- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
[The following interview contains spoilers for Scream (2022) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.]
Mikey Madison can’t help but laugh at the similarities between her two most prominent film roles in Scream (2022) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s (also known as Radio Silence) Scream, Madison’s character, Amber, is revealed to be one of the knife-wielding killers known as Ghostface, and she’s ultimately set ablaze by the end of the film. And just a few years earlier in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Madison played Sadie, based on real-life Manson family member Susan Atkins, and she, too, was a knife-wielding killer who’s ultimately set ablaze by the end of the film. While Madison recognized their shared attributes during Scream’s casting process, she didn’t learn about one of Amber’s key commonalities until much later.
“I actually didn’t know that my character was supposed to be set on fire in the end,” Madison tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought that was supposed to be Jack’s [Quaid] character’s death because that’s how he died in the script they had given me. So when they told me, I was definitely like, ‘Huh, that’s a funny coincidence.’ But it wasn’t a specific choice on [Radio Silence’s] end in regard to me. They even debated changing my character’s death, but we ultimately just kept it in.”
Madison is also looking back on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s unique audition process for Sadie.
“They basically said, ‘You can do whatever you want for the audition. You can read a scene or you can do a monologue or you can sing a song,'” Madison recalls. “And I was like, ‘This is my moment to do something fun and creative,’ so I brought in a painting that I made in character. It was as if the Manson girls had made this psychedelic painting during one of their acid trips, and I even sewed a piece of my hair into the painting. I also read [Tarantino] a poem. I really went all out because why not? It’s Quentin Tarantino.”
As much as Madison enjoyed playing two maniacal killers, she wants to make it clear that she’s moving on from any other new opportunities involving knives and flames.
“I think I’m pretty much done with that. Two is enough,” Madison says with a laugh.
In a recent conversation with THR, Madison also discusses how Scream‘s costume designers accounted for her real-life height difference compared to Ghostface. But first, she reflects on the filming of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, including the moment where Brad Pitt’s character throws a can of dog food directly at her character’s face.
I admit this question would play better in a maskless world, but since 2019, do you notice people crossing the street when they see you coming toward them? Have your roles in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Scream altered people’s perception of you?
(Laughs.) No, I don’t think that people recognize me from those movies. So that’s never happened, but it’s funny. I hope people will never be scared of me. (Laughs.)
So let’s start in 2018. How did things get rolling with your casting in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
I was brought in to do an audition with Quentin, and I was incredibly excited. I’ve been a huge, die-hard fan of his for as long as I can remember and since I first started developing a love for film. They basically said, “You can do whatever you want for the audition. You can read a scene or you can do a monologue or you can sing a song.” And I was like, “This is my moment to do something fun and creative,” so I brought in a painting that I made in character. It was as if the Manson girls had made this psychedelic painting during one of their acid trips, and I even sewed a piece of my hair into the painting. I also read him a poem. I really went all out because why not? It’s Quentin Tarantino. (Laughs.)
At the time, did you know you were going out for Susan “Sadie” Atkins, specifically?
No, I auditioned for Kitty Kat [the nickname of Manson family member Kathryn Lutesinger]. I guess her name in the movie is Pussycat (played by Margaret Qualley). So I auditioned for that role, originally. I think everybody read those scenes, and then he had me do a cold read of one of the monologues that Sadie has in the film.
Yeah, I assumed you read her big monologue in the car.
Yeah, he gave me a cold read. He was like, “You can have a few minutes to go over this.” So I just fought for it.
Quentin kept the ending under lock and key for quite a while. So at what point did he finally show you?
I actually knew the whole time. I went back to do a chemistry read, and then he brought me upstairs with the casting director and offered me the role. And then he was like, “You can read the script.” So he basically put me in this closet, this room, and I read the script twice. So I knew from the beginning, but I had this big secret that I had to keep, which was fun.
Maya Hawke was in the third-act car scenes with you, and she told me that she only received the sides for the car sequence. So you were one of the lucky few to read the whole script that early.
Well, I kind of needed to know what was going to happen to be able to play my character. My character is briefly seen at Spahn Ranch, but she really only exists in the final act. So I think it was important for me, specifically.
One detail I missed during my first viewing was Sadie’s stare-down with Brad Pitt’s character at Spahn Ranch. So knowing the ending ahead of time probably came in handy there.
So did Brad actually throw a foam can of dog food at your face?
(Laughs.) In some shots, he did, but it was mostly a professional stuntman. He threw something that was almost like a soft dog toy, but it was pretty dense. So they would throw it, and it would hit me square in the face each time. (Laughs.) It was lovely.
