7 Madison actors and directors to stream now
Familiarize yourself with the work of Sarayu Blue, Bradley Whitford and the makers of several spider-man movies
Hunkered down in our homes for who know how long, we find ourselves in need of entertaining distractions. If this is to be an enforced period to Netflix and chill, let’s do just that — but in a Madison-centric fashion.
Madison has produced a plethora of successful TV and film actors and directors, and much of their work can be found on demand. The following list just scratches the surface and is limited to what we could find on Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Add the search function for Amazon Prime, Disney+ (or insert favorite service here) and see where the rabbit hole takes you.
Born in Madison and a graduate of Madison West High School, Indian-American actress Sarayu Blue stars in several current Netflix offerings. Believe it or not, she’s now playing the role of a tough-talking Centers for Disease Control agent trying to find the source of a fatal virus spreading worldwide. Yep. And the show, “Medical Police,” is a nutso comedy. Seriously, it’s exactly what we need to cut through the heaviness of the current standstill we’re all in.
Also look for Blue in the Netflix series “No Tomorrow” (2016), as the lead in “I Feel Bad” (2018) and in small roles in the feature film “Blockers” (2018) and the Netflix original movie “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” released earlier this year.
Sink into the couch and watch a fast-talking, whip-smart liberal White House chief of staff played by Bradley Whitford, a Madison East High School graduate. There are seven seasons of “The West Wing” (1999-2006) on Netflix. A grey and bearded Whitford reprised his role in a parody sketch with fellow “West Wing” alum Alison Janney on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in 2016 — just before Donald Trump moved into the West Wing IRL.
Also check out Whitford’s Emmy-winning performances on “Transparent” (on Amazon) and “The Handmaid’s Tale” (on Hulu).
No list of Madison-born actors could fail to include Chris Farley. The outsized comedian spent the first half of the 1990s on “Saturday Night Live.” Forty-plus clips of his performances — as motivational speaker Matt Foley and “da Bears” fan Bill Swerski among others — can be binged on Hulu and YouTube.
A touching tribute to Farley can be found on Netflix at the end of fellow “SNL” veteran Adam Sandler’s 2018 comedy special “100% Fresh.” While photos and video clips of Farley play on a jumbo screen behind him, Sandler plays guitar and sings about “My boy, Chris Farley.” The song includes a lyric about the day “we flew to Madison to bury our friend.” Farley was only 33 when he died of a drug overdose on Dec. 18, 1997. Watch Sandler play the song on “SNL” via Youtube.
There’s a web of Madison actors and directors who were involved — coincidentally, most likely — in several of the “Spider-Man” movies.
Marc Webb — a Madison resident from 18 months of age until he graduated from West High School in 1992 — directed the 2012 reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its 2014 sequel “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” both of which can be watched on Amazon.
As it happens, Madison native J.D. Walsh appears briefly in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” as an online instructor talking about how batteries work for Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield. The clip can be found here.
Walsh also has the distinction of writing, producing and directing Hulu’s first scripted show, “Battleground,” in 2012. The short-lived show — filmed in Madison — was about a West Wing-esque campaign for a Senate seat taking place in Wisconsin — a battleground state, get it? See the trailer here.
And Tyne Daly, of “Cagney and Lacey” fame, cemented her place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by playing Anne Marie Hoag, director of the U.S. Department of Damage Control, in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017). Watch it on Amazon.
(Incidentally, Sarayu Blue is in the MCU, too, having placed Dr. Jazuat on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
Daly, who was born in Madison, started her TV career in 1954. She appeared on iconic shows such as “Columbo” and “Magnum P.I.” She won Emmy Award for her performances in “Cagney and Lacey” (1981-1988) and “Judging Amy” (1999-2005).
On Hulu, look for Daly on episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Burn Notice” and “Modern Family.” Daly was a regular on the 2018 revival of “Murphy Brown,” playing bar owner Phyllis. In this clip, she talks across the bar with Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown.
The original spider-man filmmaker, however, was Bill Rebane who shot the campy, low-budget creature feature “The Giant Spider Invasion” north of Wausau in 1975. Madison Magazine columnist Doug Moe caught up with the 81-year-old Rebane for a story published in February 2019.
“The Giant Spider Invasion” can be watched in its entirety for free on YouTube.
The film was also the focus of a 2013 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K, during which droll and snarky comments are spoken during so-called terrible movies by a spacecraft worker and his robot friends.
One of the first riffs uttered comes when Bill Rebane’s name appears during the opening credits. “Ah, Bill Rebane. One of the finest directors to come out of northwest Wisconsin,” is said with probably more than a modicum of truth.
The MST3K episode can be screened on YouTube, too.
With any luck, by the time you watch all the above, the current global nightmare will be over. In the mean time, happy viewing to you.
Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.