TV fans have seen Madison Shamoun in a number of their favorite shows, including Kenya Barris’ two hit sitcoms, ABC‘s Black-ish and Netflix‘s #BlackAF. Madison quickly established herself as an actress to watch, but she’s also got her own perspective that’s worth hearing.
I recently connected with her to learn about why she became an actress, discuss the value of a college education for an actor, and how working on an African-American show is different from a traditional sitcom. Check out our interview to learn more about Madison and her experiences both on and off-screen, and if you want to keep up with her even further, you can also follow her on Instagram.
Brittany Frederick: Where did your career begin? What made you decide that you wanted to be an actress professionally?
Madison Shamoun: I did musical theater when I was in high school and middle school. My mom says that coming out of the womb I wanted to be a performer. She put me in dance, acting, vocal lessons and commercial workshops. She threw me into the world of performance-based extracurriculars and that’s what I worked in.
Then in high school, when applying to colleges, I looked into a theater acting degree – not a BFA, but a bachelor’s program, so that I could still have minors and study abroad and do other things that I wanted to do outside of acting. I ended up going to UCLA’s theater acting program, but [with] no emphasis in musical theater. That was moreso what I did in high school and in middle school.
BF: That’s an interesting subject in itself. How valuable was your college education for your career? What was that experience like? There are differing thoughts on how much college matters in the acting profession.
MS: On top of just sending in your personal statement, your letters of recommendation, all that good stuff, you have to audition to get into any sort of acting program in a collegiate setting here in the U.S., and I think in Europe as well. Lots of monologues, lots of scenes, callbacks after callbacks. For every school you put in an application for, you have to do that over the course of like six months. You’re auditioning rigorously, just as you would in the real world outside of school.
After that whole process, you get accepted into some schools. Then the bachelor’s acting program that I was a part of – and most bachelor programs are four years – it starts with classical training. You do Shakespeare and Moliere and really intensive dialect training and accents. I took tai chi, ballet. It was all over the place, lots of ensemble work.
You have to do a certain amount of shows per year. Every quarter – I was on the quarter system at UCLA – you have to at least do a show and then you also have to crew a show. You have to learn how to do costume and set and lighting and design and directing. It’s really immersive. You’re with the same 60 people every day. It’s crazy, but it’s great.
BF: You’ve worked on two excellent shows led by and focused on people of color in #BlackAF and Black-ish. In your experience, are there significant differences between those shows and a traditional sitcom?
MS: Working with Kenya, I felt like he had created this community with Black-ish and #BlackAF that you typically don’t see. Just from my perspective as an actor and coming from college as well, I was one of only four African American students. I wasn’t used to walking on a set and being around people that look like me, that know how to do my hair and makeup, that understand my body type, that I ultimately felt really comfortable with. From a behind the scenes standpoint, there’s a community that I think doesn’t always exist in regular sitcoms and is just lacking with people of color.
BF: As your career continues to develop, are there people you’ve found to be particularly inspirational or influential? Who do you look up to or whose work do you get excited by?
MS: So, so many people, just people that I look up to in general. Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, I would even say Zendaya; she’s more close to my age. All of these women are girl bosses. They have big dreams. They work hard. They take risks. They’re confident and ambitious in their decisions and that’s something that I always want to do. They represent the black community really, really well.
BF: Any projects or roles that you’d like to see for yourself going forward? What are the kinds of things that interest you content-wise?
MS: I’m particularly interested in dark comedy. I love just that complexity of you’re crying and then you’re going to laugh and you’re not sure what’s going to happen next. It’s kind of dark and scary. I love shows like Barry and Shameless and Big Little Lies, those sorts of stories. I’m really interested lately in Derry Girls and Sex Education. All of those teen college, dark comedies that are happening over in the U.K. is something I’d love to be a part of here in the U.S.
BF: Given the uncertain state of the entertainment industry, do you know what’s up next for you yet?
MS: I did shoot two things last year. I don’t know when/where they’ll be coming out. I think that’s under wraps, but they are technically in post-production right now. One of them is a horror short, which was a really fun piece that I worked on. It was all overnight shoots, total hectic-ness that I loved, and then a post-apocalyptic pilot, but I’m not sure when or where they’ll be coming out.
BF: What have you been doing in the meanwhile? Lots of actors have developed new hobbies or new viewing habits during the current pandemic.
MS: I love stuff like The Office, Parks and Recreation, the good old stuff. I’m also into really intense stuff like Homeland and The Americans and Big Little Lies. I’m currently re-watching Fleabag, which is so good. Then last night I was up later than I wanted to be catching up on Love Island Australia. Love Island and Fleabag, those are the two recommendations I have for you.
Lately, I’ve been fostering animals. At the start of coronavirus, they were shutting down the shelters because everything had been closed and so many animals were going to be euthanized. I was like, I need to go take in all the fur babies. My final foster dog, I found his forever home and said goodbye yesterday. That was devastating, but also great. It’s bittersweet.
I’ve just been doing stuff like that. I’m trying to go out when I can and be a part of protests, and journal and research, and talk to my friends and family about the hard stuff that’s been happening over the past few months, and raise these little puppies.