The Girl Who Played Grace On The Nanny Is Unrecognizable Today

From 1993 until 1999, Fran Drescher delighted viewers on "The Nanny" with her character's impeccable wardrobe, her snarky remarks, and her endearing relationship she with the preppy Sheffield children. Now, three decades after the pilot episode, the cast of "The Nanny" is unrecognizable, especially the show's child stars, who have grown up and embarked on their own careers outside of the sitcom.

Among them is Madeline Zima, the girl who played Max's youngest and cleverest child Grace. She practically grew up in front of the camera, and now, she's absolutely killing it on screen. Although some cast members from "The Nanny" dropped out of show business, Zima's career skyrocketed after playing Grace Sheffield. She's gone on to star in several films, shows, and at one point even ventured into writing and directing her own project. From her first ever role in 1992 up until now, the actor has had an incredible transformation and is barely recognizable today in her 30s. However, there's so much more to Zima than many realize, including her true feelings about her time on "The Nanny," her charitable efforts, and her next big Hollywood role.

She comes from a family of actors

The acting bug didn't just bite Madeline Zima; it bit her two younger sisters, too. Vanessa and Yvonne Zima have been acting since around the time that their elder sister broke into the industry, and they've even worked together a handful of times. Vanessa's first role was on "The Nanny," playing Grace Sheffield's friend, and in 2011, she co-starred in "The Absent" with Yvonne. The two younger sisters also worked together on the 2016 TV movie, "Killing Mommy," although it seems that Madeline is less inclined to collaborate with her sisters on projects.

Zima was asked where the family's knack for acting came from while in an interview with Switchbox TV, to which she jokingly replied, "I think that we just don't have any other skill sets." Zima went on to describe Yvonne as an "avid, voracious reader," saying that storytelling comes naturally to her youngest sister and that Vanessa has always been a very creative person. Zima explained, "It probably comes from our mom, I mean my mom was a dance instructor and she was in plays and she wrote a book on how to run a dance studio. She was just very much like a renaissance woman."

Madeline Zima felt like a prop on The Nanny

Rewatching some of our favorite shows years later means we're likely to pick up on things that we didn't beforehand. There are plenty of things only adults would notice on "The Nanny," but few probably picked up on the fact that Madeline Zima wasn't actually enjoying her time on the show. Her character Grace had unresolved issues, leading her to attend therapy and speak to imaginary friends, but the actor's unhappiness revolved around how she was treated by others while working on the sitcom.

In 2013, Zima spoke with TV Page about how she felt back then, claiming that she'd had positive experiences on the sets of other projects like "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," but things were different on "The Nanny." She remarked, "There was just a kindness and a sensitivity that didn't exist on the set of 'The Nanny.' They treated me more like a prop than like a human being. At a certain point, I can't pretend like it was some great experience anymore." Zima had spent many years speaking positively about the show due to its massive fanbase, but eventually she grew tired of pretending, saying, "I would rather be honest."

She still valued her time on the show

Although Madeline Zima admitted that her time on "The Nanny" was less than ideal, it turns out that her discussion about it with TV Page was actually meant to be off the record. In a 2019 interview with KTLA 5, Zima explained that while she stands by her statement, it doesn't mean that she lost sight of how valuable the work was for her as an actor. "I am grateful for 'The Nanny' and the experience ... It changed me as a person, but for the best," she remarked.

In 2020, Zima further discussed what it was like to work on the sitcom as a child actor and practically grow up in front of the camera in an interview for "The Morning Show." She said that she acted on "The Nanny" between the ages of 6 and 13, adding that "those are pretty intense years to be involved in something like this!" However, in this time, Zima got to learn the ins and outs of the industry up close at an impressionable age. "I got a firsthand masterclass in sitcom comedy and professionalism," she explained. And to top it all off, Zima viewed Fran Drescher as a remarkable role model because she had been the brains behind "The Nanny" to begin with.

