Madeline Zima: Pure Californication

When I got to chat it up with Madeline Zima it was during the busiest time of the year for the blossoming actress – the middle of the summer.  “I think I got to go to the beach one time, I didn’t even get to go in the ocean,” she confessed while laughing.

Living in California has brought many things for Zima (23), most importantly a role in Showtime’s Californication, which recently began airing its second season of episodes. Zima plays Mia, a sexy and mischievous gal with little or no moral values.  She’s also shown to be a master of blackmailing Hank, who is played on the show by David Duchovny.  Simply put, Mia gets what she wants, and that’s it.

You might remember her role as Emma in 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, but that’s now light years away from what she is now – a versatile actress who’s willing to try anything to make a character’s life seem as real as possible.  Glide was fortunate enough to talk with Zima about playing the guitar, acting and her role in Californication.

So what are your thoughts about the Rock ‘N Roll Camp you’ll be taking part in later this month – how did you get involved?

Basically, (it was presented) to me as free guitar lessons, so I said, “Hell Yeah!” Plus, there’s really great people involved, and it’s supposed to be a life-changing experience in one day, so why wouldn’t I sign up for that? I love music, so anything that involves music…like when I get free tickets to Radiohead, that’s when I know I have made it!

Radiohead is great live, I got see them a few months ago.

Yeah, they are playing a festival in San Francisco, which I think I might drive up and see.  I’ve seen them live before, and they are amazing.

So what will you be doing at the camp, just playing the guitar and taking lessons?

I suppose – I guess there’s a performance…I’m not sure about that.  I think by the end we’ll be playing a song that we learned.  I told them that I know all the open chords, but I know a couple bar chords, too. Just to lower expectations a bit, so they don’t think I can shred or whatever, and then when I get there they think, “What do we do with this chick?” (laughs)

California is a great spot for arts in general.

Oh, absolutely.  It’s funny, because a lot of people have a love/hate thing with California, mainly L.A., but California itself – as a whole state – is really a beautiful state.  It’s got the Redwoods, Yosemite, the beach, the mountains…we really have a lot of different landscapes to choose from. It’s a great melting pot of different cultures and personalities, so you can really get the most out of whatever you’re looking for in California, if you know where to look.

I’ve only been to San Diego.

A lot of my friends went to UC-San Diego.  I think that’s a party school.  If I had gone to college, I probably would have gone to a party school, because I never really had the whole high school experience.  I went to junior high in public school, but then I home schooled the rest of the time, so I would have enjoyed the social aspect of it, I guess.  But I’m happy I didn’t go to college, even though sometimes you’ll meet someone who is shocked and disgusted (that I didn’t go).  So am I supposed to feel bad, that I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do?  It’s not like I’m uneducated, I read all the time. 

And you started acting at a very young age.

Yeah.  I basically have been doing it my whole life. The first commercial I ever did was like 28 months.  It was, “Come on into Downey,” do you remember those commercials?  Well, that was the first time I ever did nudity on live TV! (laughs)  Because it was the baby’s bare ass running into the towel – once upon a time, that was my young ass doing that. (laughing)

So you’ve gone through all the stages…


Well, I’m sure you’re excited about the new season of Californication coming up on Showtime.

I’m just really excited to see how everything has turned out – I know the scripts were amazing.  And I have heard that some of the stuff is stronger than last season, according to some of the people who have seen the episodes – I haven’t really seen anything, I don’t usually watch the rough cuts or whatever, I usually watch them when they’re airing.  So I get to see them when everyone else does, which is kind of fun.  I just can’t wait to see how the whole season plays out, because it was really fun to film. It’s also really cool that we’re getting paired up with “Dexter,” which is unbelievable, it’s such a good show! I think, in terms of tone, I think it’s more appropriate that we’re paired with that show than “Weeds” in some ways, because even though technically we’re a comedy, it’s a dark show.  But I love Weeds, too, so it’s all good!

That’s interesting that you say that you watch the episodes while they are being aired.  Is that something that you just like to do?

