Interview : Madeline Zima


Guy Davis talks to the “Californication” star

While there’s little doubt that the new Channel Ten series ‘’Californication’’ is a vehicle for former ‘’X-Files’’ star David Duchovny, it’s 21-year-old actress Madeline Zima who’s responsible for a few of the more memorable moments in the show’s premiere episode.

And at the risk of sounding like a complete perv, it’s not because Zima, perhaps best remembered as Grace Sheffield from the long-running sitcom ‘’The Nanny’’, has a semi-nude love scene with Duchovny in one of her first scenes.

No, it’s actually because Zima’s character Mia chooses to spice things up by clobbering Duchovny in the face a couple of times. And just when you thought you’d seen the last of Mia, she shows up at the end of the episode to provide a few new revelations that leave Duchovny’s character, womanising novelist Hank Moody, more than a little concerned.

Mia is only one of the many women in Hank’s life, and ‘’Californication’’ follows the smart but troubled writer as he attempts to come to terms with his turbulent personal and professional life. You see, Hank has seen his acclaimed novel turned into a successful but stupid movie, and he’s been plagued with writer’s block ever since.

On top of that, he has broken up with Karen (Natascha McElhone), his long-time girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin). So while he’s desperate to win back his family, Hank isn’t above easing his pain by hopping from bed to bed. Which leads him to Mia, an admirer of Hank’s writing.

“There are so many levels to Mia, not only her age and how advanced she is,” says Zima with a laugh. “There’s now underneath her scheming and manipulation she’s really just like anybody else – she wants to be seen, she wants someone to get her. And she feels like Hank gets her. So I was excited to play the kind of role I’d never played before, something so different from myself and anything else I’d done.”

In Zima’s eyes, Mia is “a wealthy girl who has had every luxury and is now probably really bored. She’s been touched by Hank’s writing – it may be the only time she’s been affected or stimulated in that way. So she’s looking something for something new, something exciting, and she finds that. And I don’t think Hank has found many people who are on his wavelength”.

Or people who slug him in the face during sex, for that matter. “Yes, we had a lot of debate about that, about why she does what she does,” says Zima. “I would say that she’s leaving her mark, so that there’s proof that they’ve been together, and I think she wants to be remembered. That’s her main goal in sleeping with Hank – that she is not just another girl he sleeps with. She wants to stand out in the crowd.”

Zima went through a number of auditions for the role of Mia, gaining confidence with each one. “When I auditioned with David, I felt sure enough of myself to take a few risks – I was grabbing his leg and touching his arm when we were doing our scenes together,” she says.

“But then I had an audition for the network that was…well, not the best. It was probably my worst, weakest read of all the auditions I’d done – and it was the most important one! But I refused to give up, even when I was bombing. They asked if I’d like to do a scene again and I was all ‘Uh-huh! I can do better!’ Which I did, and when I got it I just couldn’t believe it. I was so happy.”

Zima has worked as an actress since the age of seven, but that has had its disadvantages. “There certainly was a stigma attached to being a child actor and particularly a sitcom kid,” she says. “There’s the impression that you’re a cute kid who got lucky but who can’t really act. I can’t tell you how many roles I lost by being on The Nanny, and some of them were career-making roles that made other people huge stars. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity of learning from direct experience but it’s very difficult to make the transition unless you’re lucky enough to land a role that is adult in every sense.”

Zima even embraced the more confronting aspects of her role. “I’d never done a nude scene before but I was actually looking forward to that opportunity,” she says. “There’s an honesty to being naked or semi-naked – you can’t be false. Being that exposed and that vulnerable, there will be real moments in the performance. It was actually all the lead-up to filming the scene that proved more stressful. I’d built it up in my head so much that when I was actually there, it was no big deal that I was there in my undies with no shirt on.”

As ‘’Californication’’ continues, the relationship with Hank and Mia will continue to evolve in unexpected ways. “I don’t want to give too much away, but she will continue to pursue him any way she can. I don’t know how much success she’ll have. But she’ll certainly use certain things as ammo when it comes to getting what she wants from Hank. While it might seem malicious, it’s because she wants love as much as anybody else.”

Californication airs on Channel Ten Monday nights at 9.30pm