When I was nine I played the title role in a Hollywood movie called ‘Madeline’ starring Frances McDormand. Up until this point my biggest performance had been in my school playground with my tribute band, The Ice Girls. A year later I would be in New York live on the David Letterman show introducing my idols, the real deal Spice Girls. If you don’t believe me the evidence is still there on YouTube.
I had no prior experience and absolutely no links to the film industry. I was chosen from thousands of girls across the USA, the UK and France in an audition process that took two months and included four or five recalls and a screen test, before landing the role.
Eventually I got the call, on the house phone, in my kitchen. A popular chat show question was to ask how it felt when I found out, with hosts expecting me to say ecstatic, best day of life and overjoyed. In fact, I felt relief, a weight had been lifted; I had never wanted anything so much.
Adapted from the beautiful books by Ludwig Bemelmans, ‘Madeline’ is about 12 girls living in a boarding school in Paris. I quickly became very close to the other girls in the cast. Living in the same hotel there were sleepovers, birthday parties and the regular Friday pizza restaurant.
Filming in Paris lasted three and a half months. My parents and my grandparents took it in turns to stay with me, and my two younger brothers visited most weekends. It was hard work and long hours, but I absolutely loved it.
With filming over, a worldwide marketing campaign kicked off and I was flown for promotions to New York, LA, Las Vegas, Chicago and Sydney as well as having lots to do in London. There were signings and premieres to attend in every city. At the Sony Pictures festival in Las Vegas I introduced ‘Madeline’ to 4,000 people in the film industry and was seated on stage next to Michelle Pfeiffer and just up from Julia Roberts.
I was recognised quite regularly around London, in shops, or on the tube. On my first day of secondary school a girl in my class asked for my autograph, a few years later she became my best friend (she still is). Throughout my teens people would often introduce me at parties as ‘that girl from Madeline’, my A-level drama class used to love pretending to recognise me in public places, but as the girl from ‘Matilda’, which despite my mock indignation, I always found very funny.
Apart from a play on Radio 4, I didn’t act again professionally as a child or in my teens. I have lived a pretty normal life with this one bizarre but positive experience from the past. Mine is not a child actor goes off the rails kind of story.
I don’t really talk about ‘Madeline’ now, in fact I try and avoid conversations when it occasionally crops up. But in September my debut play, ‘That Girl’, inspired by my experience in ‘Madeline’, will be performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London, produced by Broken Silence Theatre, Brighton’s leading new writing theatre company.
Tim Cook, the Artistic Director of Broken Silence Theatre, and myself have been developing the play together for a year and a half. It has been through several re-drafts, readings and a scratch night at the Cockpit.
I will be playing the role of ‘Hatty’. Which is me, but in a parallel universe where a few of the facts and circumstances have been altered. I wanted to create a world that is not mine, but could have been. People make different choices in life. There are those who choose to embrace convention aiming for job security, a house and family. Some continue to follow their dreams and risk a life of uncertainty for their creative satisfaction whilst others are stuck in the past unable to move on with their lives. As well as child acting, the play is inspired by the intensity of female friendships and is about online dating, living with friends, jobs, relationships and the loss of youth and innocence.
I wanted to write a play that I hope everyone can relate to. It just includes this one crazy childhood story; because I know that dreams, like getting cast in a Hollywood movie, can come true.
THAT GIRL by Hatty Jones is at Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington
3 – 15 September 2018
@August 2018 All Rights Reserved
London Pub Theatres Magazine Ltd