Working with Glenne Headly was a turning point for Madeline Zima

The way child stars are treated early in their career can forever form how they grow up and whether they decide to pursue acting in their adult life. By the time "The Nanny" wrapped, Madeline Zima had been in quite a few films and television shows, but it wasn't until she was barely a teen that she made the decision to continue acting long term.

Zima had been cast in the 2000 TV movie "The Sandy Bottom Orchestra," and this changed everything for her. As she told Cryptic Rock in a 2019 interview, "At the time, I was really interested in Greek mythology. ... That film, and the way Glenne Headly and Tom Irwin treated me, changed me as a person and artist. I look at that as a turning point that I decided I wanted to pursue this. I felt that storytelling had a lineage all the way back to ancient Greece that can be a profound way for people to heal and understand their lives."

From that point, Zima's career flourished as she went on to book parts on shows like "King of the Hill" and "Gilmore Girls," as well as movies like "A Cinderella Story" and "Looking for Sunday." Where she may not have had the most positive experience working in the industry as a kid, Zima now knew what it felt like to be respected and uplifted while working with other actors.

She didn't relate to her Californication character

An incredible opportunity came knocking when Madeline Zima scored an audition for the Showtime series "Californication," but it wasn't an easy process. As she explained to Moviehole in 2007, "When I auditioned with David [Duchovny], I felt sure enough of myself to take a few risks ... But then I had an audition for the network that was ... well, not the best." Zima tried the scene a couple of times and, despite a rocky start, she managed to deliver. Later, the actor was thrilled to learn that she'd landed the recurring role of Mia Lewis, a manipulative and scheming teen who blackmails, lies, and steals Hank's writing.

While speaking with MovieJunk in 2022, Zima emphasized how little she related to her character on "Californication," yet how she was still able to channel her own experiences into the antagonist she played. "I didn't relate to the character that much, but I knew people who were like that character. I grew up around those kind of girls, and I had a lot of empathy and understanding for that kind of ... need for attention and love in a misguided way," she explained. It was her first recurring role since her time on "The Nanny," and her incredible performance undoubtedly helped her secure her next one.

Madeline Zima joined the cast of Heroes in 2009

"Heroes" was a breakout hit for several actors, including Hayden Panettiere, who went through a stunning transformation over the show's four seasons. Madeline Zima was already established and had been acting for more than 17 years when she was cast in the role of Gretchen Berg, who roomed with and had a major crush on Panettiere's Claire Bennet in Season 4 (resulting in a steamy kiss). Although Zima's character was only present for half of the episodes of the final season, she had also been wrapping up her final appearances on "Californication" and working on a couple of movies, so the experience served her well.

Zima spoke about joining the cast of "Heroes" while at the 2009 BAFTA/LA Tea Party. When asked if she would be playing a good character or an antagonist on the show, she teased, "Well, you never really know actually, because they tell you one thing but then they'll ... set up a whole foundation and rip it out from underneath you as far as ... twists and turns are concerned on that show." Without giving too much away, Zima enthused that the uncertainty of what her character will endure on a show is all part of the fun of acting.

She has advocated for the homeless community

Back in 2016, among the many initiatives Californians had to vote on was Proposition HHH, or the Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond. The measure would allow $1.2 billion in bonds to be  as funding to support those experiencing homelessness, including the building of permanent supportive housing, temporary shelters, and mental healthcare. Anyone who has passed through downtown Los Angeles has seen the homeless crisis firsthand, so this was an important measure for many city officials, as well as locals like Madeline Zima.

In November of 2016, the actor advocated for Californians to vote "yes" on Proposition HHH in a tearful video for Yes on H in which she spoke of her own experience with the homeless community. Zima said that she used to volunteer at a shelter and became close with another volunteer named Andrew. She soon realized that he was also experiencing homelessness, as she explained, "One night driving home from a friend's house in Beverly Hills, I saw him sleeping ... on the street. ... You don't know what it feels like to not have a bed or a roof or even a car. It was weird to look into somebody's bedroom and realize that his backpack was his pillow." The matter was clearly close to Zima's heart as she spoke through tears and, thankfully, the measure ultimately passed.

