When it comes to personally relatable storylines, none have touched Martha Madison’s emotional core more deeply than Belle’s recent DAYS plight as a daughter persevering through the imminent death of her ailing mother.
“I know that world. I live in that world already in my real life,” shares Madison, whose own mother, Barbara, suffers from frontotemporal dementia and currently resides in a hospice facility in Texas. “This story was a really special intersection between real life and my fiction life. It felt really special to me.”
While Belle battled with her father, John, over what steps to take when Marlena slipped into a seemingly irreversible coma, Madison had already faced similar situations with her siblings. “My mom is at the end of her life now,” explains Madison. “I have two sisters [Alison and Bo], and through this 15-year experience, we haven’t always agreed on the best way to approach her care. So I feel like I got to draw on a lot of personal experience for this story.”
As a result, Madison didn’t see the need to do any research prior to tackling the tale. “There are few things in the world that I feel I can call myself an expert at, but caring for a dying parent is one of the things I know as much about as you can probably know,” she contends. “I’ve prepared myself for it as much as I think a human can prepare. So this was all a world that I felt I knew already. When you have some personal experiences like that to draw on for a story like this, the outcome can be really relatable and, hopefully, moving.”
Madison rates the work that she and her TV father, Drake Hogestyn (John), did throughout the heartrending plot as some of their best. “I don’t know what happened in a lot of those scenes, but we were so connected,” reflects the actress. “We both took the material we were given and saw it very much the same way.”
Madison’s return for this powerful story turn marked her latest in what’s become a revolving-door tenure on DAYS. “As always, I felt gratitude,” she says about being asked back. “I love the work, I love the people, and I’ve watched the show my whole life. It’s always a nice experience to be a part of that fabric. Of course, I wish it was more consistent. But you know, it’s not up to me.”
That lack of consistency and a contract with the soap, however, did allow Madison, her husband, restaurateur A.J. Gilbert, and their 4-year-old daughter, Charley, to move back to her native Texas in 2017, where she could be closer to her mother. “The move happened for a lot of reasons,” begins Madison. “I wasn’t really working anymore in entertainment and, to be honest, the cost of living is a lot higher in Los Angeles, especially when you have a child in school. So we weighed all of that … And my sisters really had been carrying the weight of [caring for my mother] for a long time. It just felt like a good time to come home, be an extra set of hands, eyes and ears, and really settle into a more domestic life with our daughter.”
The transition has been fairly seamless. “I’m from Houston, so Dallas is still a fairly new city to me,” notes Madison. “We’ve been enjoying exploring the city and getting to know where all the cool places are to go eat and to do the things we like to do. Dallas is pretty cool. There are tons of great restaurants and really awesome museums, things that are both family-oriented but also city-oriented for those city folks like me. I have not been bored a single minute here, which kind of surprised me. That’s not how I remembered Texas.”
Of course, having a home base in Dallas did make coming back to DAYS “a little more challenging because I have an almost-5-year-old and traveling is always an extra variable,” admits Madison, who mostly spent weekdays in Los Angeles, returning to Dallas for weekends. “DAYS also has so many dark weeks and that broke it up a little bit. Being able to have a week or two home in between definitely eased things a lot, and my husband, too, is just a rock star. He’s a great partner for that kind of stuff. He was able to be there to hold the fort down while I was away.”
Meaning he stepped in as Mr. Mom? “Here’s the secret,” delivers Madison with a chuckle. “He’s already Mr. Mom. I don’t cook. I work a full-time job. A.J. has a more flexible schedule and really tends to our child, which is nice. He focuses on raising Charley while I’m working. He’s definitely hands-on with her. And he’s the cook of our house.”
Knowing all was well taken care of on the home front allowed Madison to totally relax and concentrate on life as Belle, which meant reconnecting with all of her Salem friends and family, like TV sister Alison Sweeney (Sami). “For my first couple of runs on the show, Ali and I really never worked together,” says Madison. “This was one of the first times we’d ever really gotten some material together and we loved it. It was so fun. We enjoyed that dynamic. I loved it because I have sisters and we have definitely faced off in a not-so-unsimilar fashion at times in the past.”
