The truth about Maddie Ziegler’s Hollywood career

If you don’t remember her as the star student of the Abby Lee Dance Company on Lifetime’s Dance Moms, you probably remember her as the slightly creepy but seriously talented child dancer from Sia’s music videos, like “Chandelier.” Ever since the young dancer first appeared on Dance Moms as a child, she’s captivated audiences with her mature dancing, her big blue eyes, and her down-to-earth personality (via The Telegraph).

Anyone who has seen Maddie Ziegler in Dance Moms or in Sia’s videos would probably assume that the young star was destined for a career as a dancer. However, Ziegler has her eyes set on a career in another performance industry. It turns out, Ziegler hopes to go into acting. While the young star has had a few acting roles since leaving reality TV, she has yet to really take Hollywood by storm (via IMDb). Curious about what’s really going on with Ziegler and her dreams of Hollywood? Here is the truth about Maddie Ziegler’s acting career.

Maddie Ziegler has been talking about becoming an actor since she was young

Even though we all think of Maddie Ziegler primarily as a dancer, it turns out, the young star has had her sights set on the bright lights of Hollywood for years. Back in 2015 at the age of 12, Ziegler opened up to The Telegraph about her dreams of becoming an actor after working with Sia. “I’d love to be an actress in movies and scripted TV shows,” she confessed. “Dance is my number one priority but I’m also doing a lot of acting and singing. I definitely want to be a triple threat,” she went on.

So, Ziegler already had her sights set on acting from the young age of 12. It sounds like she was even taking acting and singing lessons at the time. There are even clips of Ziegler in acting classes at the Abby Lee Dance Company from as early as 2014. In fact, she may have even been auditioning for films at the time. In 2016, a clip of Ziegler auditioning for a role was released online. It seems that this dancer was actually focusing on acting while still appearing in Dance Moms.

Maddie Ziegler's performances in Sia's music videos have been praised for her acting skills

Back in 2014, Sia famously tweeted Maddie Ziegler and her mother asking if she’d like to appear in the “Chandelier” music video. The young dancer and Sia went on to form a close personal bond as well as a long, fruitful working relationship, with multiple music videos, a live tour, and even a movie in the works (via Billboard). But it was the first few music videos that really kick-started Ziegler’s rise to fame.

While her dancing was widely praised, Ziegler’s remarkable expressiveness is what really made her collaborations with Sia such massive hits. As one reviewer in The Guardian put it, “So much of her dancing is in her face.” When the “Big Girls Cry” video was released in 2015, Buzzfeed noted that Ziegler’s “face actually manages to be more expressive than her movements.” So Current also praised Ziegler for her moving acting in the video.

So, even though Ziegler was still thought of as a dancer in her Sia video days, looking back, it’s pretty clear that she already possessed a huge emotional range and a lot of acting potential!

Maddie Ziegler learned a lot about acting from working with Sia and Shia LaBeouf

Even though Maddie Ziegler’s acting was praised in her work with Sia, it turns out that she actually learned a lot from working with the singer too. Ziegler worked with the somewhat experimental choreographer Ryan Heffington on the videos. As Heffington explained to The New York Times, he is more interested in “accessing the human story through dance” than just creating pretty shapes. It’s no wonder Ziegler had to stretch her acting chops for this dance job!

In another video with Sia, “Elastic Heart,” Ziegler worked alongside actor Shia LaBeouf. She spoke to Elle about the experience. Apparently, working with LaBeouf taught Ziegler a lot about how actors work. “He really gets into character. He warms up and does all this crazy stuff before he starts,” she explained. “He was, like, running around the cage, just punching it.” Sounds like Ziegler got to see a method actor at work!

Maddie Ziegler wowed audiences with her nuanced performance in 'The Book of Henry'

In 2015, Maddie Ziegler’s dreams of Hollywood came true when she was cast in her first major motion picture — Colin Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry alongside Naomi Watts, Jacob Tremblay, Lee Pace, and Sarah Silverman (via Twitter). Ziegler played the role of Christina, a child being abused by her stepfather who was also the chief policeman in the town — it was definitely a demanding role for the young dancer (via Refinery29). While the film received some pretty dire reviews thanks to its ludicrous plot, Ziegler’s performance was definitely compelling. As Roger Ebert noted, “Ziegler shows signs of having performing chops beyond her dance skills.”