Did you do most of the screaming via ADR? I can’t imagine that they had you screaming for hours on end, day after day.
Oh no, there was no ADR. I did all of it on set. I’m still in shock that I never lost my voice. On the last day that I was filming in the pool, Leonardo was like, “I can’t believe you haven’t lost your voice,” and that’s when I lost it.
I’m sure your stunt double did the flamethrower moment, but did you do most of the lead-up as Sadie turned around quickly and pointed the gun at Leo’s character?
Yeah, I did a lot of it, except, obviously, they weren’t going to set me on fire. Although, I totally would have if they wanted me to. (Laughs.) I’m pretty trusting, but maybe that’s a bad thing.
Did you get to watch the rest of it go down from the sidelines?
I did! It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The mechanics behind it were very complicated. My stunt double, Michaela McAllister, is such a cool chick. They basically made a rubber prosthetic face mask that was my face, and she would pull it over her face. She also wore a fat suit version of me, and that was just so terrifying and bizarre on its own. And then they would literally light her on fire multiple times.
Well, it sounds like an incredible experience.
Yeah, I’m still pinching myself over the whole experience and that I was able to be a part of it. That was my first film experience, really, so I’m incredibly humbled.
So shifting to Scream, how much did you learn about Amber during the audition process?
I knew from the beginning that my character would be one of the killers. It was the main thing they pitched to me while I was going through the audition process with the studio. So I knew everything.
Everyone else received a script with different combinations of killers, so did your script have the real ending?
With the script that they gave me, they basically said, “Read these character lines in the third act like they would be Amber’s.” I think Mindy [Jasmin Savoy Brown] and Liv [Sonia Ben Ammar] were the killers in the dummy script, but the dialogue was pretty much the same. They were like, “Read Mindy’s lines like they’re your own.”
What scenes did you read during the audition process?
I read the school scene. I think they were still figuring out the format of the movie, so I originally auditioned for Mindy. And then about six months later, they called me back and asked me to read the scene where they’re at the bar playing pool. And then they had me read monologues from the previous films when the Ghostface killers were revealed. So I think they wanted to see if I could do that, too.
So what was your reaction when you realized that you’d be playing another knife-wielding killer who gets set on fire?
(Laughs.) It’s funny. Honestly, I saw them as two completely different characters with that random coincidence. I actually didn’t know that my character was supposed to be set on fire in the end. I thought that was supposed to be Jack’s [Quaid] character’s death because that’s how he died in the script they had given me. So when they told me, I was definitely like, “Huh, that’s a funny coincidence.” But it wasn’t a specific choice on [Radio Silence’s] end in regard to me. They even debated changing my character’s death, but we ultimately just kept it in.
I heard Matt and Tyler quote you as saying, “I can’t believe I’m doing this again.”
I was just like, “Is this going to be a weird schtick?” (Laughs.) There are not many young serial killer roles for women who die by fire, so it was a strange thing for me to be doing again. But I think it’s funny. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think keeping it in was a good choice.
Were you concerned at all that your role in Quentin’s movie might tip people off that your character was Ghostface?
If anything, I thought people would be like, “Oh, that’s just way too obvious.” The movie has that whodunit quality to it, and everyone is a suspect at some point. So I wasn’t too worried.
While I was watching the movie, I kept racking my brain trying to remember where I’d seen you before, and my friend sitting next to me had the exact same experience. So perhaps that’s an indication that a lot of other people didn’t make the connection until after the fact.
I approached the characters very differently, and to me, they’re completely different people. They just both happen to be serial killers. But I really like that you didn’t know it was me.
Did you and Jack factor repeat viewings into your performances at all?
I was definitely interested in playing to an audience that’s seeing it for a second time. Jack and I made very specific choices and tried to cultivate nuanced moments that would hint at things. We also had a really fun time creating a backstory and gathering the details of the characters.
Matt and Tyler said that Amber did most of the dirty work compared to Richie (Quaid), and when you rewatch the movie, you can really tell how active Amber was. So were you pretty impressed by how much heavy lifting she did compared to Richie?
(Laughs.) Yeah, it’s a very elevated world that these characters are living in. Everything is kind of 5 feet off the ground. So I was like, “OK, I have to ground this and figure out what makes sense.” It’s funny that it would be Amber behind that mask and doing these killings. Compared to Dewey, Amber is quite small, but I think that’s the power of the Ghostface mask and costume. To me, you put it on and you can possibly have this otherworldly strength like a supervillain.