David (Duchovny) will see rough cuts of the show, because he’s one of the producers.  But most of the rest of the cast just sees them when they air, or occasionally someone will kick us down a copy of the rough cut.  But, yeah, I don’t usually see the episodes until they air, just like everyone else.

As far as developing your character in Californication,  you really just jumped right into things.  For instance, you had a sex scene in the first episode…

That’s something that you kind of just have to go for and hope whatever you’re trusting about the moment is going to work.  When I did the audition, I took a lot of risks. One of the earlier auditions I read with David, and I remember grabbing his leg…doing things that are completely inappropriate that you would never do in a normal job interview – you would never grab your boss’s leg! (laughs) I did that, and leaning in and being playful, so what worked in those early auditions, I tried to plug into the rest of the show.  Relationships just develop naturally, and you can’t really force things like that to happen, but the chemistry between me and David, and the back and forth energy – that’s something that you just have to trust is there, and you try to create as much foundation as possible for that to be there. So you lay groundwork of casual conversation, and hope that some point it kicks into high gear while you are filming.

Do you surprise yourself sometimes, especially with the character with Mia – I’ve read a few things where this isn’t sort of your personality.

Yeah, it is surprising that I have been able to understand this kind of personality more and more.  And it’s surprising also that I’ll forget things that I do, or moments that are really subtle that are really in the vain of the character, and when I watch them, I’m thinking, “Oh, wow, that was really appropriate.”  I don’t know where they come from, these little idiosyncratic things that just really make you feel like this is a real person, and they’ve got a whole other life going on, that you only see a little piece of, here and there, so I do surprise myself in a good way sometimes.  And then there are other times when I will go, “What the hell was I thinking, this is crap! I can’t believe anyone buys it!” So, it just really depends on the second or two of the footage that you see.

And this is an important time in your career, because this is a show that has caught on – is there pressure with maybe filming a second season?

I think most people felt that pressure. As far as I was concerned, I was just happy to be there for the second season! There’s never any guarantees…I mean, you could just say one thing wrong, you just say a line wrong, and anyone could say, “I think it’s time for you to go,” and they would get rid of your character. So I’m just happy to still be on the show! (laughs)  And I am also just happy to be on a show that is so well written – it makes my job that much easier.  And plus, everyone is so nice, there is no B.S., it’s really a lovely place to work. David is amazing, Natascha (McElhone) is beautiful and so talented, Pamela (Adlon) is amazing, little Maddie (Martin) is amazing, Evan (Handler) is fantastic – it’s totally a dream come true.  I know when I have a good thing, and I just try to be grateful and remind myself that it’s a great thing to be part of a show like that.

What’s it like working with Natascha?

She’s just one of those people who…even though she’s just ridiculously beautiful, and you almost have to look at her sideways sometimes, you know, she’s just so genuine and kind and generous when it comes to work.  She’ll go over something a million times with you, if you want. If you want to run lines, she’s always there for you. She’s just as sweet as can be.  She’s always trying to work really hard, trying little nuances here and there that bring more reality into the situation.  I’ve never seen anyone work so hard to make a scene feel real, but then to make it work so effortless as well.

And for you, you’re still really young – what do you look for in an actor or actress for help?

I think it’s a bad idea to get too comfortable with whatever you’re doing.  Because it means that it’s easy – and if it’s easy, then there’s something wrong.  It’s hard to put this the right way, but whenever you’re slightly out of your comfort zone, you know that something’s going on, that you’re trying to do things a little dangerous, and those things are what makes a character really interesting. If you’re just doing the same old song and dance, there’s no fun in that.

And do you think that’s why Californication has done so well?

I think so.  We did get nominated for an Emmy this year for best casting of a show, which is funny, because we didn’t get nominated for best cast! (laughs) That’s bizarre – how do they even do that?  But I do think that’s one of the reasons why this show is so interesting, because everyone is working really hard to make sure their character is grounded in reality.  And that they’re also going for the comedy, which is also a fine line to walk.

Glide Senior Writer Jason Gonulsen lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife, Kelly, and dogs, Maggie and Tucker. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]

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