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Actress, Madison Shamoun Talks College, “Black-Ish”, #BlackAF, Being Vegan + More

Interview By Tyrone Davis

Madison Shamoun is an upcoming actress and has appeared in “Black-ish” and Netflix’s “#BlackAF”. She and I discussed her college experience, auditioning for both shows, the Black Lives Matter movement, Veganism and more.

How did you grow up?
I grew up in San Diego and as far as acting is concerned, I’ve kind of just always been performing in some which way, shape or form. Over time it has just evolved. It used to be dancing, singing, gymnastics and cheerleading and then commercials followed by theater. Afterward in high school, I decided that I really wanted to go full force and I ended up going to UCLA to study acting.

How was your college experience?
It was a challenge at first when I was deciding which schools I wanted to go to because acting in a collegiate setting is divided into two degrees: a bachelor’s in fine arts and then a bachelor’s degree. I just remember having conversations with my mom about how I did want to study acting and have it be my full time career but at the same time, I wanted to study abroad, learn languages and have minors and get to do things that I wouldn’t get to do in a BFA program.

So, we thought that in order for me to be a well-rounded person and actor, a bachelor’s program was the program for me. I ended up going to UCLA and it totally did everything that I needed it to do. I got that classical training and I got to take Tai Chi and ballet and do all this stuff that I wanted to do like film acting but I also got to go to France for five months, learn the language and meet people. It was the best time of my life.

I lived in Europe for a couple of years as a military brat when I was in elementary school. I was old enough to remember my experience but I was much younger and there was only so much I could do. With you going overseas as a college student, how was that?
It was super immersive. I have a group of friends that I met while being in the program. We decided that we wanted to work while being there and our teachers had told us the best way to pick up the language was to get out there, meet and talk to French people. So, I actually got a job teaching English to children through a program that finds college students specifically to tutor elementary school students. I worked with these two girls (ages 4 and 6) and I would pick them up after school and teach them English and they would teach me French. That experience really helped shape me as an actor when I came back to the United States.

Break down the process of getting acting roles while attending college. Did you get any roles during school or was it afterward?
It is tricky because you want to work when you’re in school but it’s hard because you’re in this really tight program where you’re doing a show every night after being in school all day for eight hours. I was taking studio, acting classes from voice work and movement to history of the world and science and math classes. So, my schedule was pretty busy and I wasn’t able to shoot a lot.

I did go out on some additions but not a lot. It was too hard. During your senior year in either the BFA or BA program, you audition in a showcase where they bring out casting directors, managers, agents and all sorts of people to watch you perform either a scene or two or a monologue. So, I did that, had some appointments and ended up signing with a manager that I’m still with today who is fabulous. I’ve been working with her ever since.

How did your role on “Black-ish” come about?
Black-ish was so funny. It was a last minute audition. I think they were shooting on Monday and I had sent in a tape that Friday. They were like, “We didn’t find anybody that we liked. If she could just send in a tape, we’re just going to review some stuff.” and I think the next day is when I got the call that they had pinned me which basically means that it was between myself and another girl, most likely. They were checking our availability to see what worked before they made their decision. So, it was an audition like any other but it was just so last minute and hectic.

When you say, “like any other audition” what do you mean? What are some of the pressures of being an actress and getting landing that part? What does it feel like?
It is intense. I can only speak for myself but when I’m in the thick of it, I’m auditioning anywhere from 7 to 10 times a week. If you think about each audition, it is anywhere from 4 to 8 pages of lines to get off. If I’m not going in, I have to find a reader to read with me. I have to make time in my day to do those self-tapes and each one could take anywhere up to an hour. I don’t have time to let it affect me in such an intense way, just because I’m in the thick of it that I really didn’t realize that I guess the magnitude of Blackish until I got that call the next day, that was like, you’re pinned because I was already on to the next audition. It is crazy.

Ok, so recently you’ve done #blackAF. How did that come about being that the two shows are close together? Is that a manager thing? Is it just something that comes across the desk? How does that work?
Yeah, it was a coincidence. It’s hilarious that Kenya is a writer and he works on both but it really was a coincidence. It wasn’t the same casting director. My team, managers and my agents just get a bunch of auditions daily and then the ones that I am right for, they’ll send to me and I just either put them on tape or I go in and meet people. So, it was happenstance and that was also a last minute audition too, which is so funny. It’s always the last minute ones that up working out.

