As alluring and stunningly beautiful as ever, Academy Award nominee Virginia Madsen was struggling for recognition over a year ago, that is until a film called Sideways stepped into her life. Now Madsen is on a roll with the Harrison Ford thriller Firewall about to come out, followed by the likes of Astronaut Farmer and Number 23. But it’s the kind of Hollywood that the former 80s starlet craves and as she confesses to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Question: Are you surprised at how well you’re actually doing and how much Sideways has kind of impacted on your career?
Madsen: Well the whole year was about surprise and with all that press. But what I was really hoping is that it would get me a job and then, what I really wanted was to work solid for two years. I wanted to be financially secure and I wanted to be booked in advance. That’s what every actor dreams of – more than being famous. And so that came to me and now I guess I’ve gone beyond surprised to kind of stunned. Just like, I can’t believe it’s still happening when this is what I wanted. So I was fortunate to get what I needed and when I really needed work I could get it.
Question: Do you think that since getting renewed success in this time of your life you will regard it differently to as if you’d suddenly achieved success 20 years ago?
Madsen: Oh, yeah.
Question: I mean you were successful 20 years ago, but it was a different kind of success I guess.
Madsen: Yes, and it was fleeting.
Question: You were always known as the Candyman girl, or you were always known as the sex girl – the girl who takes her clothes off or whatever.
Madsen: Yeah, and it was whatever was happening at the time, because it was so fleeting, and there was also this struggle. My career was always a struggle and it will be again, but that’s kind of the nature of our business, but it will never be like that because I’ve grown so much.
Question: Yeah, you must think of yourself as a better actress now than you were 20 years ago – or a different kind of actress.
Madsen: Yeah, I mean now I’m more confident, more secure and I’m more daring. I thought I was always daring because I experimented so much, but now I’m bringing my own self into my characters and showing more who I am which is going to be more difficult.
Question: Do people regard you differently now that you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award?
Madsen: Yes but I think they regard me differently because I regarded myself differently, before it ever happened. And once people became aware of me, a lot of people weren’t really aware of where I was or what I was doing, and I think I was treated with more respect and appreciation. That was really nice, because they could finally see what I’d wanted to do, and the kind of acting I’d wanted to do. I was finally given the opportunity to do that, it was embraced and then Sideways became a really hugely successful film.
Question: So do you take on a movie like Firewall at the back of your mind, partly because it’s a big studio movie that is likely to get seen by so many people and then people will say, oh, she’s back and working? Or is there more to the decision than that?
Madsen: Oh, there was definitely more to that decision, because I decided that I wanted it all in my next picture. Thomas Church, from Sideways, had a very good point, and it stuck with me, because neither one of us had taken a job yet. And he said, I’m starting to get a lot of offers, Virginia and I said which one are you going to do and he said whatever our next job is we should honour Sideways with whatever we choose because it’s part of that success. So we can’t just go off and do crap for money. I said you’re absolutely right, it can’t be about money, it has to be everything that we want it to be. So I said, okay, here’s what I want, I’m going to put it out there in the universe and see if it comes back. I want a really good script, I want it to be a studio picture because I want to take that step up in the industry, because I need that. I hadn’t been in the studio since 1985, you know. So I wanted a studio picture. I wanted a really powerful leading man who wasn’t afraid of me and if I was going to be his leading lady I wanted to be his partner, I didn’t want to be just the wife in the background who didn’t have much to do. And I’m not 30 years old, so how’s that going to happen? And of course it was Harrison Ford, and so when it came I was like, oh, my God, that’s what I wanted. So I was really nervous going into it because it was so what I wanted, and Harrison did a lot for me in this movie and I’ll always be grateful to him for what he’s done, because not only did he get me the job but he fought for every human moment that I had in that movie.
He wanted us to have a real marriage – that’s what I wanted. He wanted the family to be present in the film as a family – that’s what I wanted. And he wanted me to be take some action, not just be cowering in the house.
Question: So was the experience of doing a big studio movie what you expected it to be?
Madsen: Yes but the filmmaking experience was difficult because it was very hard for the filmmakers – they had a terrible foe and that was weather, and everybody experiences difficulty with weather on a movie but this was unbelievable. I mean – they shot in Vancouver not just for financial reasons but because they wanted rain. There was rain through three-fourths of that script – it was always raining, raining, raining – and the sun would come out in the very end. And then, of course, Vancouver was experiencing a drought and we were shooting in a glass house and you saw nothing but sky… (Laughter)
Madsen: And I would feel so terrible. I’d be driving to work and there would be no clouds at all and I would just go, oh, God, I feel so bad for them, so I’d get to work and there’d be nothing to shoot. So it was tough.
Question: Now this movie and Sideways have led you on to a lot of other things now. You’ve got like three movies coming out right?
Question: How different are they?
Madsen: It’s very unusual. This whole situation is just… Sometimes I think when am I going to wake up, this is like a dream.
