You know those characters who kind of have a soft start and then as their role grows, they grow on you as well? Madison of “This Is Us” is exactly one of those characters: she started off as one of Kate’s friends from the support group, just a few lines, just enough to make you laugh and then the unpredictable storylines of the Pearson brothers led her to Kevin and (SPOILER ALERT but not so much if your up to date with the series) now she’s expecting twins.
We chatted with Caitlin Thompson who plays Madison and we asked her about the evolution of her character and how it’s been growing with her, and what should we expect from the 5th season which has just begun.
But Caitlin’s passion for storytelling goes beyond the camera, it reaches the script, this is why she is about to bring to the screen her adaptation of Elise Hooper’s book “Learning to See” on the life of photographer Dorothea Lange. And we are sure this is just the beginning!
Your first memory of acting?
The first time I remember acting and really feeling a connection to it, was during my sophomore year of high school. I was in a production of “The Sound of Music” and one of the roles I played was the female puppet from the Lonely Goatherd number. It was such a silly moment, dancing on stage like I was a puppet with strings, but the audience would be hysterically laughing every night. I think that instant gratification became a feeling I started to chase. I’ve always loved making people laugh.
What do you look for when reading a script?
Besides good writing? The first time I read a script, I read it as an audience member. I want to be engaged and immersed in the story. Then, if it’s for a role I’m auditioning for, I look for ways I’m similar or different from the character. Is it a role I’ve done before? Would it be fun or challenging?
“…the audience would be hysterically laughing every night. I think that instant gratification became a feeling I started to chase.”
“The first time I read a script, I read it as an audience member.”
On “This Is US”, first of all, let us ask, were there ever tears on set? Because there were and definitely in front of the screen at home.
It can be surprisingly light-hearted on set, especially for the scenes where a lot of the cast is together. But as soon as “action” is called, everyone drops in and is ready to go. I think that’s just a testament to the talent of the cast. Of course, for the really heavy, emotional scenes I think we prefer to stay focused in between takes.
How did you prepare for your character Madison? What research did you do?
The funny thing about playing Madison is that for many episodes, she was such a small part of the show. Just a few lines here and there in Kate’s (played by Chrissy Metz) support group. But as the role grew, I learned more about her and could dig in deeper. So I guess in the beginning, most of my preparation was filling in the blanks in Madison’s life to create a full character. I also looked into eating disorders and how support groups work.
How did you connect with her?
I made a choice when I first started playing Madison, that a lot of her behavior would be driven by her insecurities and her desire to fit in and feel wanted. She just covers those feelings with her big personality. I wanted her to be more complex than the cliche rich, L.A. girl. Especially since the show is so grounded in reality and Madison is often the comedic relief in a scene. Anyways, I was a very shy child with my own insecurities, so for me, accessing those was a way for me to tap into her.
“I was a very shy child with my own insecurities, so for me, accessing those was a way for me to tap into her.”
The end of. the 4th season of “This Is Us” was a shock for everyone when we found out about Madison’s pregnancy. What was your reaction when you read it on the script?
I was just as surprised! I knew the mystery surrounding the mother of Kevin’s children was a big topic of debate among fans, so I was excited to get to fill that role.
What should we expect from the new season?
We’ll get to see a whole new side of Madison as she steps into this role of impending motherhood. We started filming a few weeks ago and it’s been a lot of fun exploring these new facets of Madison.
How would you describe the evolution of your character Madison and where would you like to see her in the future?
She’s come a long way from the seemingly shallow girl in workout clothes in season one to who she is now. I think she really grew up and blossomed in her friendship with Kate Pearson. I love how the writers depict their friendship. It seems really pure and genuine. Up until now, we’ve really only seen Madison in the context of her friendship with Kate, so I’m excited to see her navigate relationships outside of that friendship.
Who’s your favorite character of the show?
How can I answer this?!? I love everyone!
What is your favorite word?
Which came first as a passion, acting or writing?
It’s hard to say. I’ve always had a very active imagination as a child. I remember printing out scenes from film scripts on the internet and making my friends act in them with me. I also remember writing scripts and short stories from a very early age. I think my passion is storytelling and bringing those stories to life, in whatever way that manifests.
What about “Dorothea Lange”. What can you unveil about it?
I read a novel based on Dorothea Lange’s life over the summer called, “Learning to See” by Elise Hooper. All I knew about Dorothea going into it was that she was a badass female photographer who took some of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century. After I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She led such an interesting life: complicated, flawed, full of passion. I’m really drawn to stories featuring women who struggle to break out of traditional female roles and Dorothea was a woman way ahead of her time. I could talk about Dorothea Lange all day long! Anyways, I reached out to Elise Hooper, the author, and we hit it off with a two-hour phone conversation and she gave me the great gift of trusting me to adapt her book. So for the past few months, I’ve been working hard on developing her book for television.
A book you would love to adapt for the screen?
I’m doing it!
“Learning to See” by Elise Hooper. But I’m a big reader, so I’m sure it won’t be long until I find another book I want to option.
“I think my passion is storytelling and bringing those stories to life, in whatever way that manifests.”
Who is your favorite movie character of all time?
Sally Albright in “When Harry Met Sally.” Meg Ryan brought so much humor and vulnerability and quirkiness to that role. I don’t think I need to explain why she’s so great. I’d love to play a role like that!
What is your guilty pleasure film?
I don’t feel guilty about it, but if “Titanic” or “Dirty Dancing” is on television, I’m watching it.
The book on your nightstand.
I have a stack! But currently reading, “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips.
A series to binge and a series to savor?
When a new “Queer Eye” comes out, I’ve finished the season in less than 24 hours. Those guys are incredible in their ability to connect with people and transform people’s lives. There are always tears when I’m watching. Savor? I guess “The Crown.”
What is the last thing you’ve discovered about yourself?
Well, I just had a baby, so it’s probably that I can function on much less sleep than I ever thought possible. I used to need at least eight hours to feel human. Now I’m lucky if I get 4 or 5 hours broken up over the course of the night. I’m not advocating for sleep deprivation. Sleep is definitely important, but I am kind of proud of how well I’m holding up on so little. I’m sure that won’t last forever though and eventually, I’ll crash!
What does “feeling comfortable in your own skin” mean to you?
Being a mother now, my definition of “feeling comfortable in my skin” has definitely changed. It has less to do about looking a certain way and more about seeing my body as this amazing vessel that grew, birthed, and is now feeding another living being.
What’s your happy place?
My husband and I have a little ranch in Santa Ynez, California and for me, it’s heaven on Earth. It’s a magical place. Every chance we get, we spend there. It’s a great place to recharge, relax, and re-connect with yourself and nature. All the important stuff. I feel very lucky to have that escape.
You’re must-have on set.
My reusable water bottle!
I’m constantly trying to eliminate single-use plastic from my everyday life. It’s not easy, but it’s a worthwhile cause.
An epic fail on the job.
In one of my first big roles, I had to dance a hip-hop routine on a stage in front of hundreds of extras. I am not a dancer. I think I lied on my resume and said I could dance, but no one from production actually checked in with me to verify this. I had only two rehearsals (in fairness- I could’ve had ten rehearsals and still not been ready) and eight professional backup dancers behind me and it was a disaster. My timing was way off. I looked terrified. I was stiff. I’ll never forget the look of utter disappointment on the director and producers’ faces. I think they ended up using only close-up shots of my face for that one. It was a nightmare!
What’s next for Caitlin?
I have a bunch of filming for “This Is Us” coming up in the new year. And, I’m getting ready to take my Dorothea Lange script out into the world. Other than that, lots of cuddling with my dogs, chickens, horses, and husband.