Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Yes Virginia There is a Virginia Madsen
Expanded Edition of the forthcoming 2-28-07 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
The talents of the luminous Virginia Madsen are showcased in The Astronaut Farmer (above with co-star Billy Bob Thornton and her
onscreen family) and in a dual role in The Number 23 (above in femme fatale mode with co-star Jim Carrey)
Virginia Madsen has been in Hollywood making films and TV shows for over 20 years. But it wasn’t until 2004 when she won an
Academy Award nomination for her part as the poetic waitress Maya in Sideways that mainstream success finally arrived. Recognition
– and more than a bit of envy – probably came to the gifted actress in the gay community a bit earlier during her one time
relationship with gay pin-up boy Antonio Sabato, Jr.
Sabato’s popularity in the gay community, Madsen’s one screen appearance as a lesbian (in the little seen Becoming Colette), the
couple’s son Jack (now 12) and much more was touched on during a recent interview to promote both her new family film, The
Astronaut Farmer that co-stars Billy Bob Thornton and the Jim Carrey thriller The Number 23 in which she has a dual role as Carrey’s
wife and mistress of his alter ego.
Each time I’ve met Madsen over the years (she’s best friends with an old friend of mine, actress and fellow Chicago native, Rusty
Schwimmer) I’m always stunned by her beauty and her apparent disregard for it. She’s earthy sexy beautiful in that Susan Sarandon
way – one doesn’t see any cosmetic enhancements or sense in Madsen any need to go along with the trend for disfigurement that is
changing (literally) the face of female movie (and TV) stars – and she’s even more gorgeous because of it. In conversation,
Madsen is bright, funny, and easy going – though clearly no pushover.
Highlights from our conversation:
WCT: Can you first talk about making The Astronaut Farmer which I think is a terrific family movie and I mean that in a wonderful,
VM: You bristle a little when you hear “family film” because “family films” that they make today a lot of times are more mean
spirited. Even the holiday films are a little bit mean spirited. So this film goes back to something like a Capra film. It’s like Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington. I think for grownups this will give them a nostalgic feeling for how films used to be and they can still enjoy
it and so can their kids. And so can kids of different ages.
WCT: You do a lot with the typical wife role and the character makes some unusual choices. Any inspirations?
VM: I based this character on my sister Cherie. She’s been married for 27 years. Her husband’s “rocket” was a diner. That was
what his dream was; to own his restaurant and nowadays that’s almost as crazy as building a rocket. I was always inspired by that
and I was also inspired and still am, by their marriage because the two of them have a great friendship and they are partners. I
think that’s certainly when I failed in my brief marriages. We weren’t partners; we didn’t match. If you match; if you’re peers, you
can make a go of it; you can last a long, long time.
WCT: The film had a wonderful message and the characters were richly drawn.
VM: Yes – the idea that if you have an entrepreneur in the family they’re going to need all the support you can give them. I had a
lot of support. I was the daughter of a fireman but I said I wanted to be an actress and that’s about as crazy as a rocket but I was
supported in that as long as I worked hard to make that dream happen. Billy Bob’s like that, too. He had a crazy dream just like I
did. One of the things that I hope this movie makes people think about is the American Dream. This country is based on
something that was called the American Dream and that has just been eroded away.
WCT: Along with the middle class.
VM: Yes. It’s like we ask people with this film to remember when it was a good thing to dream; when parents said, “You know what,
you can grow up and be President of the United States; you can grow up and be a fireman; you can grow up and write the great
WCT: And don’t be afraid. We’re just so ruled by fear.
VM: And don’t be afraid. People who are dreamers are often called “different.” If you’re growing up and you feel different your
parents should celebrate that and support you in that.
WCT: She says to the gay reporter (laughs).
VM: (laughs) Yes – I get that. Your audience is gay and will appreciate that. You know, there’s an incredible thing that’s
happening with a lot of kids that are growing up being quite openly gay.
WCT: Isn’t that wonderful?