Amber doing most of the work also makes Richie seem like an even bigger loser, so I appreciated that detail.
(Laughs.) It really is funny, isn’t it? He finessed a relationship with this young high schooler and got her to do all the dirty work.
What I loved about Dewey’s death is that Amber showed him respect by saying, “It’s an honor.” In a weird way, I also think it’s an honor that your Ghostface got to kill off a fan favorite, as it’s arguably the most significant death since the first movie. At the time, did you recognize the overall magnitude of that scene?
I honestly don’t know if I did at the time because I was really focused on living in that world. But I do remember watching it for the first time and thinking, “Oh God, people are going to be upset.” He’s such a beloved character, and he’s one of my favorite characters from the earlier films. So I think they tried to be respectful during it, but it definitely made me feel emotional watching it.
I was going to ask you if you were terrified to perform your big flashy moments in front of Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, but then I quickly remembered that you did the same thing in front of Brad and Leo. So by the time you showed up to the Scream set, were you, in fact, no longer fazed by those situations?
You can’t be self-conscious when you’re playing a serial killer. There’s no room for any of that, and you have to fully commit yourself to those moments that you’re living in. It was super exciting to be working with Courteney and Neve, and I loved it. But that wasn’t really something I was thinking about or conscious of. We were all focused on giving the best performances that we could at the time.
So was it cool to wear a tailor-made Ghostface costume?
Oh yeah! They custom-made it with gloves that perfectly fit my hands and a mask that was basically molded to my face with custom padding. I’m still pissed they didn’t let me keep it because it fit me perfectly. I was like, “Why do they want this?” I’m on the shorter side, and one of the funny things that they had to do was add 4- or 5-inch platforms to the bottoms of all my sneakers and boots. That way, I wouldn’t seem short in comparison to everyone else, and it would be a bit more believable that I could carry out these acts of violence. So that was funny.
The recent sequel news might explain why they wanted to keep your Ghostface costume, and I won’t be surprised if you return for a flashback of some sort. Either way, are you excited to see more of this story unfold?
I’m so happy that they’re doing a sequel. It’s truly an incredible group of people, and they just love the Scream franchise. So it all just makes me really happy. I genuinely don’t know anything, but I’m so upset that my character died because I would love to be a character that gets to come back.
Would you come back for a flashback scene?
I would love to!
“It’s a small town and her mom’s a drunk” was an amazing line delivery, as was “fucking hand sanitizer?”
Thank you! The thing that I focused on the most was trying to cultivate an excitement within her. She was so genuinely excited and enthusiastic, and she was almost performing, in a sense. In the beginning of the movie, I tried to portray someone who was more quiet and thoughtful so that in the end, she really has her moment to say everything she ever wanted to say to these people.
Yeah, I noticed in both roles that you’re able to generate a unique form of frantic energy. In real life, have you ever come close to reaching that level of excitement?
(Laughs.) No, I’m very different from the characters I’ve played and the projects I’ve done. I don’t think I’ve ever done a project where I feel similar to the character. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I actually fainted in the Ghostface costume from heat exhaustion and trying to get my adrenaline up before each take. I was jumping up and down and listening to heavy metal, trying to get my adrenaline up, and all of a sudden, I was in a tent and on the ground. The camera is a microscope so it sees every little thing and every drop of sweat. I also wanted my face to be red. So I wanted her to be uninhibited in her excitement and joy, so I needed to prepare myself beforehand.
After Amber was set on fire, she returned for one last scare. For that moment, your ear was designed to look like Freddy Krueger’s ear, right?
Yeah, I think that was part of the design that they wanted. The makeup and prosthetic team were incredible, and they created this really gruesome and sick burn on my face. The directors are the biggest horror fans of all time, so they’ll put in any kind of Easter egg that they can, especially when it’s also a tribute to Wes Craven [the Scream mastermind who also created Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street].
You probably don’t want to play a third knife-wielding killer who gets set aflame …
(Laughs.) I think I’m pretty much done with that. Two is enough.
So what type of character or genre are you still dreaming about playing for the first time?
Well, I like doing things that I’m scared of. I like doing things that I’ve never done before. I just ended the last season of my TV show [Better Things] that I’ve been on since I started acting at 15 and a half. So it’s opened up this world where I don’t know what I want to do next, but I’m really excited about that. We did five seasons, but we shot over the course of seven years and it hasn’t allowed for that much time or opportunity in regard to other projects. So I’m excited to see what else the future brings in regard to that.
Scream is now playing exclusively in movie theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day