Madison was also happy to share on- and off-screen time with Brandon Beemer, who plays Belle’s husband, Shawn. “We’ve really stayed in touch,” she notes. “We don’t talk every day, but we touch base every once in a while, and if we’re in the same city, we certainly get together. I love Brandon. He’s a fixture in my life. He’s someone I can always call when I’m feeling worried or insecure about my position over [at DAYS] because he’s always in the same boat that I am.”
Another co-star Madison was thrilled to work with again — after over a decade — was Farah Fath, who plays Belle’s bestie Mimi. “That was amazing for a lot of reasons,” relays Madison. “Farah texted me and told me she was coming back. She already knew that I had been back. We were both really excited. Then she got there and was sick for the first couple of days. Finally, I said, ‘Farah, are you pregnant?’ She was. She had just found out and hadn’t told anybody else. So we were collaborating on how to best get through each scene without her throwing up.”
All the reconnections, however, couldn’t make Madison forget about her family back home in Dallas. Not that she really had much of a chance to miss them. “Charley learned how to FaceTime me and would [call] me from her iPad about 30 times a day,” muses Madison. “Just because she thought it was funny that she could call me up whenever. She called me a couple of times very early in the morning. So, because of the time difference, I got some 5 a.m. wakeup calls.”
But Madison didn’t mind one bit. “She makes me smile,” says the proud mama. “And what better way to start off the day?”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: July 27
The Name Game: Madison was born Martha Anne Butterworth.
Three’s Company: Madison and hubby A.J. Gilbert celebrated 11 years of marriage on August 25. They have one daughter, Charley, 4.
Born To Be Belle: “I grew up watching DAYS OF OUR LIVES from when I was 8 years old. I remember when Belle became a character. I remember when she grew up and Kirsten [Storms, Maxie, GH] started playing her. She was one of my favorite characters. When I got to take over the part, it was a pretty monumental event in my life.”
Her Claire Bear: “I always love working with Olivia [Rose Keegan, Claire]. She’s a doll and has got a heart of gold. She’s so modest, so talented and beautiful. I love that combination, when someone has it all and doesn’t even really know it.”
House Beautiful: “They’re not lying when they say everything is bigger in Texas. Here, everybody has a big house. It’s no big deal. I call ours ‘the castle’. We joke about it because we have an entire second floor that we don’t really use. It’s just sitting there. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
Shop Stops: “I shop at Target, and I shop at H&M, and I shop at Nordstrom, just like everybody else.”
Getting Social: Follow her on Twitter @Marth27 and on Instagram @marth27.
Living in Texas hasn’t kept Madison from pursuing her love for acting. “I can’t give up this stuff,” she says. “I just signed on with an agency in Atlanta and a great new manager in New York who’s covering the market. What’s great about living in Dallas is I have a bigger scope of opportunity out here. I can go east or west. I’m getting everything set up so that hopefully, I can work more this fall.”
In the interim, Madison can be seen in the newly released film To the Beat on Netflix. “It’s a teen dance movie, and Eric Martsolf [Brady, DAYS] plays my husband,” explains Madison, insisting that it isn’t weird switching gears with her daytime brother. “It’s odd, I guess, in wording. But this is a very cute, Disney-esque movie with a lot of silliness, comedy and high-fiving. So we didn’t have to go down the romantic rabbit hole, which was good.”
Madison was approached about doing the movie, which was co-created by Susan Bernhardt and daughter Jillian Claire [ex-Abigail, DAYS], by Bernhardt. “Susan reached out to me and said, ‘I’m writing this character and I am thinking of you. Can you do a really thick Southern accent?’ ” recounts Madison. “I was like, ‘Yes. Got it. I’m totally in.’ It’s a dance movie. I’m a former dancer. It was really fun.”
Best of all, the film has gotten “a huge response,” notes Madison. “So we just signed on to the sequel, which we’ll shoot in January in Los Angeles.”
Check out our new podcast, Dishing With Digest!