At only 15 years of age, Madison Wolfe already has a resume that demands admiration. The young actress got her start opposite Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis in The Campaign before joining such high profile projects as True Detective, Joy, Trumbo, and The Conjuring 2. Her latest sees her taking the lead as Barbara, a high school giant slayer, in Anders Walter’s feature film debut I Kill Giants, an adaptation of the graphic novels of the same name.
I Kill Giants is a deeply compassionate coming-of-age fantasy that follows an imaginative young girl as she faces an all-too-harsh reality. Screen Anarchy was able to interview the film’s rapidly rising star.
Screen Anarchy: How did you come to be part of I KILL GIANTS and what attracted you to the role of Barbara?
Madison Wolfe: Well, I got the audition from my agent and manager just like regularly. When I started looking into and reading it, I just instantly fell in love with Barbara and the storyline. I think what drew me to her is that she’s very complex, you know? She has a lot of layers.
Absolutely. Barbara is a nuanced heroine. She’s a badass tomboy, but also fragile underneath the tough exterior. How did you prepare for the part and was Barbara a difficult character for you to inhabit?
Yes, it was probably the hardest audition that I’ve ever done [Laughs]. It took me four hours to tape the audition and get a performance that we all felt really confident in. Probably what I did to achieve her ‘layers’, I guess you could say, I just went through the script and just picked out little tiny parts where she could be a little bit vulnerable or a little bit more of a tomboy or stubborn because those characteristics only come out at very specific points. On the exterior she’s just this tough outcast.
Were you familiar with the graphic novels or did you read them? Were you entirely free to add to the source material and how did you make the character your own?
Yes, I had heard of the graphic novels before I even got the audition and then once I got the audition I read the novels and it’s just an amazing story. I loved it.
This is probably the biggest role of your career so far. Did you feel any additional pressure because you’re front and center at all times?
Definitely, yeah, it could be stressful at times but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I loved every single second of it, even the hard parts [Laughs]. I love a good challenge and Barbara definitely gave me that.
What were some of the most challenging moments for you on set? Was the shoot physically demanding and did you do a lot of your own stunt work?
Yes! A lot of the scenes were actually very physical. One of the hardest scenes I remember filming is the one where Barbara is about to go into the water and fight the big titan. It was freezing cold and they were using wind machines, rain machines. Me and the other girls, we all had wetsuits on under our costumes and we were screaming … That was probably the most challenging for me.
Had you ever been on a set where you had so many special effects and green screen involved or was this a new experience for you?
No, this was definitely a new experience for me in that respect because I don’t think I’d ever done … Well, in The Conjuring 2 I did a little bit of green screen work but never this much before so it was really exciting for me to see how it all works.
In addition to fighting giants and fantasy sequences there’s a strong emotional core to the film. For that to work, you need to create a believable family dynamic. Your scenes with Imogen Poots are absolutely key to this but you don’t share that much screen time with her. Was it difficult to create a sort of strained sisterly bond and what was it like working with Imogen Poots and Zoe Saldana, being part of an almost all-female ensemble?
It was amazing. Honestly, Imogen and Zoe they inspire me so much! I think that because Imogen is such an inspiration it wasn’t really that difficult for us to connect. All of the men and girls on set, we all had pretty good chemistry. It was so much fun working with them, so when it did come to those scenes [you’re referring to] we really were bonded and knew each other pretty well. We felt comfortable with each other, so I think that was an important part of making everything ‘flow’, I guess you could say [Laughs]?
Did you get any specific pointers from these more experienced actors?
I think it was more just a matter of kind of observing what they did instead of them giving me specific pointers. It was acting with them that was an amazing experience in itself because you can kind of ‘feed off of them’, if that makes sense?
As a young actress, I think it stands to reason you’re still growing as a performer. Do you feel like this film has helped you become a better actor?
Absolutely! Like I said earlier, this is a really challenging role for me so I think that it has definitely helped me grow as a performer. It helped me understand how to reach those levels of nuance in her personality and just really get into a character.
Other than the green screen work and doing a lot of your own stunts, what was your most memorable on-set experience during the shoot of I KILL GIANTS?
Probably just being able to film with Sydney Wade and Rory Jackson, the two other girls in the film who played Taylor [a high school bully] and Sophia [Barbara’s friend]. We became really close on set and always had so much fun on and off set. It was fun to have other girls my age there to hang out with.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
I just hope that everyone takes away the message of ‘we are stronger than we think’. I think it’s one of the last lines that Barbara says in the movie.
If I can briefly bring up your past work, you were also part of the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE, playing one of Woody Harrelson’s daughters. Considering how dark the first season was I have to imagine certain elements were withheld from you during production. What was it like being part of that stellar cast and have you actually seen the first season?
[Laughs] I have not! I was pretty young when filming started and like you said, it’s really dark. And even though I like dark stuff this was too much. So no, I have not even seen the first full season. But one day I will definitely watch it because I had a lot of fun filming it. It was also cool because I was on set with my real sister, Meghan, who played my sister Maisie on the show.
Do you have a favorite director? Or directors that you absolutely hope to work with one day?
One of my favorite directors that I’ve worked with was definitely the director of I Kill Giants, Anders Walter. He is just so funny. Another one I really enjoyed working with was James Wan, who directed The Conjuring 2. Also so so sweet. I really liked working with them because not only were they really great people in general, they’re also amazing directors. I feel like on set it was always more of a collaboration of ideas to come up with the perfect performance instead of them just straight up telling all of the actors what to do. It was always kind of a back and forth - ‘What do you think about this?’ - I just really appreciate that as an actress.
What do you currently have lined up? Is there any info regarding upcoming projects that you can share with us?
I can’t discuss it yet but just know that I’m always working on bettering my career and myself as an actress. So … definitely stay tuned for some cool stuff [Laughs].
I Kill Giants opens in select theatres and on various Video on Demand platforms on March 23, 2018.
[note: Screen Anarchy founder Todd Brown is Head of International Acquisitions at XYZ Films whom helped produce I Kill Giants.]