maturity (though, she admits when she’s in Florida, a trip to Publix might still mean asking the bakery for one of those sprinkle cookies for kids). Madison attributes this to being born the youngest of seven children. “I think, if anything, it’s just pushed me to be a better person and to think smarter and work harder and be more advanced in my decisions and thought process,” she says.
As the baby in the family, Madison recalls being brought to shoots with her mother or sister, Kaitlin Riley, when they both worked as talent on commercials. She remembers unbuckling her stroller and “trying to crash their auditions.”
Once, it worked. Riley, who is 13 years older than Madison, was auditioning in Orlando for the movie “Lonely Hearts” with John Travolta, James Gandolfini and Jared Leto; Madison was 4 years old.
“The casting director kind of looked and thought of me and asked, ‘Is that your sister?’ And she said, ‘Yeah,’” Madison recalls. “And they said, ‘We had a role that might be good for her. Do you think she would mind coming in?’”
Madison rehearsed her lines with her sister around the corner and then performed them in the audition. She was asked to do it once more, but to cry. She did, and she got the part.
This catapulted her career, leading to roles with Disney shows like “Cory in the House” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and Nickelodeon’s “Unfabulous.” But it was important to Madison’s mother that she continue doing normal kid stuff, so the two of them split their time between Los Angeles and South Florida.
“If we had, let’s say, four days off, she would put me on the plane, land me in Florida, make me pack my school lunch that night and go to school the next day, and put on my uniform and see my friends and go to gym class and try and not fail out of Spanish,” she says of her time at Christ Church School, which is on the border of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
But, despite her family’s efforts to keep her grounded, Madison would have experiences few adolescents—or people, for that matter—could even dream of. She remembers Bette Midler delivering movies to her room while they were filming “Parental Guidance;” and when filming wrapped, she remembers Billy Crystal gifting her a necklace with her birthstone and a key charm.
“[He said] that there were so many doors to unlock in this business and so many doors to unlock in my heart, and I had unlocked most of them, but I had so many more to go,” she says.
What Madison unlocks next is a lead role in the sequel “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” playing in theaters this month. She stars as Kinsey, Christina Hendricks’ daughter in a dysfunctional family targeted by a group of killers in masks.
“I got the script when I was recovering from my tonsil surgery—super glamorous,” she says laughing. Drowsy from medications, Madison made attempts to watch TV and read, but nothing kept her from dosing off—except the script.
“I couldn’t talk, so I remember frantically typing emails to my team and saying, ‘I want this, I want this, I want this. What do we do to get this?’” she says. “I was obsessed. And they were like, ‘When you can talk, we’ll talk about it.’”
What drew her to the script was the complexity of the characters—something she says many horror films lack. In her role, she says she had the opportunity to challenge herself mentally—and physically, by performing her own stunts.
As Madison continues to grow and unlock those metaphorical doors, she says she’ll be looking for roles that allow her to push herself and try new things. But ultimately, she hopes to one day conceptualize films instead of execute them as talent.
“I think in terms of the dream it would be stepping behind the lens and taking my sponge of a self and trying to soak up every advice and thing that I’ve seen and watched, and getting to give it back to my crew and give it back to my actors—that would be a dream come true,” she says.
Photography by Gray Hamner
Styling by Simona Sacchitella
Hair by Scott King
Makeup by Carissa Ferreri