New Faces: Madeleine Madden, Hollywood’s Newest Australian Ingenue

The Australian actress stars in Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
Photograph by Rie Rasmussen, Hair by Bridget Brager, Makeup by Mai Quynh.

When you look at the leading ladies of Hollywood, you’d be quick to notice that plenty of them actually hail from the other side of the world. Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Margot Robbie and Naomi Watts are all natives of the land Down Under. And now a new Aussie is joining their ranks: Madeleine Madden.

Madden, 22, has been acting since she was twelve, starring in a number of Australian television shows and short films, including the critically acclaimed drama series Redfern Now in 2012. But chances are you first saw her in 2018’s Amazon miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock, a new adaptation of the 1967 novel of the same name about the mysterious disappearance of a school girl. In the series, Madden starred opposite Natalie Dormer as Marion Quade, a particularly bright classmate at the center of the action.

“It was a very intense role,” she said. “It was physically enduring wearing corsets and shooting in Australia’s heat but it was amazing to tell this iconic story and keep it authentically Australian. It was beautiful to step into that world and strap into an organ-crushing corset. It was really an experience that I learned so much from and learned who I want to be professionally and personally.”

This weekend, Madden will be introduced to an entirely new—and massive—audience, as she stars in the live action film Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Yes, as in that Dora, blunt bob, backpack, and all. “When I got offered the audition, I thought, ‘How are they making a Dora live action movie?’” Madden said. “When I initially read the audition scenes, I was taken aback by how funny the scripts were. It’s not just a film for children, it’s a film for adults, as well.”

In this new version, Dora is a teenager, albeit one with a wild sense of imagination and adventure. Madden stars as Sammy, one of the “rag tag group of teens on an adventure to save her parents and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost Inca civilization,” per the movie’s official synopsis. Madden self-taped for the role; the next morning, she found out she had booked it. “That was good because I didn’t have enough time to freak out,” she noted.

The film, which also stars Eva Longoria and Isabela Moner as the title character, is Madden’s first major Hollywood production, but she did have home court advantage: the movie filmed on the Gulf Coast of Australia. “It was a nice transition of doing a big Hollywood movie, but to do it in Australia,” she said. “It was more of playing translator [than tour guide], and explaining what people were saying. And also saying, ‘This is a poisonous leaf.’”

Promoting her home country is something deeply personal to Madden as an Indigenous Australian. In 2010, at just thirteen, she became the first teenager to deliver an address to the nation on national TV, giving a two-minute speech on the future of Indigenous Australians. This passion, Madden says, stems from her family, particularly her grandfather Charles Perkins, an early Australian Aboriginal activist.

“We’ve always been encouraged to talk about political issues. We’ve been taught to look outside of our own lives. I’ve always had that fire in my belly. If I have a platform, I want to use it for positive change. We are in such a critical time where people are really calling for change, and we’re seeing this on a global scale,” she said. “Being Indigenous, I feel very proud being an Australian and there are so many stories I want to tell. When I’m older, I would love to write and direct something and work with Australian people. Aussie actors and writers and crews, we really band together. It’s like a family.”