What did you enjoy most about filming the episode you were in?
Lol, just getting to watch Rashida Jones pretend to be high for like six hours on set was just endless hilariousness. It was truly was the most fun I’ve had on a set.

Dealing with veteran actors on both shows, tell us something that you learned from them that has stood out to you the most.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned has just been to come on time and prepared. When you are number one or number two on the call sheet, when you are a veteran actor, you are carrying the show in that way. I think that it looks like there is a lot of pressure and they do it with such ease. That is something I would like to carry on into my future career as well as just being kind, gracious and on time, showing up prepared and just making everybody’s life easier. I’m set.

Okay. So, I was looking you up a little bit and I happened to come across your Instagram page. Obviously, a lot of us are wearing masks today and hopefully more are than not.  I saw the photo of you wearing the mask and I wanted to ask specifically you in particular what the climate is right now in your state (California) being that they have had a lockdown since the pandemic has started.
I really can only speak for people in my quarantine circle and myself but I’m still doing the same things. I really only go out when I need to go grocery shopping or when I go for my run or if I have an animal that needs to go to the vet or something like that but I’ve only seen the same couple of people for the past few months and I always bring my mask with me. I don’t know what everyone else is doing in LA but anytime I do go out, it does look like people are respecting it for the most part.

So, auditioning via video probably works a little bit better for everyone these days, I’m sure?
Yeah. I think back in like the second week of March when all of this started going down, the industry also kind of shut down and has been shut down since then for the most part. Everything that I’ve been sending in audition wise has all been on tape from the comfort of my own home with my partner who is my reader for me, for people who read with me on Skype and what have you. And, it has been really convenient because I still get to do the work that I love to do but not by putting myself and others at risk by going out there 7 to 10 times a week. That’d be crazy.

Before we started recording (this interview), I was telling you that we’ve been in ATL throughout the pandemic and everything that has been going on with George Floyd’s death and things of that nature. I know that Atlanta had burned at some point and there is a lot going on here. People were out in the streets protesting, you know? It happened a little bit everywhere but in Atlanta, I know that there was a lot going with the black lives matter movement and has been for the past couple of years but it has really skyrocketed this past year. What is your take on that?
It is so tough because I here in LA, at least to me, it kind of felt like people didn’t really know what the movement was about. There was a lot of misinformation out there and it has really blown up in LA and even in California over the past few months. People didn’t even know what Juneteenth was until like June or July. Honestly, June and July is when it blew up here. So I think it has just affected everyone so much differently this year than it ever has before, which is great. It is getting a lot of visibility and people are taking a lot of time to do their research, be advocates and be allies but it feels like for the first time.

Right. Being in the media, when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, we went to Ferguson. We’ve also been to Louisville this year for Brionna Taylor and it is really different. It has never happened at this magnitude before in reference to social media being able to capture it all. When are we going to get some resolution? This year has been real crazy and I think everybody is experiencing something different to set him or her off. It is not just about the movement itself but also the pandemic, job losses, etc. How do you feel about Hollywood and everything being shut down? Even the artists aren’t able to tour and things of that nature.
It is not fun. I’ve been seeing a lot of celebrities who are not people of color use their platforms to bring in those voices and to have takeovers. So, I think that visibility for those musicians, artists and people has been a really great, positive thing. We’ve also seen some of these celebrities step down from their animated roles to give those opportunities to people of color, to play them authentically. There is definitely stuff happening in the industry but I think it is going to be even more so in the coming months so that is what I’m excited about.

Speaking of music, artists and things of that nature, you have appeared in a music video. What was that like?
Lol, wow! That feels like forever ago. That was so fun and also kind of last minute thing that I didn’t really know I was in until the day before but Marin Morris was the girl and the video was actually called Girl and she was great. She is so kind and lovely. I had nothing but a good time on that set as well and it was an overnight shoot, which was cool.

