This weekend, Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center was filled with 60,000 film, comic book and pop culture fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder at Dallas Fan Expo.
A main attraction during the expo was Cosplay Alley, where some of the world's biggest cosplayers, like Jessica Nigri, Leanna Vamp and Karli Woods, met with fans. Local cosplayers Dee Rich and Mcubed Cosplay were also there.
Among some of the biggest names in cosplay stood a small, 8-year-old girl on a platform, trying to meet fans eye-to-eye. Dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, she was radiant and adorable as she took photos.
But Haltom City native Maddy Lea is not in the cosplay game to just be darling. She is fascinated with the horror scene — her favorite cosplay character is Pennywise from the Stephen King novel and film IT, she says. She loves being scary, and the horror character niche reflects her aspiration of becoming a horror actress. But Maddy Lea does not like watching horror movies and does not like being scared.
“I got started in horror because I got dressed up and had my makeup done, then went to Six Flags Fright Fest,” she says. “A guy [who worked there] asked me, ‘You’re scary — would you like to scare with me?’ So I started scaring him and other people, and I just started loving it.”
Maddy Lea's mom, Tammy (who chose not to disclose the family's last name because men have sent her daughter messages in the past), says the 8-year-old was invited to perform at the Dallas premiere of IT. Maddy Lea scared everyone in the theater, then went to the lobby and ate ice cream instead of seeing the movie.
“When I look scary, I can’t believe it’s me,” Maddy Lea says.
In the history of Dallas Fan Expo, Maddy Lea is the youngest professional cosplayer. Tammy believes Maddy Lea was invited because she is so young.
Tammy makes all of Maddy Lea's costumes and does her makeup. Some costumes are cheap, but her most popular, Pennywise, was about $150, Tammy says. The cosplay isn’t always meant to be screen-accurate.
“We tweak the costumes a little bit,” Tammy says. “She’s gotten noticed with her cosplays because they are not screen-accurate cosplays. It’s like we take a character, like Pennywise, and do it like he had a child.”
The reason behind this method is to change the stigma of cosplay. Tammy says there are not a lot of kids in cosplay, and a lot of it isn’t appropriate for kids.
Outside of cosplay, Maddy Lea is a model, dancer and actress. She first walked at the Mesquite Arts Center for The Next Generation Dance Company and was in a commercial for Great Wolf Lodge. Maddy Lea was in J.D. Glasscock’s short film Weak Spot, which won an award for best social commentary and was nominated for best political statement at the 13th annual Action on Film Festival in Las Vegas. She works with Six Flags Over Texas every year during Fright Fest.
Besides practicing in haunted houses and landing roles, Maddy Lea’s growth in acting can be attributed to YouTube, says her father, Darryl.
“It’s amazing for an 8-year-old to watch YouTube to get into character,” he says.
Maddy Lea has almost 600 followers on Instagram, but the work she’s gotten so far in her career is from her growth in the cosplay community.
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“Instagram is a place where we post her pictures and things that she’s done and where people can follow her career,” Tammy says.
Tammy says Maddy Lea was bullied in school because she was different with her shaved head. Maddy Lea wanted the style for her fifth birthday after seeing the music video “Shut Up and Dance With Me” by Walk the Moon. Maddy Lea liked the style of the actress’ hair and copied it with hot pink color.
The bullying got so bad that Maddy Lea became home-schooled. She says the bullying fueled her to do cosplay and to show that people can and need to be themselves.
Maddy Lea’s next cosplay goal is to be Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty at Dallas Fan Days from Oct. 19-21 at the Irving Convention Center.