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Bailee Madison: From Child Actor To Rising Star

Bailee Madison never intended to be an actor, but a single audition and an award-winning breakout role in "Bridge to Terabithia" paved the way for her to become one of the more recognizable child actors of her time, with guest roles on network TV shows and parts in major films. Her star power is only continuing to rise, as she keeps landing lead roles in teen dramas, appearing on popular streaming services, and trying out new movie genres.

After appearing as a child in several commercials, Madison tried out for a movie while her older sister, Kaitlin Vilasuso, was doing a different audition. That audition led to a role in the film "Lonely Hearts," opposite Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, and John Travolta. Though her mother said that the one appearance would be the extent of her screen career, nearly two decades later the actress shows no signs of slowing down as she continues to extend her reach, adding director, singer, and author to her list of skills. With a stacked resume and projects everyone is sure to know her from, here is everything you need to know about actress Bailee Madison.

She started young in a childhood classic

Although Bailee Madison's first role was in the 2006 film "Lonely Hearts" as Rainelle Downing, it's her second film that jumpstarted her career in the industry. Many will know it, not just because it's an adaptation of a popular book by Katherine Paterson, but because for many, it was one of the most heartbreaking stories they saw on screen as a child.

The child actor portrays May Belle Aarons in "Bridge to Terabithia," the little sister to Josh Hutcherson's Jess in the 2007 fantasy-drama movie. The story follows Jess and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) as they create a world they call Terabithia in a treehouse near their homes. It gives both of the tweens a space to get away from bullies and the other hardships of life. May Belle spends a lot of time with her father and eventually goes to Terabithia with her brother.

"Bridge to Terabithia" impressed critics, with The Washington Post calling it a "beautifully realized coming-of-age story [that] fulfills all the requirements for ideal family viewing." The young cast also received several nominations at the 27th annual Young Artist Awards for their performances. Hutcherson and Robb won their respective categories, and Madison won the award for best performance in a feature film by an actress younger than 10 years old.

She continued her film career with a variety of genres

After such a strong start, Bailee Madison continued to show her acting chops with parts in films spanning several genres. The actress had three more movies come out in 2007, making it a busy year for her. She entered found footage territory with "Look," was in the TV drama "Saving Sarah Cain," and tried comedy with the Nickelodeon film "The Last Day of Summer."

Over the next several years, Madison appeared in secondary child roles as part of several star-studded projects. She played Isabelle, the daughter of Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Grace (Natalie Portman), in the 2009 psychological thriller "Brothers." The actress played another daughter in the 2011 romantic comedy "Just Go with It," alongside Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. She was the younger self of Hilary Swank's Betty Anne Waters in the 2010 legal biopic "Conviction." As in "Bridge to Terabithia," she also played the sister to Elle Fanning's Phoebe in the 2008 movie "Phoebe in Wonderland."

However, Madison wasn't just playing the lead's daughter or younger self at this point in her career. She took on the lead child role, Sally Hurst, in the Guillermo del Toro-produced 2010 horror fantasy, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Famed critic Roger Ebert complimented the actress in his review of the film, calling her "an effective young actress" who played her role with "pluck, intelligence and a righteous temper."

She worked a lot on television

Bailee Madison also took her talents to TV shows. Her first series appearance was in 2007, in a Season 3 episode of "House" as a character named Lucy, and her credits only grew from there. The young actress had guest roles in popular adult series like "CSI: NY," "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," and "Chase." She also appeared in multiple episodes of several children's programs, including the Emma Roberts-led "Unfabulous," the "That's So Raven" spin-off "Cory in the House," and "The Haunting Hour: The Series." Horror fans may even remember her from an episode of "Holliston," a horror sitcom on FEARnet.

Her most recognizable roles from this phase of her career were Maxine Russo in six episodes of one of the best Disney Channel shows of all time, "Wizards of Waverly Place," and young Snow White in the ABC series "Once Upon a Time." Maxine was the alter-ego of Jake T. Austin's Max, after a spell went wrong on the children's show. Going back to her fantasy roots, Madison portrayed the young counterpart to Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White in four episodes of "Once Upon a Time" from 2012 through 2016.

Madison's later guest roles on television include playing Sophia Quinn on the Freeform teen drama "The Fosters" and its spin-off "Good Trouble," episodes of "Mulaney" and "American Dad!," and a recurring role as Drew in the third season of "The Hardy Boys."

She added several more TV movies to her resume

While appearing on lots of TV shows, Bailee Madison added numerous TV films to her list of projects as well. From Hallmark entries to seasonal children's films, the actress has done her share of made-for-TV movies.

