Madeline Brewer

Orange Suits Her

Crowned Miss Pitman in 2010, former pageant queen Madeline Brewer thought she was destined for sparkly, fairy princess roles on Broadway; instead, she found herself cast as ruthless soldiers and incarcerated felons. While the onscreen typecast initially came as a bit of a shock to Brewer, it evolved into a blessing that allowed her to play layered, complex roles in more than one critically acclaimed series. Brewer is best known for her debut, transformative role as “Tricia” in Orange is the New Black, the cornrowed drug addict. Her character’s drug overdose in season one marked the first tragic death of the series.

Brewer went on to play other unconventional women, like the bloodthirsty soldier, “Raiman,” in the Black Mirror episode, “Men Against Fire,” and more recently stars as a struggling comedian in the indie film Hedgehog. Additionally, the 24-year old has landed a role in the Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 novel about a dystopian future where women are stripped of their rights. In a turn of events, Madeline Brewer traded in her pageant tiara for Tricia’s cornrows, which ultimately became her real crown. According to her, the hardened roles ironically helped her to emotionally soften, become more empathetic, and overall contributed to her growth as a human being.

You ended up embodying Tricia so well, even though at face value you have nothing in common with her. What ultimately do you think psychically linked you to playing this character?

I auditioned for Tricia and going in, I was like, “I’m never going to get this.” It was my first film/TV audition, I was four months out of musical theater school, and they told me the whole time I was like a fairy princess and I was going to play Glinda. It was the most horrific thing I’d ever experienced, I was so nervous. And I guess when that kind of fear and vulnerability splits the tough exterior of the character, it becomes something pretty interesting. All those things that Tricia displayed in being afraid of her shadow was just me being on set for the first time. I was so new to that world, and it was amazing to grow with Tricia as a person. She opened me up and forced me to see life from a different perspective, which is something I needed as an actor. She made me realize the importance of telling the story of an abuse survivor and drug addict, and to bring more humanity to them than just those labels.

You’ve had a chance to play really tough women. Have those qualities leaked over into your personal life at all?

I’d say characters like Tricia and Raiman in Black Mirror where they’re hard shells and it’s the first thing you see has been very interesting for me because I’m a total softie. They’re women I have access to inside of me, but I don’t wear on the outside. They helped me to stand my ground a little bit more. A character like Raiman is just true to what she was: a born and raised, stone cold killer. It was the part of me that I feel like was truly a tough bitch- like a totally down, badass woman. I have no parts of that that I wear in my everyday, so it was really fun to explore.

What are you looking forward to most with The Handmaid’s Tale?

I’m excited to see how and who The Handmaid’s Tale affects, who feels empowered by it, who feels that it’s a similar political climate to ours today, and what people take from it. I mean, there will be naysayers and there will be people who will call it feminist propaganda and that’s just kind of how it’s going to be, but it’s a beautiful piece of artwork written in 1985 that just so happened to be prescient.

Text by Elizabeth Chang
Photograph by Richard Reinsdorf

Hair by Derek Yuen
Makeup by Andre Sarmiento
Styling by Dean Hau
Photo Assistants Tyler Demogenes, Simon Cordova & James Moy
Digital Tech Alexander Quel
Production by Keith Carhill

Maddie wears
Vivienne Westwood suit