The film wasn’t released until 2017, but Ziegler actually worked on the film while still in Dance Moms. However, getting cast in this star-studded film and getting a taste of life on a real film set finally encouraged Ziegler to switch her focus (via Pop Crush).

Maddie Ziegler left behind reality TV in 2016 and made acting her focus

Eventually, Maddie Ziegler decided that acting would be her main focus — which meant saying goodbye to Dance Moms and pursuing new opportunities outside of reality TV. She announced her plans to leave the show after six seasons in 2015 (via Us Weekly).

Ziegler spoke to Hunger Magazine and explained that appearing in The Book of Henry showed her that acting was her primary passion. “At first I wanted to just do acting for fun, but over the last couple of months I’ve really started to realize that I want to become an actress for the rest of my life,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been working on lately, and doing my first movie has helped me to realize that” (via Pop Crush). She went on to explain that she didn’t want to give up dancing but simply change her main focus.

Plus, as Ziegler explained at the Nickelodeon 2016 Kids’ Choice Awards, “It’s very hard to be in the reality world without any scripts or anything” (via People). Sounds like Ziegler was desperate to start playing a character and stop playing herself!

Maddie Ziegler thinks that her dance training gave her a great foundation for acting

Even though Maddie Ziegler chose to embark on a whole new career after leaving Dance Moms, she wasn’t too nervous. In fact, it seems as though the young dancer felt pretty confident about her acting talents at the time. As she explained to Get Into Film, “I think dance really helped me, kind of, transition into acting, because in dance you have to portray a character most of the time.” We have to agree that Ziegler’s style of dancing certainly lent itself to an acting career.

Nevertheless, Ziegler admitted there are some differences too. She told The Daily Shuffle, “Dancing, you’re always moving.” Plus, the mediums are pretty different. She explained, “When you’re dancing you have to perform for thousands of people in an audience, but when you’re acting you’re in front of a camera it’s just way more smaller and personal, more than performing in a way.”

Maddie Ziegler got her first real acting role after Dance Moms in the film 'Leap!'

After Maddie Ziegler left Dance Moms, the next casting news about the dancer came in 2017 when she was cast as Camille in the animated film Leap! As Ziegler explained to USA Today, she was planning a “snobby ballerina” in the film, so she was able to draw on her experiences of the competitive dance world for the role. Apparently, Ziegler’s role only required her to be in the recording studio for one day. Nevertheless, she got the chance to meet some of her famous co-stars at screenings, including Kate McKinnon and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Ziegler explained in a featurette that the experience of voice acting was “completely different” to what she was used to. After all, as a dancer, Ziegler was used to using her body and face as a means of expression. It sounds like Leap! definitely helped Ziegler to learn more about expressing through the voice as well as the body.

Maddie Ziegler's certainly used to being in front of the camera

It’s clear that Maddie Ziegler felt comfortable about leaving the world of competitive dance behind in the hopes of becoming a movie star. And while you may not recognize her from anything other than Dance Moms or Sia’s videos, she did actually already have a fair amount of acting experience prior to leaving the show. In Dance Moms’ second season, Ziegler and the other girls auditioned for a role on the TV show Drop Dead Diva — Maddy won the role. 

In 2015, Ziegler took part in a short film called “Lucky Thirteen” by i-D, narrated by Chloe Sevigny. She had also appeared in some music videos by YouTuber and singer Todrick Hall. Plus, rumor has it, the Dance Moms filming routine wasn’t actually that dissimilar from a regular film set. 

It’s safe to say that this little girl was already super comfortable about being in front of a camera thanks to her reality TV fame.

Maddie Ziegler's agent got her a cameo in her favorite TV show

Most teens would only ever dream of getting a special role in their favorite TV series. For child star and aspiring actress Maddie Ziegler, this dream became a reality. After she quit Dance Moms to pursue acting, one of her earlier roles was a cameo as the “Creepy Dancer” in an episode of Pretty Little Liars.

According to the show’s executive producer, Oliver Goldstick, her role came about thanks to her agent. Goldstick told Entertainment Weekly, “Maddie is represented by the same agency that I am.” Apparently, Ziegler’s agent called Goldstick to see if they could find a role for her. “Maddie’s a huge fan of the show,” Goldstick explained.

Based on some of Ziegler’s comments about the show, it seems that she really was hooked on PLL at the time. As she told Elle, “I watch it religiously. I have a dance competition tonight but I’m recording it.” She must have had an absolute ball being on the show and meeting some of the cast — she even got an Instagram picture with Troian Bellisario, a.k.a. Spencer Hastings!

