Audiences will be seeing quite a bit of Virginia Madsen this week when both The Number 23 and The Astronaut Farmer open simultaneously. In Number 23, Madsen plays the wife of a dog catcher [Jim Carrey] who becomes obsessed with a book that appears to be based on his life but ends with a murder that has yet to happen in real life. Madsen plays dual roles, also the alluring temptress who appears in the book. It’s quite the stretch – and new found career – for one of Hollywood’s most in demand actresses, who talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Question: When you read The Number 23, having played Harrison Ford’s wife prior to that, how important was it for you to make sure that this was not going to be simply a wife character that you really need to put some meat to this woman?
Madsen: Well I knew it would be different because it was Jim Carrey and I’d been trying to work with him for many years. There are certain actors that I’ve really wanted to work with and he was one of them and I wanted to do a drama with him. I didn’t want to do a comedy with him although I’d love to now that I know him. But Joel, you know I auditioned for St Elmo’s Fire.
Question: Oh my god, you must have been, what, twelve?
Madsen: I was really, I actually thought that was too young and that was when I was still in Chicago. But you know just the right projects like that come around and I so was very happy to play Agatha. I thought it would be a great journey and I loved the end scene when he’s sort of breaking down and then Joel asked what I thought of playing Fabrizia, to my shock and horror. I didn’t know everyone was going to be playing these dual roles. I assumed that Jim was going to be Fingerling but I didn’t think the rest of us would be doing the same thing. I thought they would be casting someone much younger to be Fabrizia. And so I was flattered by I was also – I didn’t know if I could pull it off.
Question: It must be gratifying though to be seen as both sexy and maternal I suppose, or sexy and sort of homely and wifely.
Madsen: Yeah. That’s the beauty of Joel having been around as long as I have is that Joel remembers me playing parts like that and I thought it was a great opportunity to sort of play with the two images of Virginia Madsen. You know, the two different ways that I am seen, and one was as the femme fatale and the other one was sort of the nice, nurturing woman like Mia in Sideways.
Question: Do it remind you of how fun it was to play the femme fatale when you were doing this or are you glad to have …..
Madsen: It was fun for about the first three hours. After that, you know every time I put her on and you know I have this wonderful make up artist and hairdresser and then she would sort of stare back at me defiantly from the mirror and saying, ‘Let me out. This is my turn to play’. And would ohhhhhh. And you know for a woman like me to be that character I have to really be brave. I have to really give myself permission to be that sexually powerful, you know, publicly. Because I’m modest. My nature, it’s just in my nature.
Question: In private you’re modest?
Madsen: Not necessarily in private. But I mean it’s just kind of in my nature, I’m a Virgo. So I had to – it took inspiration to put myself into that mindset and to be able to walk on the set with not very much on and to sort of wield my sexuality like a weapon.
Question: And with Jim Carry which is a very unusual …
Madsen: Yeah, who I was really attracted to as well and Jim was just so, god he was so sexy when he had that tattoo on and everything and he looked like sort of this rock n roll punk and I was like ‘Hey’. But I needed to dominate him and Jim’s not a man easily dominated, you know. He’s extremely masculine. He’s a very powerful individual. And he’s physically very tall, you know. He’s physically very strong and so I’d rather Jim throw me up against the wall than me throwing him up against the wall. But I had to deal with that kind of reversal. I actually quite liked throwing him up against the wall I have to say now that I think about it. I just didn’t like when I had to be hateful, when I had to throw my shoes at him. Because this is a woman who hates men, you know. She uses sexuality as a weapon and she despises men. You know, I had to look at him like ‘You pathetic idiot’.
Question: So she’s clearly the antithesis of you.
Madsen: Yeah. And I don’t hate men. I love men. So it’s kind of, I have a much healthier sexuality than she does. And the other thing was is it was very isolating being her because when I would stomp onto the set, like just I’m all that, and all the women would like suddenly have something they had to do. The women would get very very busy around me and not really talk to me. And then the men would sort of stop in their tracks and that was very fun in the beginning. But then they would walk way and not be able to talk to me. And then Jim wasn’t talking to me because he was listening to Nine Inch Nails on his iPod so by the end of the day I was lonely. So I’d want to put on my jeans and a sweatshirt and hang out with the crew. I didn’t like being that woman.
Question: Did you feel it necessary to do any kind of research at all on this whole 23 phenomenon before you ….
Madsen: Well I already knew about it. You know I have so much fun with all that kind of stuff, you know, the UFOs and the yeti and 23. I mean it’s all kind of – it’s just kind of a hobby. I really enjoy all those shows about ghosts that are on the Discovery Channel. So I already knew about it but of course once you start making a movie like this it’s everywhere, you know. The whole crew, I mean everybody was seeing 23s in their sleep and you know suddenly the cameraman, who had denied it from the beginning, and suddenly he said ‘Oh my god I’ve been married for 23 years. I met my wife on the twenty-third’. He was like ‘It’s true!’. And then, you know as I’m talking to you I look out the window and the address across the street is 323.
Question: Oh how funny.
Madsen: It’s everywhere. You’re going to start seeing it everywhere.
Question: Yeah great, that’s fabulous. That’s all I need.
Madsen: You know what? It’s fun. I don’t think it means the world’s going to end.