Question: How different are the three characters that you play?
Madsen: Well, in the Robert Altman picture, A Prairie Home Companion, I’m an angel.
Question: – literally?
Madsen: Literally. So I’m kind of just like walking around being weird. That’s what I felt like. Ultimately I don’t really think what I did works but there’s one scene that does. But it was an experiment and I’m really glad I did it and I just loved being there. … Then i did Astronaut Farmer which is with Billy Bob Thornton.
I’m his wife. I’m Mrs. Farmer, and I’m Audie which was my favourite name I ever had in a movie. We’re very eccentric people in this movie and I loved that, because the Polish brothers directed it so they’ve kind of got this slightly slanted way of looking at the world.
Question: He’s a very funny guy too, Billy Bob.
Madsen: Yeah. And he’s so wonderful, because this is the kind of character I love seeing Billy Bob play, when he’s the hero, I don’t really like him when he’s Bad Santa. (Laughter)
Madsen: So he’s a real American hero in this movie and, he dreams of being an astronaut so he’s building a rocket in the barn. And the whole family is his mission control and we believe that he can go into space. And, of course, when the FAA finds out that he’s trying to buy rocket fuel on the black market, they descend and then it’s the struggle of whether they’re going to let him fly or not. So it’s a classic story.
Question: And then you’re doing the Jim Carrey movie Number 23, what is that?
Madsen: Well, as long as you promise me you’re not going to get obsessed with it. Just go on the Internet and Google the number 23 and all this stuff will come up about he actual number 23. It’s the enigma of number 23, and it’s a very bizarre world. It’s things like, the earth is on a 23-degree axis, we get 23 chromosomes from each parent, the blood circulates at 23 seconds around the body which is actually not entirely true – because I don’t think that any of this is real – but, the Mayan calendar ends on December 23rd. There’s the 23 Psalm. And as people get more involved in this, people become literally obsessed…
Question: And does Carrey play somebody obsessed with this?
Madsen: Yes. And the number comes into his life and it’s this man descending into madness and I’m trying to pull him out. I play his wife and I’m the one who gives him the book. I just think it’s kind of cool but he gets completely and utterly obsessed, and I think this is going to be a tremendous performance by him, and he wants to do this kind of thing. He’s ready to do this kind of performance, So he’s rolling the dice, but I’m so glad that I get to be there to watch the actor do that, because I love working with him.
Question: I mean this is pretty impressive. I mean, let’s see now – Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton and Jim Carrey.
Madsen: And they’re all so manly and handsome! One of these days one of ’em’s gotta be single, you know!
Question: As you said before, you wouldn’t knock Harrison out of bed, right.
Madsen: No, I wouldn’t kick him out. (Laughter)
Question: Are you back in the saddle at all, dating wise? In a manner of speaking. (Laughter)
Madsen: No I’m too busy. I mean this is what’s happened now is that now I’m too busy. I think I guess it wouldn’t be entirely fair. I mean I was going on quite a few dates, and not having a lot of fun with that. I was going out with this one man who’s very nice and it was like our second date or something – and so he dropped me off and said, so when can I see you again and I went, ah, oh, in three months. And he was like, oh, you’re kidding, and I go, no, ‘I’ve gotta go do this movie and I’m so sorry. So he’s now engaged to somebody else, so I missed that boat but in that moment I realised, wow, it’s not fair for me to date anybody now. Because now I’m that girl – see you in a few months, career first.
Question: How old is your son now?
Madsen: He’s 11.
Question: So you devoted 11 years of your life to raising your child. How are you able to balance motherhood and career?
Madsen: You can’t. I’m such a failure right now as a mother. I mean. I’m working so much now, but his dad and I built houses a block away from each other – brand new houses. So he’s quite literally ‘there, right down the block. And I’m filming in town so that makes a big difference too so. it’s like the absence of me is sort of replaced with the big presence of his dad But it’s hard though. we’re trying.
Question: Do what you’re going to be doing after the 23 movie?
Madsen: Um, I’m actually talking right now – they’re negotiating for another project which would go immediately after that…
Question: Which you can’t talk about.
Madsen: No, in case it doesn’t happen, I don’t want to jinx it. But it would keep me home again, which would be great. And then I think, the movies tare now going to start coming out so this is going to be like a whole different thing that I’ve never really dealt with. So I’m just going to keep going until, I feel it’s time to take some time off and then take a break. And if I really don’t find after this next one, which is another experiment why be safe now? So then if it isn’t like the absolute best thing that comes after that I can afford to take some time off. And I’d like to take my son to China.
Question: Why China?
Madsen: Because I want to see the three gorges before they’re filled, and they’re halfway. don’t understand anything about that culture and it’s going to become so much a part of our lives that I think it’s kind of important to get to know it. I’d like to show him, the Great Wall and show him another culture. But these are good problems to have.
Question: Exactly. I don’t really have much sympathy for you quite frankly.
Madsen: I know. You don’t need to.