Madeleine Martin specializes in a character that hails from a proud pop-culture lineage: the moody brooder, the raven-haired goth, the mordant girl with the razor-straight bangs and the bottomless well of sadness behind her eyes. Once upon a time, these roles were the province of Christina Ricci (as wide-eyed Wednesday Addams) and, before that, little Winona Ryder as Lydia in Beetlejuice. Martin, though, is so good at playing this kind of macabre moppet, whether it’s on Showtime’s Californication or onstage in August: Osage County, that, well, you can’t help but worry about her just a little bit. After all, Ricci wound up going blonde, and Ryder wound up arrested. So how can a 15-year-old girl be so good at playing damaged youngsters and not be in danger of becoming one herself?
Well, for starters, there are rules. Californication, which follows Hollywood novelist Hank Moody and his misadventures with sex, spanking, boobs, barf, and drugs, isn’t suitable for kids to watch, let alone star in. So Martin, who plays Hank’s long-suffering daughter, Becca (“I’m the parent to my parents,” Martin says), wears an iPod at the script readings so she can’t hear the naughty scenes. “Though one time,” she says, “my iPod wasn’t charged. I didn’t want to say anything, so I just sat there. But the stuff I heard wasn’t very interesting.” She’s also got a guardian on set, though this has its own complications. “In the pilot, I was supposed to kiss this guy, and the child-welfare worker said, ‘You can’t do it, because you’ve never been kissed before.’ She made this whole big deal about how I’d never been kissed. I was like, ‘Thanks.’ ”
In fact, Martin is remarkably untwisted and not particularly sardonic (though she hits that “Thanks” joke perfectly, like a flat note on a trombone). Instead, she’s sweet. Kinda giggly. An advertisement for the well-adjusted, well-rounded New York kid. She was raised in Queens, and home-schooled by two academic parents. She took ballet. Granted, her dream role is Mary Tilford in The Children’s Hour. (“I think bad people are probably really fun to play.”) But if you’re still worried about her, consider this: When her older brother came to see her in August, playing the fragile, world-weary Jean, he didn’t tease or torture her afterward. His first words were congratulatory. He said, “Wow. That wasn’t you at all.”