Maddie Ziegler's had her run-ins with the creepy side of Hollywood stardom

Like most young starlets, Maddie Ziegler hasn’t always had the smoothest experience in Hollywood. The acting industry can be competitive, draining, and occasionally, more than a little creepy for young women. In 2020, Ziegler’s long-time colleague and mentor, the singer Sia, opened up on the Zach Sang Show about how she once stopped Ziegler from boarding a plane with Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was a prominent Hollywood producer who in 2020 was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault crimes (via AP News).

Sia explained to Zach Sang that, “My insight has really made a difference — has kept her safe.” She added, “Yeah that was really disgusting.” Apparently, Sia’s motherly instincts kicked in and she called Melissa Gisoni, Ziegler’s mother, and begged her not to allow Ziegler on the plane. Another time, Sia reportedly stopped Ziegler from accepting a role in a sketchy film. Yikes, sounds like Ziegler had some pretty close calls! Thank goodness she has Sia as a friend and mentor to keep her safe in such a scary business.

Maddie Ziegler got a small role in 'P.S. I Still Love You'

In 2020, we got some exciting news about Maddie Ziegler’s acting career. Apparently, the star landed a small role in the Netflix movie P.S. I Still Love You, the follow-up to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. According to Popsugar, Ziegler appears in a lunchroom scene as a cheerleader, with the line, “Get ready, Lara Jean. Last year, Peter sent [a singing valentine] to Gen every period.”

And, according to Buzzfeed, the young actress got a chance to showcase some of her dancing skills in the movie, too, during a cheerleading scene. While it’s a small cameo, it’s great to see Ziegler in yet another role.

And apparently, Ziegler didn’t rest on her laurels for this role — she had to audition just like everyone else. Apparently, Melissa Gisoni, her mother, even posted a video of Ziegler preparing her cheer routine for the audition.

Maddie Ziegler landed the role of Velma in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story film

In one of the most exciting pieces of Maddie Ziegler casting news, it was announced that the young star would be taking on a role in the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story. The film also stars Angel Elgort, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, and Ariana DeBose. According to Playbill, the film’s casting director saw over 30,000 performers for the movie — so it’s pretty amazing that Ziegler landed a role.

Ziegler spoke to Entertainment Tonight about her role in the upcoming film. “I’m one of the Jet girls,” she said. Apparently, she will be playing Velma. In the original film, Velma had a pretty big role as she is Ice’s girlfriend (via Screen Rant). Ziegler went on to gush about working with Spielberg. “It was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. To work with Steven Spielberg was a pretty life-changing thing, so I’m really grateful for that,” she said. She then added that she was able to learn a lot from the hugely talented cast. We can’t wait to see Ziegler on the big screen when the musical is finally released.

In 2019, Maddie Ziegler starred in Sia's first film playing an autistic character

West Side Story isn’t the only big budget film on Maddie Ziegler’s horizons. In 2019, she also filmed Sia’s first full-length film, Music, alongside megastars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr. Apparently, the film is about two sisters. Hudson plays a drug dealer, and Ziegler plays her sister, who is on the autism spectrum. Sounds like a big leap for the young actress.

She spoke to Marie Claire about the challenges of the role and the amount of research required. Apparently, she watched a lot of documentaries about autism to prepare. And she learned a lot! “What I realized during this film is that everyone one the spectrum is different,” she said. “Everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way.”

By the looks of things, the film will have Sia and Ziegler’s recognizable artistic stamp. In a music video for the song “Together,” sung by Sia for the movie, Ziegler is seen dancing and emoting much like in her earlier works with the singer. We can’t wait to see their first feature-length collaboration.

In 2020, Maddie Ziegler joined the cast of 'The Fallout'

2020 was a seriously busy year for Maddie Ziegler. In addition to her roles in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and Sia’s Music, she also landed yet another role in a new teen drama called The Fallout. David Brown, one of the film’s producers, said to Hollywood Reporter, “Maddie is an exceptional talent, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to bring her on board. She will bring so much to the production.” The film will also star Jenna Ortega, who will play a high schooler navigating a school tragedy.

While we don’t know much about Ziegler’s role in the film, she’ll probably be playing a high schooler alongside Ortega. Plus, as she’s the second actor to join the production, her role is likely to be pretty big. We can’t wait to see Ziegler in three upcoming productions! It’s pretty clear that her career really is taking off and all of her childhood dreams are coming true.

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