Next Big Thing

Why 'Impulse' Star Maddie Hasson Was a Casting "Risk" for YouTube and Doug Liman

Ahead of the June 6 premiere of the platform's drama, the series producer admits the actress was his only choice for the lead: "I never saw anybody else for the role."

There’s nothing Susanne Daniels likes less than when a producer sends her only one choice for a role. “It’s so insulting,” says YouTube’s original content chief. But that’s exactly what happened in late 2016 when executive producers Doug Liman and David Bartis delivered just one audition tape for the lead in their sci-fi drama Impulse

While casting the character of Henry, a small-town girl with the power to teleport, Liman became convinced that Maddie Hasson was the one for the role. In fact, he reconceived the character in the pilot (based on the same book series that inspired his 2008 film Jumper), which he directed, to be more rebellious after Hasson read for the part.

“Casting Maddie defined the tone of the show,” he says. “When you get it right with an actor, you can’t imagine the character being any other way.” After watching the tape, Daniels agreed: “That was it. I never saw anybody else for the role.”

Fresh off a turn as the singer Billie Jean Jones (opposite Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen) in the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light, Hasson didn’t fit the mold of homegrown YouTube stars like Jenn McAllister, who fronts early platform original Foursome. Hasson’s relationship with YouTube was more passive.

“I watch such weird stuff,” admits the longtime dancer (since age 7), who at 20 married composer Julian Brink. “The other night, he and I fell asleep watching dog training videos with Cesar Millan, and we don’t have a dog.” 

But if all goes according to plan, Hasson will become the face of YouTube’s push into serious drama when Impulse bows June 6. The series, one of the streamer’s first hourlong shows, is part of an effort — already underway with Karate Kid spinoff Cobra Kai — to attract not just teens but their older siblings and parents, too. (The service where these shows live, YouTube Red, is even getting a new name, YouTube Premium, and a price hike from $10 to $12 per month.) 

Impulse hinges on the classic trope of an ordinary person discovering a unique power — but Henry’s transformation springs from trauma: She learns she can teleport while she’s being sexually assaulted.

Hasson — who has worked mostly in TV, including as a regular on Fox’s short-lived Bones spinoff The Finder, since dropping out of high school (she later got her GED) and coming from North Carolina to L.A. at 16 with her mother — met with a therapist who treats victims of sexual assault to prepare for the scene.

“The first time Henry realizes she has this incredible power, she’s being assaulted,” says Hasson. “Those two things are forever linked. It’s pretty scarring.”

Hasson, who stars in Anne-Marie Hess’ More Than Enough as a bullied girl with an unstable mother, is hoping her next character will be “very peppy and very soft,” she jokes, adding, “I want each role to be different from the last. I don’t want to be comfortable.” 

This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.