Question: When I was talking to Billy Bob Thornton recently he was telling me that he was tired of playing these assholes that he’s been playing but he really loves the Astronaut Farmer which is of course a very different film for him and he was saying it’s one of his favourite movies in quite some time. What’s your take on that film?
Madsen: I love when Billy Bob’s the hero. I mean, I know that everyone loves Bad Santa but I don’t like him like that. You know, terrific performance but I love when he’s the hero because it’s closer to who he is. And it’s just, you know, this film was important to me for another reason also because it was a family film.
Question: You haven’t done many of those actually.
Madsen: I know. There’s no alternative most of the time for families. And especially with like a few kids that are different ages, you know, the old kid is not going to want to go see animated feature. But all the kids will be able to enjoy the film and also I don’t want to go see the animated feature, you know what I mean? I want a film that I can enjoy like Eight Below. That was great because we could both enjoy that. And it’s a work season so the films that are out there now are really intense heavy dramas. There’s a lot of dysfunction. There’s a lot of violence and death and sex and there’s a lot of …. so what do you want to do if you want – you know, this is a happy movie. And I love that there’s finally a happy movie.
Question: Is she a very simple, supportive wife?
Madsen: She’s kind of eccentric don’t you think? I mean my god her husband’s building a rocket in the barn and she thinks that’s OK. And you know, she’s like ‘ Oh yeah. The Mission Control out here . Yeah, that’s a great idea.’
Question: It’s really a film about trying to fulfil your dreams though right?
Madsen: It brings these ideas of dreaming and going into space into the forefront, you know. Because we’ve sort of gotten really a little bit blasé about space travel and why it’s important to us. You know, when you see a launch of the shuttle – I’m sure you don’t stop what you’re doing and watch the shuttle take off, you know. But yet you see that the people that are actually there watching it are still in awe. And my son’s best friend wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. An eleven year old boy. And the other kids, there’s other kids. They’re like, ‘Huh? Oh how do you do that? Can you do that?’ I’m like ‘Yes you can!’ So I would love if this would inspire kids to want to be astronauts or to at least talk about how amazing it is and how difficult it is to go into space. This is like a big thing for a little kid, this movie.
Question: How disappointed were you about the failure or shortlivedness of a TV show that everyone thought was going to be huge.
Madsen: Oh, for Smith? Well I wasn’t that invested. In the beginning I was because it seemed like Ray and I would get to be Bonny and Clyde. That’s what they sold me and you know, that’s not what I got. What I got? I got a book club. That was the last script. I said ‘You’re joking. I have a book club?’. And they were like ‘Oh we swear to god’ and I was like ‘But when do I get my gun?’
Question: So you weren’t that depressed when it was over then I take it.
Madsen: No Ray and I were very – because they wouldn’t give scenes to Ray and I. And everybody in that cast has a really healthy feature film career going on, so they had to have told us something really exciting for all of us to sign on. Also it was only a year so we weren’t stuck. It was just each year there would be a new cast. Actually John Wells had a great idea but they just weren’t able to execute it, you know. So I think we were all kind of sad for them because they did have such a good idea but I think we were relieved that it was over.
Question: Now your healthy film career was revitalised in part because of Sideways even though I know you’ve been really itching to get back in there and now it seems to be going incredibly well.
Madsen: It’s totally because of Sideways though. Because that kind of thing makes sense to the industry. Not only could they see really what kind of work I’m doing now, they could really see me. But they also saw a film that was successful and this is a business, you know. Before it’s an art. Occasionally it can become artistic. But first, you know, it’s a business and I think when producers can see a film being successful, it makes sense to them to hire you. And that’s not, like I never took that kind of stuff personally, you know. And so I am very happy that it makes sense to them to hire me now.
Question: Are you surprised at how successfully things are going for you or not really?
Madsen: You know, I am grateful. I’ve been working for this all my life. So surprise suggests that it’s something that’s sort of suddenly you receive and it seemed to me that my career was kind of a slow groove and it was slowly getting up there and I knew that sooner or later it would happen. And if was later, that’s OK. It still happened. But now, since it did happen later there’s more of a sense of gratitude than surprise.
Question: Are you happy?
Madsen: Yes, very.
Question: Personally and professionally?
Madsen: Yes, very.
Question: Are you able to balance now because I think you’ve been working to get this career back on track you’ve forgotten how to live. Are you able to live a little bit now as well?
Madsen: Well I sort of made movies for two years kind of straight and I was filming Smith at the same time as filming 23. And then after Smith was done I took all this time off, had all these months off to be with my son, get settled in a new house and experience the holidays together and his dad was working a lot so that was good that I was home. And now it’s time for me to go back to work again.
Question: What are you going to be doing?
Madsen: I don’t know yet. I haven’t read anything that I like.
Question: Are you being offered stuff that is clichéd.
Madsen: Some of it, yeah. There’s a lot of cliché stuff out there and there’s just not a lot of good scripts that are being made right now. And even stuff, you know I’ve formed my own production company so I’ve been reading tons of scripts just to see if I could help get something made and I’m not even finding those. I’ve optioned a couple of books and I’ve found one script that I want to do that I haven’t been able to get financing for yet. But you know, even just writing samples that I’ve read, I just haven’t read anything that I really loved, you know. And I need to really love it in order to do it.