maddie-openPitman’s Maddie Brewer got a break in show business that few actresses experience – landing her first role in the mega-popular Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black.”

Sweating profusely and writhing on her prison cot as she goes through withdrawal, heroin addict Tricia Miller is having a very bad day. Fans of the Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black” (OITNB) fell in love with the druggie who sported an oversized neck tattoo and trademark cornrows. Though the part may seem a stretch for actress Maddie Brewer, winner of the 2010 Miss Pitman title, the 22-year-old’s performance won rave reviews from critics and fans, and kick-started her acting career.

“I hadn’t any film or television experience, though I’d been acting my whole life,” says Brewer, who graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City in 2012. “I signed with an agency in September 2012, and two months later they sent me on an audition for this Netflix web series. I landed the role of Tricia and was working the next week.”

Despite her character’s popularity, Tricia died of a heroin overdose in her first season on the show. “Initially, I was upset,” she says. “But [show creator] Jenji Kohan sent me an email explaining they didn’t want to kill me, but it had to happen. It catapulted my character into people’s minds and into their hearts and took me a step further with my career. I had gotten a little chunk of change from the show, and I felt like I didn’t have to scrape together every penny to pay my rent. But I miss Tricia every day.”

Brewer continued to hostess at a New York City restaurant even while shooting the series. When the show wrapped, she stayed at her hostess job, worried she’d never get another role.

“One of my acting teachers in school had been on Broadway countless times and in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and in movies, and he told me that every time he finishes a job, he thinks that was the last one and he’ll never work again,” she says. “After Orange wrapped, I didn’t book [another job] for eight months. During that time I was auditioning almost eight times a week, going in and getting callbacks, and getting called back and called back and then not booking it and feeling like, ‘What is wrong with me? I’ll never work again.’”

Madeline Brewer appears in season two of Netflix’s horror series “Hemlock Grove”

Madeline Brewer appears in season two of Netflix’s horror series “Hemlock Grove”

Far from it. Brewer recently wrapped “Hemlock Grove,” a horror/thriller series also on Netflix, which she shot in Toronto over a five-month period.

“It was great to be in a different city and meet new people and work on a very different show,” she says. “I loved my role of Miranda and the changes she goes through throughout the season and the obstacles she faces so boldly. She was a lot of fun.”

Brewer is enjoying her newfound fame and loves when fans approach her. She fondly recalls the first time she was recognized.

“It was when I was working as a hostess last summer,” she says. “I was just standing there outside waiting to seat people, and somebody was staring at me. I thought, ‘Do I have something on my face or in my teeth?’ They came over to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, but were you in the show ‘Orange Is the New Black?’ They started freaking out and said, ‘Oh my God, it’s the girl.’ And I started freaking out and said, ‘Oh my God, they know who I am!’

“It was a really incredible feeling to be recognized, especially because when I was working as a hostess I would wear glasses and heels with my makeup and hair done. I was certainly very different looking from Tricia. It was very cool, especially people saying they watched the whole season in a day and really loved it.”

Brewer found Netflix at the right time. The world’s largest subscription video service, Netflix is poised to pass HBO in paid U.S. subscribers, according to Bloomberg.

She is living the dream she’s had for as long as she can remember, following in the footsteps of her father, a teacher at Williamstown High School who has acted in regional theater. “When I was 7, I told my dad I wanted to be in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the high school,” she says. “I auditioned to play Martha Cratchit, and my dad said I was the only one with a very authentic English accent.”

Though living in New York, Brewer remains an SJ girl at heart. She spent as much time as she could this summer in Ocean City and at Ry’s Bagels in Glassboro. Brewer says she especially misses her house in Pitman.

“It’s the house I grew up in, and the house my mom grew up in. There are no bad memories for me,” she says. “It’s just complete tranquility. One of my best friends who lived across the street from me my entire life sits on my front porch with me every single time I’m home. Talking to someone who’s known you since 10 minutes outside the womb is something we still have, and I don’t want to lose it.”

Brewer has only fond memories of being crowned Miss Pitman in 2010. “It’s such a great tradition,” she says. “I participated in a couple of other pageants, including Miss Gloucester County. It teaches you so much about meeting new people. It’s a great experience.”

Though she hasn’t locked down her next role yet, Brewer is staying open-minded. “I’m not closing myself off to any options,” says Brewer. “I read scripts and audition for films. I want to do everything – movies, TV shows. I’d like something in action. In musical theater, my dream role is Clara in ‘The Light in the Piazza.’ As an actor, I feel if you can be in all three mediums, you’ll always have work. You’re unstoppable.”

September 2014
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