Perhaps you have seen the fascinating Madeleine Arthur in the film Big Eyes, playing the daughter of Amy Adams. Yes, her character was the inspiration behind the Big Eyes portraits, as her distinctive look makes her such a fan favorite. Or perhaps you have seen her as Fray (short for Frail Human) on The Magicians, though it was pure coincidence that we recently spoke with Summer Bishil with whom she shares many scenes.
If you’re a fan of Madeleine Arthur’s (as we are), you should check out her performance in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, in which her portrayal of the protagonist’s best friend Chris is different from much of her previous work.
We spoke to the Vancouver-born actress by phone from New York, where she was participating in an acting workshop, and the following is a condensed and edited version of our interview.
Brief Take: What was your process of coming to this material?
Madeleine Arthur: Well I read the book, of course, before we started filming, and for me, I never really played a character who is as fun-loving and as carefree as Chris. So I really enjoyed accessing those parts of myself and trying my best to make sure that I really followed the book in order to do justice to it and the way that Jenny (Han) described Chris. She’s edgier than myself and the foil to Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor), so it’s a little bit of sugar and spice in the relationship. To find the way that Chris, in the movie, supports her through her kind of different, edgier attitude and finding that opportunity was fun for me because I had never really had the opportunity to play somebody like that before.
BT: Prior to filming, did you know anybody in the production?
MA: I met Emilija (Baranac), who plays my cousin Gen in the film, a few years prior to shooting at a comedy class. We had been doing this movement exercise together in front of the class as an example of sorts, and everyone thought that we worked so well together and that we could play sisters. [laughs] Little did we know that two or three years later we would be playing cousins! So that worked out very well. [laughs] I had met John Corbett before, who is not from Vancouver, but I met him at an event for a film I did and we actually talked for a bit.
BT: Did you welcome the non-Vancouverites and make them feel at home?
MA: Yes, we really bonded. We lucked out. We would hang out on the weekends, we would go to this oyster bar, and one day Emilija (Baranac), Anna (Cathcart), Lana (Condor) and I went to Science World, and we walked along Olympic Village to try to give them a view of the city. Then we did Granville Island, so we tried to show them a good time on the town. [laughs]
BT: Did you enjoy wearing the costumes in the film?
MA: I did! I absolutely loved wearing the costumes and they really helped me step into a different character. Someone who is different from yourself, so Chris, she wears fishnets, and boots and shorts with the fishnets, and she has heavy eye makeup, and sometimes she has his hat. For me, this definitely helped to step into her zone because I am more of a “classic with a twist” style, natural makeup, so having that really allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, which was so much fun. I really enjoyed doing that. The costumes were great and Rafaella Rabinovich did a fantastic job of putting them together.
BT: What do you take with you from this role?
MA: I feel like a lesson from Chris is to take a chance, to step out of your comfort zone, to take risks, to embrace life, and good risks, safe risks. [laughs] Embrace life and all it has to offer and always support your friends, whatever they are going through. Some of those things I already knew before I played Chris, [laughs] but that’s kind of what she represents is this joie de vivre.
BT: Do you stream on Netflix?
MA: I do! I’m staying in a hotel right now and I have Netflix on the TV, which is amazing, so I’ve been using that. I love Netflix as a platform! I love a lot of their original content, their TV shows, like The Get Down and Bloodline, and their movies as well. So I hope that people come across it in that search bar! Doesn’t it go “trending now”? Hopefully it’s a “trending now” movie! [laughs] I’m sure it will be.
BT: What was your experience like as Fray on The Magicians?
MA: It’s just a fantastic, witty show and my experience, honestly, the whole thing for me was like summer camp. I was so excited about being a part of it. [laughs] When I first booked it, people would say to me “what are you doing?” and I would say “I am doing The Magicians” and then I would say “we’re filming on a boat and I’m on a boat”, and I was so excited about filming on a boat. [laughs] Besides that, the writing is so good, the cast is wonderful, the crew is wonderful, the costumes by Magali Guidasciare are incredible; you do not get to wear costumes like that ever. The interior of the Muntjac is just so gorgeous, then you work with animals and, as you could tell, the whole thing was very exciting and thrilling to me. Hale (Appleman) and Brittany (Curran), who play my parents, are just the most wonderful people and they really feel like parents in real life, well maybe older siblings, and I was so lucky to hit it off with them. They welcomed me with open arms, even though I was only there for a few episodes, and they are people I can always call upon or text if I want acting advice or life advice. We even had Thanksgiving together, so it’s a good group.
BT: What did you take with you from Big Eyes?
MA: Oooh! That experience was an overall magical experience and everyone who was a part of it are all such geniuses. I got to work with actors I could have only dreamed of working with and look up to immensely, and a director who is one of my favourite directors on the planet! [laughs] So I tried to learn from everyone, and I think that I’ve said this before, but Christoph Waltz gave me some amazing advice: to not just be an actress; to seek out learning about other things. And I took with me the work ethic that Amy (Adams) has and the kindness she displays to everyone. She’s just an exemplary human being! [laughs] Tim Burton was so kind as well. Every aspect of it was so special. I did visit the Keane Gallery in San Francisco after filming and I did get a few prints. I have one that’s hanging as the centrepiece in my room and we have another one in my dining room.
BT: Could you tell me a bit about your charity work?
MA: I’m passionate about elephants, Say No to Ivory. I think it’s really important. They’re such beautiful creatures and I would hate to see them extinct. I think that the way to stop extinction is to educate people about ivory and why you shouldn’t have an ivory sculpture in your home, for example. It’s definitely something that is dear to my heart. I saw elephants when I went to South Africa when I was nine and I fell in love with them, and it goes for other animals that are being poached as well, but elephants are definitely close to my heart.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is now streaming on Netflix