Madeline Zima auditioned for Twin Peaks without realizing it

Twenty-seven years after David Lynch captivated audiences with the groundbreaking murder mystery series "Twin Peaks," its third season finally hit Showtime. "Twin Peaks: The Return" was released in 2017 as an 18-episode limited series that reintroduced Special Agent Dale Cooper and enjoyed an incredible critical reception. Another Lynch project in the works was a big deal, so while it was being made, production was incredibly hush-hush.

Madeline Zima appeared in two episodes of the series, and the role was as much of a surprise to us as it was to her. In a 2017 interview with Vulture, the actor described the audition process for it, stating, "It wasn't like a normal audition. ... I went in there and they asked me some questions, mainly I was just meant to talk. ... I didn't even know what I was auditioning for, I had no idea."

Even though rumors were floating around that Lynch was considering her for "Twin Peaks: The Return," casting had given her a completely different title and there was no script to work from, so she didn't believe it. "[S]o much in Hollywood is hot air and B.S. I've just learned to be either discriminating or ... not cynical, per se, but wary of most projects. Especially things that sound too good to be true, like something involving David Lynch," Zima explained. Nevertheless, she got to play the character of Tracey for two episodes — an absolute dream for any fan of Lynch's work.

Madeline Zima made her directorial debut in 2018

After spending 25 years acting in various films and shows, Madeline Zima took a huge step in her career and made her directorial debut in 2018. Her short film "Warm Human Magic" is described as an anti-romantic comedy and was both written and directed by Zima. It starred her younger sister, Yvonne, and even resulted in a talented new filmmaker nomination at the Madrid International Film Festival.

Speaking with NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) in December 2018, Zima explained that her film was based on experiences she had in her 20s and that the concept was intended to be largely relatable. When asked what advice she had for aspiring filmmakers, Zima recalled the insight she heard from Francis Ford Coppola while listening to him speak at the Festival of Disruption. "You should learn and develop that inner voice that says what's right and wrong, and use that and trust that over and over again," she explained.

She was cast on Season 4 of Doom Patrol

Fans of DC Comics are likely familiar with HBO Max's rendition of "Doom Patrol," its series about superhero outcasts coming together to fight evil. After a successful three-season run, the show's fourth season introduced Madeline Zima as Casey Brinke, also known as Space Case, in 2022. Playing a superhero at least once is likely on many an actor's bucket list, and as excited as Zima was to take on the role, she said that it's never easy to join an already established cast.

In a December 2022 interview with Popternative, the actor explained, "It's so 'new kid on the block.' ... Like, 'Where do I sit at lunch? Am I gonna make any friends?' Like, 'I hope somebody likes me because I'm stuck in Atlanta for, you know, five months, and I'd love to not be alone the entire time.'"

Luckily, Zima has had years of experience walking onto new sets and, despite her concerns, she clearly brought something special to the character. Show creator Jeremy Carver, for one, couldn't be happier with her performance. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly following the actor's debut on "Doom Patrol," he said, "I can't speak highly enough of the bright-eyed nuance that she brings to the character. It's really wonderful to watch that character and Madeline progress over the course of the season."

Madeline Zima will star alongside Megan Fox in Subservience

In her three decades on-screen, Madeline Zima has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including with John Ritter in "Lethal Vows," Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker in "My Own Love Song," and several of Hollywood's leading women in 2019's "Bombshell." For Zima's next project, we'll get to see her star in the sci-fi thriller "Subservience" alongside Megan Fox, perhaps best known for her role in "Transformers," and Michele Morrone of "365 Days." 

The film will center around an artificially intelligent home aide that gains sentience, leading to dark consequences. The co-president of the production company behind the film, Millennium Media, released a statement about their supporting cast, which read, "Madeline [Zima], Matilda [Firth], and Andrew [Whipp] each bring something unique to the table and are a thrill to watch. Featuring an incredibly timely story about artificial intelligence, these actors are the best group to bring our vision to life." While a release date has still yet to be announced, we can't wait to see yet another one of Zima's incredible performances.