One of her first came in 2007 with "Judy's Got a Gun." The movie follows a detective trying to balance her career and casework with her personal life. Madison appeared as Brenna, daughter of lead character Judy (Louise Lombard). The actress also has several Hallmark movies to her name, like "A Taste of Romance," "Date with Love," and "Smart Cookies."

Alongside standard TV films, Madison appeared in several holiday projects. Her first was the Nickelodeon original movie "Merry Christmas, Drake and Josh," although her character, Mary Alice Johansson, did not appear in the main "Drake and Josh" TV show. Other Christmas-themed TV movies the actress has been a part of include 2013's 'Pete's Christmas" as Katie, 2014's "Northpole" as the elf Clementine, its 2015 sequel "Northpole: Open for Christmas," and 2016's "Holiday Joy." Madison also boasted a role in the 2016 Halloween TV movie "The Night Before Halloween."

Her first lead TV role was in a sitcom

Bailee Madison's first leading role on television came with the 2013 ABC sitcom "Trophy Wife." The one-season series follows the family dynamics of Kate (Malin Åkerman), the new spouse of lawyer Pete (Bradley Whitford). She is his third wife and has to navigate relationships with his two ex-wives and Pete's children. Madison played Hillary, Pete's daughter with his first wife Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), who is described as a good girl and an overachiever when compared to her brothers Warren (Ryan Lee) and Bert (Albert Tsai).

Madison was not initially cast as the character. Actress Gianna LePera was hired to play Pete's daughter in the series pilot, but she ended up as one of many child stars that have been recast. Lancy Downs wrote for Tufts Daily that the casting change was a step in the right direction for the show. "As a young Snow White in 'Once Upon a Time' (2011-present), Madison turned in a surprisingly impressive performance," Downs commented at the time. "With any luck, she will be able to flesh out a character rendered flat and bland in the pilot."

She cast a little magic on The Good Witch

Bailee Madison's next major TV role was as part of the main cast of the Hallmark Channel series "Good Witch." The series was based on a string of TV films that began with 2008's "The Good Witch." Set in the town of Middleton (though "Good Witch" was actually filmed in Ontario), the show followed Cassie Nightingale (Catherine Bell), the lead of the films, and her teen daughter Grace, played by Madison.

The actress starred on the series for five of its seven seasons, with her character leaving for college at the end of the fifth year. Like her mother, Grace has a bit of "intuition" that may be magic. The young witch's ability manifests as an ability to sense something, like a tragic accident, before it happens. Over the course of five seasons, Grace practices controlling her powers, grapples with being a witch, and graduates as valedictorian before heading off to college.

When Madison departed at the end of Season 5, she penned a heartfelt Instagram post about what "Good Witch" meant to her and how she saw herself in the character. "Grace has been a character whose journey throughout the years has often mirrored my own," the actress wrote. When the series ended in 2021, Madison posted again, reinforcing her positive experience with the show. "I feel so fortunate to have been able to bring Grace to life for 5 wonderful years," she posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

She wrote a book

Bailee Madison has taken her talents off-screen and put them to paper by writing a novel. With the help of author and scriptwriter Stefne Miller, the actress wrote "Losing Brave," a young adult mystery novel published in 2018.

The story follows Payton, a teen girl whose twin has been missing for the last year. This results in Payton struggling at school and with her social life, as well as a possible romance with her missing twin's boyfriend. Though she doesn't remember the day her sister disappeared, the teen must try to if she wants to know what happened to her sibling.

The two began working on the book together after Madison read one of Miller's other books and then messaged her on Twitter, according to an interview with BUILD. Their creative relationship began by working on a film together, and then Miller suggested they write a book. The pair used FaceTime and phone calls to discuss the project and write the scenes together live, rather than sending a document back and forth. The book has a significant twist in the third act, one that wasn't planned when they first started writing. "We're not really planners, we're more pantsers," Miller shared in the interview. "You fly by the seat of your pants when you write."

Madison and her sister had a podcast

Like many actors, Bailee Madison has ventured into the podcast realm. Rather than a rewatch podcast, however, the actress had a weekly show with her sister Kaitlin Vilasuso from 2018 to 2019 called "Just Between Us." The sisters are 13 years apart in age and cover a wide range of topics and experiences between them, from acting to raising children. 

While discussing their lives as a whole, Madison shares about her journey as an actor and how that has impacted her mental health. Vilasuso discusses the ups and downs of being a mother and watching her child grow. Listeners are also taken on family vacations and celebrations.

