With a smile stolen from Cameron Diaz and enough moxie to rival Jennifer Lawrence, Wilmington actress Maddie Hasson is ready for life in Los Angeles.
After a breakout role as Willa Monday on Fox drama “The Finder,” Hasson landed the role of Jo on “Twisted,” an ABC Family series that debuts this summer.
At 18, she has already walked the red carpet and been interviewed at press events. She’s mature, independent and driven.
When she was a 16-year-old actress on “The Finder,” costar Geoff Stults called her “the most mature actor on our set.”
She relished the mentoring she received from Stults, the late Michael Clarke Duncan and Mercedes Masöhn, who called Hasson “a spitfire.”
“Twisted,” which is set at a high school and stars Denise Richards, has a cast with more actors in Hasson’s age range.
In the show, a teen with a troubled past, Danny (Avan Jogia), returns to his hometown. He reconnects with his friends, but when a student is found dead, Danny is the prime suspect.
Hasson plays Jo, one of Danny’s best friends. The other is Lacey, played by Kylie Bunbury.
The chemistry of lifelong friends isn’t easy for strangers to replicate on the screen. So the stars spent a week in New York with director Jon Amiel creating a fictional backstory and some genuine bonds.
“We spent an entire week in the city with the director just improv-ing and getting the backstory down and rehearsing so it’d be like we’ve been together for years and years and years,” Hasson said during an interview at a local Port City Java. “It worked because I feel like I’ve known them my entire life.”
On her own
Hasson equates the “Twisted” experience to leaving home for college. She is 18, and she’s moving far from home to live among her peers. The difference is that instead of reading Chaucer or learning physics equations, Hasson is reading scripts and promoting a new series.
“There are so many people in their 20s that it is kind of like college,” Maddie Hasson said. “Kylie and I are going to try to find a place that’s close to each other so we can support each other.”
For Hasson’s mother, Catherine Hasson, who has traveled extensively with her daughter for the past two years, leaving her youngest child alone thousands of miles from home isn’t quite that simple.
“She’s kind of in transition where she’s going to be on her own,” Catherine Hasson said. “It’s not like she’s going off to college, where I can just drop her off with an R.A. It would be dropping her off in L.A. with no driver’s license and no life experience.”
A variety of roles
Maddie Hasson has spent the last week or two in Los Angeles, meeting with producers, staff and cast. In April, “Twisted” starts filming its debut season.
ABC Family is taking a chance on a show with a dark premise.
“They’ve been trying to kind of branch out and reach to deeper places,” Hasson said. “They have ‘Secret Life’, ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and now it’s this, so it’s pretty cool they’re going to a lot more daring places.”
Hasson said she likes a variety of roles.
Last summer, she spent a month in Canton, Ohio, filming “Underdogs.” It’s a high school football movie and she played – you guessed it – the cheerleader who falls in love with the quarterback.
“The one from the underdog football team, not the one that you’d expect to win,” Hasson protested.
And for the record, she was not a cheerleader at Cape Fear Academy. “I’m not the cheerleading type,” she said.
On “The Finder,” she played Willa, the spunky gypsy with a penchant for picking pockets and hacking computers. It’s her signature role to date. There’s even a YouTube video of a fan teaching others how to style their hair like Willa.
More recently, Hasson guest starred on “Grimm,” which airs on NBC and is distributed to more than 50 countries. Those who have seen the supernatural drama know a guest-starring role means one thing – Hasson got transformed. Humans on the show often morph into mythological creatures in a blur of head-shaking, growling and eerie music that sprouts goose bumps on viewers’ arms.
“I grew up watching ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’ and ‘Charmed,’ and those were like my three favorite shows,” Hasson said, “I was like 5 when I first started watching this stuff. That’s right up my alley.”
During her episode, Hasson was transformed into a coyotl after her character was kidnapped by her father’s family.
“Let me tell you, that transformation is the most awkward thing to do because they do it all on the computer,” Hasson said. “They do a separate take after you run through the entire scene where they put these dots on your face so the computer can recognize the different planes on your face.”
She demonstrated the head roll, and explained that the trick for her was to keep her hair out of her face.
“We had to do it so many times, and you have to growl while you do it,” she said. “It looks so funny. I had whiplash just whipping my head back and forth and growling like an idiot.”
On a fast track
Hasson is modest about her talent and the reasons why casting directors have chosen her for two significant TV series in the past three years.
“They think that I am natural, I guess,” she said. “When I watch myself, I’m like, ‘You’re kind of bad, you’re kind of horrible.’ But they seem to like it, so I guess that’s cool.”
Catherine Hasson said Maddie works hard and is always prepared when she shows up at work. But neither can pinpoint why Hasson is so believable on film.
Ray Kennedy, who directed Hasson in Opera House Theatre Co. productions of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: The Musical” and “Grey Gardens,” tried to explain.
“She has an incredible presence and she’s very, very honest,” he said. “When I watch her, I suspend my belief that she’s Maddie Hasson. You forget that you’re watching a portrayal of somebody; you believe you’re watching that person.”
Casting director Jackie Burch, one of the first to audition Hasson for a film role, summed it up.
“She just has that star quality,” said Burch, who saw Hasson after Opera House founder Lou Criscuolo recommended her.
After an audition, Burch looked at Catherine Hasson and asked, “Are you ready for your daughter to be a star?” Maddie was overwhelmed.
“I was just sitting there like, ‘I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. I’m in the ninth grade at Cape Fear Academy. I’ve lived in Wilmington my whole life. It’s not going to happen.'”
But it has happened. And it is still happening.
Kennedy thought Hasson would pursue a career in the arts. But he thought she might go to college first.
“I just knew that she was going to have a career,” he said. “It just happened faster than I thought.”