Bailee Madison on set of Bridge to Terabithia

Bailee Madison has been a fixture of cinema and TV since, quite literally, before she could stand. The super-talented multi-hyphenate, who’s enjoyed massive success as an actor, writer, producer, activist, and plenty more, has grown up in front of our eyes from a sweet little girl into a fierce and powerful young woman.

It’s likely we haven’t even seen the best of her yet, given Madison notched up over a decade in the industry, with a whole slew of credits to her name, before breaching her twenties. Still, her transformation from cherubic, apple-cheeked little sweetheart (in 2007’s kids’ book adaptation Bridge to Terabithia) into a grungy teenager battling a family of psychopaths (in 2018’s gory slasher The Strangers: Prey At Night) cannot be understated.

This young lady has some serious range both on and off screen. This is the stunning transformation of the one and only Bailee Madison.

Invading the scene

Bailee Madison in Lonely Hearts

Madison caught the acting bug young — like, super young, before she could even walk on her own. She followed in the footsteps of her mother and sister, both of whom work in the industry, originally accompanying them on auditions when she was still just a baby. As Madison explained to Miami Living magazine, she would forcibly insert herself into certain situations, admitting, "My mom said I used to unbuckle myself from my stroller and try and crash their auditions."

The wannabe actress, who started off in commercials while still in her stroller, always loved the arts, particularly Broadway shows. She booked her first movie, 2006’s Lonely Hearts, at age 5, off the back of her sister’s audition (thankfully, she and her sister were after different roles). As Madison revealed to Miami Living, "I was in the waiting room with my mom. They said, ‘Would your sister like to audition? We have this role.’ My sister took me around the corner and read with me. I went in and, from that moment on, the journey kinda started."

Bridging the gap

Bailee Madison, Josh Hutcherson, and Annasophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia

Although her first movie found Madison starring alongside the big-name likes of Laura Dern, John Travolta, and Salma Hayek, Madison’s big break was undoubtedly her star-making turn in Bridge to Terabithia a year later in 2007. In 2017, MTV reunited the young actress with her co-star from the movie, AnnaSophia Robb, to reminisce about everything the duo got up to on set 10 years previous.

They revealed how close the cast was, in particular Madison and her onscreen brother, played by Josh Hutcherson, who was so concerned about hurting her during their many onscreen arguments that he checked she was okay after each take. The little girl caught feelings and even penned a love note to Hutcherson, which he graciously accepted. "He was so sweet, he just hugged me. He took such good care of me. I love him with all my heart," Madison recalled.

As a wrap gift, Robb and Hutcherson gave their young co-star a very special present, with Madison revealing, "They cut little pieces of fabric from all the clothes my character wore, and they made this fairy costume for me."

Opposite the greats

Bailee Madison with Natalie Portman in Brothers

Whether it was alongside screen stalwarts Travolta and Dern or young upstarts Robb and Hutcherson, it took no time at all for the young Madison to get comfortable in front of the camera. By 2009, at just 10 years old, Madison already had a whopping 13 acting credits to her name. Starring opposite Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, and Jake Gyllenhaal in blockbuster family drama Brothers was just another day at the office.

Discussing her pivotal, and hugely emotional scene in the movie, with Miami Living, Madison noted, "I was able to work till midnight and it was maybe 11:56 and they just set up for my close up. I think I was able to do one or two takes. I remember just being like ‘Oh gosh, I hope we get it.’ It was a really fun scene to do. …That movie was a real blessing to me after it came out, with what it was able to do for me."

Finding her fear

Bailee Madison in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

The year 2010 found Madison switching lanes in a big way, starring in her very first horror movie, Guillermo Del Toro’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, alongside Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes. Speaking to AXS, the young actress noted she didn’t feel any pressure stepping into this darker world, "But it was definitely very new to me; especially filming a scary film." Madison acknowledged, however, she "learned a lot and it was hard; but, definitely worth the experience."

The most difficult element was working with a variety of computer-generated creatures — none of which, naturally, were actually on set. "They were never there! There was never anything," Madison admitted. "Sometimes there was a piece of tape or sometimes there was just nothing. You just kind of, day by day, gradually got a little bit used to it." The then-10-year-old pledged to watch more horror movies as a result of her experience, noting, "Now that I’ve done a scary movie I’m okay with scary things. Not like A Nightmare on Elm Street or anything like that, but I like a classical suspense."

Riding high

Bailee Madison, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and Griffin Gluck in Just Go With It

Just a couple years later, after an appearance in Adam Sandler vehicle Just Go With It really put her on the map, the young actress switched gears yet again with 2012’s Cowgirls ‘n Angels, a spirited indie drama about a group of rodeo riders. The young actress told The Hollywood Interview that working with veteran actors such as James Cromwell ("the definition of humble") was everything she’d hoped for and more. Of co-star Alicia Witt, Madison remarked, "She started acting even younger than I did, and has made the transition into an adult actor so seamlessly, plus she’s a really talented musician and has so many diverse interests. She was a great role model."

