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One To Watch: The Wheel Of Time’s Madeleine Madden

Amazon Studios’ new fantasy series The Wheel of Time is tipped to be even bigger than Game of Thrones. On the eve of something truly game-changing, actor MADELEINE MADDEN talks about the soon-to-be cult series, upending gender stereotypes and always speaking her truth. By OLIVE WAKEFIELD

Lifestyle
New fantasy-TV series star Madeleine Madden

There is a particular kind of fame that goes hand in hand with starring in a fantasy TV series – an interest (bordering on obsession) that 24-year-old Madeleine Madden knows well. She saw it happen to the Game of Thrones cast and she is as ready as she’ll ever be to navigate overnight celebrity when her new series, The Wheel of Time, drops. “I know we have an excited audience waiting for us, even before the show has come out. The concept of fame terrifies me, but it has also reinformed me how important it is to protect your privacy,” she says.

Dedicated fan forums have been in overdrive since the project was announced in 2018. It is based on Robert Jordan’s series of fantasy novels, which has collected a colossal following years after its release in the ’90s. In The Wheel of Time world, gender stereotypes are upended. “It is a matriarchy here. Women call the shots. Women have the special powers,” says Madden. “And that isn’t radical. It’s just the way things are.”

Helming the cast is Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred, who, alongside Madden’s character Egwene al'Vere, is one of a chosen few who are able to channel the elixir-like ‘One Power’ and fend off danger. Pike mentored Madden on set, sharing advice and looking out for her: “[Rosamund] is a firm believer in always speaking your truth and standing up for yourself. That is something she has passed on to me over the years we have worked together.”

Speaking your truth is something Madden learned to do early on. Aged 13, she addressed six million Australians live on national television, with a self-penned speech on the future of Indigenous communities in her country. She says she was born with a “fire in [her] belly”; her superpower of sorts. It’s something she credits her grandfather, Charles Perkins – a prominent activist in the ’60s – with giving her. Madden volunteers with organisations like Seed (Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network), campaigning for climate justice for Aboriginal communities – and she is hopeful the next generation will continue the work. “The younger generation coming up is so politically charged and enthusiastic about changing the world. It’s so refreshing and inspiring.”

People now get cast in projects based on how many followers they have. I worry about the message that sends – what are we measuring talent or worth by? Is it by the number of followers they have or what they bring to the table? It feels dangerous for people’s mental health

Hi, Madeleine, thanks for speaking to us today. Where are you right now?

“In my hotel room in Prague, where I am filming the second season of The Wheel of Time.”

What time of day do you feel your most creative?

“At night. I like to journal and write down ideas. I play guitar (but not well) and sing.”

Rosamund Pike leads The Wheel of Time cast as Moiraine Damodred

What have you learned about yourself in the past year?

“Being uprooted to the other side of the world, I learned to depend on myself a lot more than I ever have. There were long periods of time when I couldn’t get home and see my family, or when I was doing hotel quarantine. I learned to just enjoy my own company.”

What are five things we would find in your handbag?

“A phone and, in this pandemic world, a mask. Also, lip balm, sunnies and AirPods.”

What was the last WhatsApp you sent?

“To Justine, one of our riders, asking for 24 dim-sum dumplings for lunch. I may be a bit hungover after a night out with the cast…”

Where would we find you at 2am and 10am on a Saturday?

“My partner books a lot of live music venues in Sydney, so at 2am I’d probably be at one of the shows. At 10am, on a good day, up and about getting a coffee… but most likely three sheets to the wind.”

Growing up watching my mom be a single mom, I was in awe of her being so devoted and present but also working a full-time job – I still can’t understand how she did it

Why has the fantasy genre stood the test of time?

“The beauty of fantasy is how vast and diverse you can make these worlds – there really are no limits. We all want to lose ourselves, especially when our real world has been on pause for nearly two years.”

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

“From my grandma Millie, who instilled in us to be proud Black women and to always walk into a room with your head held high.”

What is something we might find surprising to discover about you?

“I love astronomy. I love watching videos and reading articles about what’s going on in space. I have all these random space facts and follow the astronauts on Twitter.”

Madeleine Madden as superpower Egwene al’Vere in The Wheel of Time

What is your relationship with social media like?

“I try to limit my time on social media. It’s a crazy thing. People now get cast in projects based on how many followers they have. I worry about the message that sends – what are we measuring talent or worth by? Is it by the number of followers they have or what they bring to the table? It feels dangerous for people’s mental health and self-esteem.”

Who is your real-life hero?

“Growing up watching my mom be a single mom, I was in awe of her being so devoted and present but also working a full-time job – I still can’t understand how she did it. I put her on a pedestal; she is one of my best friends. Also, my grandparents: they are all such pools of wisdom, so hard-working and so family-oriented. Everything I have is because of the work they have put in.”

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

“I’d love to go home and see my family in Sydney, say hi to everyone and give them a cuddle.”

Is there a song you wish you’d written?

“Wake Up Alone by Amy Winehouse is one of the most beautiful songs ever.”

Where will you be this time next month?

“Still filming the second series of The Wheel of Time in Prague… but just a little bit colder.”

What is one thing you’d love to achieve in the next 10 years?

“I have written a couple of short films and I would love to see one of them made.”

The Wheel of Time is on Amazon Prime Video from November 19