In addition to sharing their lives, the sisters interviewed a variety of people, from pop singer Meghan Trainor and actress Miranda Cosgrove to author Kati Morton and chef Nealy Fischer. The hosts also took calls and write-ins from listeners, giving advice on different situations depending on what the listener asked.

She's appeared in and directed music videos

Bailee Madison has also acted in a variety of music videos, and even directed one. The first time she appeared in a music video was in 2014, with a cameo in Jamie Grace's "Do Life Big." Three years later, the actress played the role of Alex Lange's girlfriend in a video for his song "Love You So." Madison's next music video appearances came in 2019, when she appeared as a party guest in the video for "Foolish" and as a love interest in the clip for "All the Ways," both songs by Meghan Trainor of "All About that Bass" fame.

Madison has also appeared in three music videos for the British pop band New Hope Club, and is currently dating Blake Richardson, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist. She first appeared in the 2019 video for the song "Love Again," and has also turned up in the videos for "Worse" and "Call Me a Quitter." In each video, she portrays Blake's girlfriend.

The actress made her directorial debut with the "Worse" music video, which also became a fun reunion with her "Wizards of Waverly Place" castmates. David DeLuise, Maria Canals-Barrera, David Henrie, and Jennifer Stone appeared in various roles, while other notable cameos included Maddie Ziegler, Meg Donnelly, and Bart Johnson.

Madison has musical talents

Bailee Madison continued her acting career in 2021 by taking on lead roles in musical movies. She joined the ranks of other popular actresses like Lucy Hale and Selena Gomez with "A Cinderella Story: Starstruck," an entry in the "A Cinderella Story" film series. Madison played Finley, a farm girl with dreams of making it big as a singer. When she squanders her chance via an unfortunate movie audition, she dresses as a cowboy named "Huck" to try again. The actress stars alongside Michael Evans Behling from "All American."

Her second musical film of the year was the Netflix original movie "A Week Away." The movie follows Will (Kevin Quinn), a teen in the foster care system who heads to a summer camp with his new foster mother and brother. While there, he meets and connects with Avery, played by Madison, the daughter of the man who runs the camp. The film contains a variety of music from Christian artists.

While Madison sings in both films, the actress has also pursued a solo musical career. In January 2024, she released her single "Kinda Fun" through Red Van Records. She wrote the song with Blake Richardson during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.

She doesn't shy away from scary movies

Many may know Bailee Madison for her more recent roles, which have again ventured into horror territory. Horror went on the back burner after she starred in 2010's "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," with her next major project in the genre coming eight years later.

The actress starred as Kinsey, a teen just trying to enjoy a night with her family before leaving for boarding school, in 2018's "The Strangers: Prey at Night." As Kinsey, her brother, and their parents try to survive an onslaught by three masked attackers, it seems like all hope is lost. The movie is a sequel to the home invasion classic "The Strangers," which was based on a disturbing real-life incident.

Madison's next horror release was the 2022 thriller "Play Dead." She stars as Chloe, a medical student struggling to make ends meet after her father's suicide. Her brother T.J. (Anthony Turpel), looking to obtain some quick cash, participates in a robbery gone wrong and must erase his dead partner's phone so that he's not implicated in the crime. Chloe fakes her own death to get into the coroner's office, which may house a deadly secret. Both movies feature Madison in prime screen-queen level roles, which only paved the way for her next major TV project.

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Her latest TV project is part of a popular franchise

Bailee Madison's most recent lead role on television may take some viewers back to their days with Freeform, the network that featured teen classics like "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," "Switched at Birth," and "The Fosters." Max has been trying to revive popular teen content, as with 2021's now-canceled "Gossip Girl" reboot, and that has only continued with its contribution to the "Pretty Little Liars" universe.

On Max's "Pretty Little Liars," Madison stars as Imogen, a teen who is pregnant during Season 1 of the series. Over the course of the season, Imogen and four other teen girls try to figure out how their mothers are involved with the mystery messages they're receiving from an unknown person known only as "A." The series is set in the same universe as the original "Pretty Little Liars," but takes place in the town of Millwood, Pennsylvania instead of Rosewood. 

The second season took the show down a darker road, especially for Imogen, as she comes to terms with everything she went through in the first season, from her pregnancy to her mother's death. "She's the first character I would say I've been able to play that I, like, actually really talk about as a human," Madison shared on "The Drew Barrymore Show." "I love the show and I grew up the biggest fan of the original, so it's so kismet and full circle."