Movies

Canadian YouTuber Madison Tevlin is starring opposite Woody Harrelson. Here’s how it happened

"She’s a badass chick who puts everybody in their place," Madison Tevlin says of her breakthrough role in the film ’Champions’
Courtney Shea
Madison Tevlin_3 (3)

You may remember Madison Tevlin as the 13-year-old from Toronto who went viral with her heartfelt rendition of John Legend’s “All of Me” back in 2015. Since then, Tevlin has landed a series of entertainment gigs (including her own talk show on CBC) and become a public advocate for people with Down syndrome. And this month, she stars in her first feature film, Champions, a feel-good sports comedy about a team of athletes with intellectual disabilities, and their coach, played by Woody Harrelson. “It’s been crazy and overwhelming,” Tevlin says. Here, the aspiring actress shares her dream co-star and the teacher who changed the trajectory of her career. 

Champions is officially in theatres. What have the last couple of weeks been like? 

They’ve been crazy and overwhelming. Since the movie came out, it’s just been boom, boom, boom: parties, press, red carpet, cameras flashing. The premiere was at a theatre in Lincoln Square in New York City. It was a really good time, and a lot of us hadn’t seen each other since filming the movie in 2021. The after-party was under a tent at a lounge in Columbus Circle. I drank Shirley Temples all night, and the dance floor was non-stop. We danced to “Tubthumping,” which is one of the big songs in the movie, and I requested “Shout” from the movie Animal House, which is one of my all-time favourites. 

Who were you wearing?

My mom was my stylist for the night. I love colour, but she loves all black. We decided on a black blazer but then added glittery sequin detail on the sleeves. Then my mom had the idea to do a big spray-paint-style basketball on the back because Champions is a basketball movie.

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What does your mom think of all of your success?

She is a proud mama—I really love her. She was very supportive when the chance to be in a movie came around. 

How did that happen? Did you audition?

They actually reached out to me through Instagram and asked me to send a tape. At the time, I didn’t think I wanted to do it. I just wanted to be a normal kid and hang out with my friends at school. My mom thought it was a good opportunity, and then one of my teachers was very supportive and confident that I could do it. I’m glad I listened. After doing this movie, I know what I want to do as a career. 

Are you a read-the-reviews kind of person? I ask because critics are raving about your performance as Cosentino.

I don’t really read reviews, but a lot of people have been telling me about them. I played the only girl player on the team, who’s brought in as a secret weapon, and the role felt like it was made for me. She’s a badass chick who puts everybody in their place. She’s also the only female member of the team, so it was fun to be surrounded by all the boys. My favourite scene was where I gave Johnny, another player, a pep talk in the locker room. I get to swear in that scene, which I loved.  

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Your co-star is Woody Harrelson. Were you intimidated to work opposite such a big star? 

He was the best to work with. I know Woody’s a big deal with Cheers and everything, but I just treat him like an actor and a normal person. He was really great about giving me pointers on how to become a better actor, and I loved that many of my character’s best lines were delivered at him. My favourite line from the movie was when I said, “You’re no McConaughey,” when asking about his character’s dating life. We still laugh about it when we see each other.

This is not your first brush with celebrity. What can you tell me about becoming a global viral sensation at 13? 

It wasn’t something I was expecting. I’d been working with a vocal coach because I love to sing, and I wanted to get better. I made that video for my family and friends, but also for myself. I wanted to show that just because I have Down syndrome, that doesn’t mean I can’t belt out an amazing song. I posted it around World Down Syndrome Day, and I guess people started sharing it on YouTube. From there, I was asked to be on some Canadian shows like Breakfast Television, and then I was on Good Morning America and a billboard in Times Square. That year, I was also chosen as an ambassador to the Special Olympics, which were in L.A. And then more recently, I got a chance to host my own TV show on CBC—an interview series called Who Do You Think I Am? I interviewed interesting people who are used to being unfairly judged like Annemieke Struyke, who is a female firefighter with alopecia, and Juice Boxx, who is a drag queen. These are people who are used to pushing past stereotypes, which I can relate to. 

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Is there a particular stereotype you find most frustrating? 

Sometimes people talk down to me like I’m a little kid because they think I’m not going to understand them. That drives me crazy! They look at me and think they have me all figured out. But just like everyone else, I have lots of different sides. I always say my disability is the least interesting thing about me—I have a lot going on. I love meeting new people and asking questions to get to know them for who they are. I love having big conversations and going to parties. I’m usually the last one to leave. 

You are also a bit of a TikTok celebrity with over 160,000 followers. What do you like about the platform?  

I’ve always loved TikTok for all the fashion content and dance videos. When I decided to join, I thought it could be a good place to share my message, by sharing my life and answering any questions people might have. For example, I posted a TikTok video about dating because people always ask me if people with Down syndrome can date. Of course they can! I already have my wedding planned. I love that I get messages all the time from people who say I inspire them to embrace their differences. It feels really good to know that there are people who look up to me, and then I also hear from the moms of people with intellectual disabilities, which means a lot. 

What’s next for you career-wise?

I’ve shot a couple of projects since Champions. The Adventures of Tikki the Wonder Dog, which is an animated movie about diversity and acceptance, and Screams From the Tower, a comedy set in the ’90s that we shot in Chicago. Now I’m back in L.A. and living it up. I moved here after I graduated from high school at Loretto College. Home will always be Toronto, but I think L.A. is the best place for me to work and represent the Down syndrome community. 

After Woody Harrelson, who’s next on your celebrity wish list? 

There are so many. At the top of the list are Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I met Drew when I went on The Drew Barrymore Show with some of my Champions castmates. It was so cool. She was really nice, and I was totally starstruck.