VM: It’s really amazing – that’s changed a lot. One of my managers is a lesbian and she has said to me, “I was five years old and
I knew that I was gay” and her dad raised her and he was cool with that. So there are a lot of people in their twenties that never had
the dilemma of having to come out because they were supported by their parents. I love that we have a teenage son in this movie
who doesn’t hate his dad and there’s point in this movie that I love – and it’s when the dad is just about to take off and the son
says, “Dad, I’m not worried about you. I believe in you.” And how many boys would have loved to have heard that just once from
their father? I love that we made a dad like that in this movie.
WCT: I certainly would have loved that as I think a lot of gay men can appreciate. And now I have – as my dad and I have grown
older and wiser together. But earlier would have been nicer. Okay, abrupt change of topic – you’ve just worked with two madmen –
Billy Bob Thornton and Jim Carrey – and I mean that in a wonderful way. Was it a pleasure to go from one to the other? What were
VM: They weren’t mad to me! I loved them both. Billy was first and they’re very different creatures. First of all, I didn’t know them
and I don’t put a lot of stock into what I’ve heard or even their public personas. I thought, “Well, if they’re difficult, they’ll get along
with me.” I understand complicated men so I wasn’t daunted. I like men. I grew up in Chicago with a lot of “manly men.” Like
Harrison Ford (her co-star in Firewall). Everyone’s like, “Wow, was Harrison tough or what?” but Harrison to me was that blue collar
man that I grew up around. I really got him. A man of few words and that kind of scares people because actors are usually talkers
and Harrison doesn’t. He’s a carpenter. So I totally got him and I think I’m on a list now of women who can work with intense men
WCT: Good list to be on!
VM: (laughs) Yes and I loved working with Jim (Carrey). I had this incredible chemistry with both of these guys. Somebody said to
me, “Oh my God, is Jim Carrey just doing insane things and is he really crazy?” and I said, “Not my Jim Carrey.” I had my Jim
Carrey and he’s a really happy person.
WCT: Well that’s got to be fun to be around. That’s a great energy to have on a movie set.
VM: Yes. Both of these guys love their jobs so they’re happy when they come to work. They come to work on time; they know their
lines and Jim has just got a hundred ideas for every scene but never at my expense. I think what I loved the most about Jim
besides how inventive he is was that he had a lot of respect for me and I really appreciated that respect. Jim appreciated my humor
as much as I appreciated his and Billy Bob was my most favorite husband I’ve ever had.
WCT: Wow – and you’ve had a lot of movie husbands.
VM: Yes and if he wasn’t taken; if he didn’t have a girlfriend…I’d have a ring on (laughs).
WCT: We’d be calling the tabloids right now?
VM: No doubt.
WCT: You also got to play two really fun roles in The Number 23 – got to be that little sexpot with the accent and the slips and the
VM: You know that was a great opportunity for me. What actor doesn’t want to play opposing characters – light/dark, love/hate –
and this was an opportunity to take the two images that people have of Virginia Madsen. You know – sort of the nice lady from
Sideways and the femme fatale from the 80s and I could take the two of them and put them in one movie and have them collide. I
like revisiting that kind of character for sure. The dark one was exciting to play.
WCT: Anything you’d like to say about your one time at playing a lesbian in Becoming Collette which I believe some of our readership
will be familiar with?
VM: That was more the male fantasy of the lesbian. It was totally the male fantasy of the two women smoking opium and then me
WCT: That’s true – it’s very much Catherine Deneuve-Susan Sarandon in The Hunger.
VM: (laughs) Yes – it was! It was very much The Hunger.
WCT: (laughing) You’re just going to have to do another lesbian picture, that’s all there is to it.
VM: If it was more realistic, I would.
WCT: You’ve also said that you strongly identify with gay movie icons – Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck and other strong
actresses. Are there actresses of your generation that come close?
VM: They’re gay movie icons?
WCT: Totally! Bette! Joan Crawford! Barbara Stanwyck!
VM: Yes but I think they’re overall movie icons.
WCT: Okay, yes, but My People have been known to hold that torch aloft for these ladies.
VM: (laughs) Yes, I do understand that.
WCT: So are there actresses of our generation that come close, do you think?
VM: I think that remains to be seen. I certainly think that Meryl Streep is going to be one of those but it’s so different now because
there’s not really mystery involved. Now every movie has a really microscopic view on what happens behind the scenes and
everybody thinks they know what it’s like. But back then the only time you saw Bette Davis was watching her was on the screen.