In a chat with Behind the Lens Online, Madison claimed her time on Cowgirls ‘n Angels was incredibly rewarding, too. "Really, for me, there’s no scripts out there like this one. It was full of love. It was full of heart and it was about faith and hope and courage. For me to be a part of it… was such an honor. I just love the script. I just love everything about it," she gushed.

Fostering her onscreen family

Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck

As Madison entered those all-important early teen years, her résumé continued to grow. She joined hit show The Fosters in 2014, sticking around for two seasons before departing in 2016. The young actress was, by that stage, becoming a small screen staple, having appeared in the likes of Wizards of Waverly Place, Trophy Wife, and R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, among others.

The Fosters was an easy choice for Madison, as she detailed to Your Teen Mag. Choosing roles is a "family affair," as, "My sister reads the script first, then it goes to my mom, and if they both like it, then I read it. A lot of scripts are quick to take you from a 15-year-old to a 17-year-old overnight. So, we say ‘no’ more than we say ‘yes.’ We’re selective and we try to keep things age appropriate. We approach every script that way and always have."

Starting a movement

Bailee Madison in Merry Christmas Drake and Josh

In 2015, Madison was the victim of online trolls as she was labelled a prude. Rather than ignoring it, the actress took to Tumblr to pen an inspirational essay. With that, a space for her to turn when things get rough, to preach kindness, and to share her innermost thoughts and feelings was born. And, alongside it, the #IamMoreThanAWord social media movement.

Madison told By You magazine she’s all about kindness and empathy, opining, "We are all here to have a voice and make a difference; we all have a choice. It’s as simple as walking down the street — you can ignore a person or you can smile, say hello, or even something nice. …It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a choice in life that you can walk past things or help that person feel better. It’s a constant choice every day to help even one person with that light or that smile — and if you don’t, you’re missing something. I think it’s our job to help give a little push and help spread the lightness."

Finding young love

Bailee Madison in Wizards of Waverly Place

Madison started seeing fellow entertainer and social media star Alex Lange in 2016. On a Dec 2018 episode of her podcast Just Between Us, which Madison hosts alongside big sis Katilin Vilasuso, she opened up about what made their coupling so strong.

As reported by E! News, Madison revealed Lange had expressed his undying devotion the very first night they met. The actress waited a full six months before saying "I love you" back, however her beau acknowledged it was worth the wait. The duo initially spent three months apart at the beginning of their relationship, talking on the phone constantly in the interim.

Lange subsequently sent her a photo of a pebble. She explained, "He goes, ‘Do you know what penguins do when they choose their mate for life?’ And I go ‘No,’ and he goes, ‘They give them a pebble. So here’s a pebble.’" Sadly, the romantic gesture wasn’t enough to sustain their relationship for the long haul – ET reported in January 2019 that the couple split.

Taking the reins

Bailee Madison in Cowgirls 'n Angels

In keeping with her impressive growth and maturity, in 2016 Madison stepped behind the camera to produce a couple movies of her own, namely kids’ adventure Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket and A Cowgirl’s Story, released the following year. She also had starring roles in both.

The actor-turned-producer gushed to The PC Principle about the process. "It was one of the most gratifying experiences because as a producer, you are working for the sake of not just yourself, but for the rest of the crew. So, Kraft services, grips, the lighting department, animal trainers and the cast are all following your hands to try and make the set to be as smooth and enjoyable as possible," she enthused.

Madison went on to explain how grateful she was for the opportunity, acknowledging, "For me to be trusted with fellow producers and a wonderful director who has been doing this for such a long time, it was a very humbling and wonderful experience."

Being brave

Bailee Madison in Letters to God

In January 2018, Madison proved how multi-talented she is by publishing her first book, Losing Brave. Co-written with author Stefne Miller, the YA thriller highlighted a moment when Madison was anything but cowardly. Speaking to Teen Vogue, the then-18-year-old noted, "We decided to go in the more psychological aspect because that genre is really picking up right now in the world of books and movies, but it doesn’t really exist right now for teenagers."

Madison was apprehensive about putting herself out there, admitting, "It’s a really exciting and nerve-wracking new chapter in my life and I love the book world so much. I think it’s such an amazing kind of relationship that can be formed between the person who’s reading and you just kind of sitting and imagining what this world is in your head."

She told CBS Local that the main character, Payton, was inspired by both authors’ experiences. "I think Payton specifically was inspired by parts of myself but also stories that Stefne has actually gone through at my age and memories she has so, um, it was both of us collaborating," Madison said.