Yeah, I ask because Dave Myers has been around for so long and he has done so many of the music videos that I grew up watching. So, I was just wondering, what was the experience like on that set?
The synopsis of what the music video was that it followed a bunch of different girls doing different activities. It was really, really intense and so my shoot was waiting on the curbside in an alleyway when it is raining with your girlfriends, like waiting for that Uber or that Lyft to come pick you up. We had to wait for it to be dark and they were just spraying hose water on us and we just had umbrellas. That was, it was so funny. Dave was hilarious.

So, another thing about yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with acting is you being vegan. What is the difference between being a vegan and vegetarian?
Being a vegan means that you don’t take or use anything that comes from an animal, even my makeup, hair products, clothing and shoes, you know? No leather or any of that stuff, no dairy, eggs, meat, fish sauce, fish oils or capsules. It really means not using anything that comes from the flesh of another living being. I actually started out being vegetarian, which was interesting. It started as a dare with my friend and then I felt so much better and I looked into it and then I noticed that I had allergies and then met with doctors. I realized that I was lactose intolerant and I also couldn’t process or pass red meat. My dietary restrictions made me vegan and then over time doing my own research, I figured out that ethically and economically, it just made more sense for me to be vegan as well.

Okay. So I’ve learned a lot about veganism over the last year and I interviewed a young lady a few months ago who has a lipstick line and she was saying that her product was vegan. I didn’t know that products were vegan prior to. When you are going out and purchasing items, do you make it a point to find out whether or not the product is vegan?
Luckily, now I think they have to put cruelty-free vegan on the labels. There is like a little symbol that they have to include like FDA approved. So, cosmetic lines, um, have that on there. They will put it big and bold on the front cause they really want people to see since it is such a trend and really becoming popular now. So, it is not super difficult anymore but back in the day like in high school when I was doing theater, it was really hard to find products that were cruelty free and/or just vegan. It was a lot of research on my part, a lot of following makeup accounts and talking to a lot of people but it has definitely gotten easier over the year.

That’s a passion of yours along with homelessness. Touch on that for us.
Yeah. That actually stems from my dad. He is really passionate about ending homelessness and is the type of person that anytime he sees someone in the street, he helps. I even recall him taking off his jacket in the middle of the winter and taking off his fleece jacket and handing it to a homeless person. He always makes us search all of our pockets and everything for any change we have and we have a little homeless container in our cars so that we can get people things. We try to donate to food shelters and work with different companies that help them in the pursuit of ending homelessness. It’s really crazy how many people don’t have homes but it is also great how many companies or organizations are coming up right now and trying to end that and working on it.

Right. Obviously there is a homeless rate in every state in America but skid row in Los Angeles has one of the bigger populations of homelessness. Atlanta has one of them as well. They call it “Tent City” and it is under some of the underpasses, a community of people who stay out there, you know? Obviously, some of them are in better conditions than others, some have help and some don’t but it’s real tough to be in a city like Atlanta where people often move looking for better opportunities and it is very easy to become homeless, especially if you don’t have a support system. So, I admire that fight because it is a big problem.
It really is. You definitely just hit the nail on the head there. It is so hard and I think if we just put all of our time and energy into it and we all spend a little bit of our time every day either donating, reading up on it or sharing this information with other people, we’d be a little bit closer to stopping and ending it. But, we are in the pursuit. It is happening. We are doing it right.

Any projects coming up for you?
Yeah. I actually have a couple of things that I shot last year that are coming out, hopefully around the end of 2020. I’m not sure how much I can talk about them but one of them is a pilot and the other is a horror film and they are both really fun. They also were both overnight shoots as well. So, a little spooky.

Tell us something about yourself that most don’t know.
Ooh, I am the eldest sister of three. I’m definitely like a mama bear personality in that way and if you don’t know me, I don’t know if you’d know that but I am an elder sister.

Alright, so how can people find you on social media?
Yeah, I’m on Instagram @MadisonShamoun. That is primarily the social media that I’m on.

Well, I want to thank you for getting on the call.
Thank you so much for having me.

 

Note: This interview originally took place in the Summer of 2020.

Photo by Jesse DeYoung

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