Returning to grueling horror

Bailee Madison in R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour

That very same year, Madison returned to her horror roots with The Strangers: Prey At Night, as a grungy and badly behaved teenager fleeing for her life from mask-wearing psychopaths. She told Dread Central the movie came around at just the right time, as "I had actually been reading so much at that moment in my life. I just had yet to find a horror script that was so smart and so different and engaging, yet grounded."

Madison was attracted to the physicality of the role, noting, "It’s very detailed in the script and very stunt oriented and very physical. …I truly never played a character like her before. I wanted to know more about her." Likewise, Madison gushed to Daily Dead, "I’d done some physical stuff before, but that usually happens at the end of filming. In this, every single day I wanted to have bruises on me, I wanted to feel drained because that meant I was putting in the work. Thankfully, the stunt team was all in. …They let me do everything except for one shot. …I really got put through the wringer for this, and I’m so glad I did."

Designing her own life

Bailee Madison in Just Go With It

Madison stretched herself even further with a clothing line for Macy’s in-house imprint, Nowadays. She told Darling magazine in 2018 that, although there’s a lot on her plate, their collaboration was meant to be. "It feels organic only because I don’t like being comfortable; if I feel like I’ve done it before, I start to freak out. I’ve always wanted to do a fashion line — always. And I’ve been approached by multiple people throughout the years and I’ve said no. …I have shopped at Macy’s since I was a little girl — so, when a store that I loved and I think is a really great place for families came to me, well, that was a no-brainer," she explained.

Madison went on to advise that writing Losing Brave came about in a similar way — because she felt a bit stagnant elsewhere in her career, and wanted to fill a gap — while producing was a must simply because she loves being behind the camera. "I think the go, go, go factor is something that can play into it, but I love what I do and I’ve loved everything that I’ve done, so it’s felt very me," she acknowledged.

Casting spells

Bailee Madison in Once Upon a Time

In spite of having fingers in plenty of different pies, acting continues to be Madison’s first love. Starring on Hallmark family show Good Witch felt like the ideal spot for her as a young actress transitioning into being an adult. In 2019, Catherine Bell, who plays her onscreen mother, gushed about Madison’s professionalism to Reel Life with Jane.

"Oh, my God, Bailee is phenomenal. She’s just such an amazing… I mean, I’ve got to say I’ve worked with some child actors in this business, and she is just unbelievable. She’s one of a kind. Sweet, down-to-earth, humble, kind, loving. …In my scenes with her, I often feel like I’m talking to my daughter. It’s just so easy to be emotional," she enthused.

The feeling is clearly mutual, as the young actress told Assignment X back in 2017 just how much the show meant to her, noting of her character Grace, "What I’ve always loved about this show is, it’s not necessarily power, it’s what’s within the heart, and I think, as she grows up, her heart strengthens, and her love for others does as well."

Growing up in front of the camera

Bailee Madison in Law & Order SVU

Given how young she started, it makes sense that Madison she felt older than her years — even before she turned 20. In a 2018 interview with Schön magazine, she looked back on a life in front of the cameras, advising, "It’s been a very surreal experience. Growing up is hard in general and then adding a bunch of strangers watching it happen and commenting freely can be overwhelming at times. However, I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed with the amount of love and support I’ve been given, and the memories I’ve been able to make."

Madison also acknowledged her own positive attitude to life, noting, "I’ve always been told that ever since I was little I’ve always just loved life and I think the same goes for me now. I love people, I love spreading love and I love enjoying moments, and as cheesy as that may sound, I love smiling and laughing. I just do." When the darkness hits, she knows how to handle it, explaining, "However, like anyone, I have low moments and that’s when I try to take a step back, surround myself with my family, my true core of friends and remind myself how blessed I really am."

Big aspirations

Bailee Madison 2019

Considering her massive career and all it encompasses, it’s crazy to think there might be more Madison wants to do with her time. And yet, there is. When asked by RAW in 2018 about where she sees herself in a decade, Madison admitted, "I love the behind-the-scenes world, so hopefully stepping behind the lens a lot more. Directing is my biggest dream and passion. And then philanthropy, traveling, and being able to see different cultures." She also has less lofty life aspirations, advising, "I should learn how to play a sport. I’ve tried to play tennis and I broke both my wrists, so I don’t really know how that works."

When it comes to what she wants to be remembered for down the line, however, Madison’s message is simple: "Just being compassionate and kind. I don’t think there’s anything more important. I don’t think at the end of life you’re like, ‘Oh my God you’re the girl who had so and so followers or you did this.’ It’s how you treat people. Who were you on the inside? I think being remembered as being kind would be the best."