There might be the rare cigarette ad or a very controlled publicity story. But you didn’t really see them in their homes.
WCT: Well you hit the nail on the head there. I wish we could get back to that. I don’t really want to see photos of Angelina Jolie
at the grocery store.
VM: We just know them all more or think we do so it’s hard for there to be any mystery.
WCT: Okay, we had the lesbian question with Becoming Collette so I have to be fair and ask a gay question. Your son Jack’s father
is Antonio Sabato, Jr. who – as you may have heard – has quite a following in the gay community.
VM: Well, yes, I understand that.
WCT: And I mean that in a very positive way, of course. Now what if Jack grows up to be a gay heartthrob, are you okay with that?
VM: Oh, of course, we are. His dad is the most beautiful man in the world and even though I try to say that objectively he really is.
It really never bothered him. It didn’t threaten him; he’s very secure in his own sexuality as a man. Which I always thought was
very cool of him, especially because he’s so Italian. To him it’s like, “A fan is a fan” and if someone appreciates his beauty and his
talent he loves that. He was riding in a gay pride parade in Miami – he was the, what is that called?
WCT: The Grand Marshall – that must have been right after he did that movie where he played gay, Testosterone.
VM: Yes and I was really proud of him for that especially since everyone would really love for him to be gay.
WCT: Your mouth to God’s ear.
VM: They really tried to make that true for awhile on the internet. But he doesn’t care. I thought it was great of him, I really did.
WCT: Good for you. I loved seeing you on the DVD at the premiere of Broadway: The Golden Age by Rick McKay who I adore.
VM: Oh yeah!
WCT: Are you ever going to do a play?
VM: Well yes, now I’m looking at it again because Jack is older so I think a play’s not too far off.
WCT: I ask about your doing a play because you’re an actor who obviously can handle those great lyrical monologues. Certainly
that’s been proved based on that amazing scene in Sideways.
VM: You know what I’d like to do – speaking of the gay and lesbian community and theatre. The play that I want to do and the
movie that I want to remake is The Children’s Hour.
WCT: Lillian Hellman’s piece. Wonderful.
VM: That’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years and years and years. But I think that frankly we’ve come so far that most
people that I talk to have a real problem with the fact that one of the lead characters shoots herself because she’s gay and do we
really need to do that anymore? I think there are things you could do with a film and Lillian Hellman that you couldn’t do on film
before. I’ve examined that play with a fine tooth comb and I would love to do it.
WCT: Okay, time for a really silly question. I remember you in so many movies from the 80s – Slam Dance, Gotham, Dune, Creator –
it goes on and on. But I never knew that you had a brief moment of glory from the golden age of video – the one Cher did for “I
VM: I did that because she was a friend of mine and I thought it was cool that she wanted to direct and I just thought it would be
fun. It was fun but imagine me trying to fit into Cher’s bustier? (laughs) I sure wish she would direct me in a movie, though, I’d be
really happy with that. I want Cher to act again and direct again.
WCT: I want her to do both of those things also so please call her up on behalf of My People and ask her to do that.
VM: Will do.
WCT: What’s the story behind Being Michael Madsen – are you and your brother finally doing a movie together?
VM: Well no – it’s a mockumentary really about him and a series of unfortunate events that happen to him and we’re all
commenting on his behavior.
WCT: Will you two ever do a project together?
VM: Yes. We always wanted to. We were in a movie called The Florentine but people sometimes want to cast us opposite one
another because they don’t realize that we’re brother and sister and you know, it’s hard to find brother-sister stories. I think it would
be great if we were antagonists because we have chemistry because we’re so close and I think we would have a lot of fun doing that.
But we haven’t found a project and no one’s brought one to us either.
WCT: Something else I’d better work on. Okay, one last question. You have made over 75 movies according to IMDB.
VM: Yes but there’s some on there that I haven’t been in. They keep adding to my list.
WCT: (laughs) Okay, other than a paycheck, what kind of roles appeal to you now?
VM: I’d like to find a really good villain. I’d like to really play a great villain. That’s what I’m looking for. There’s things that I
could do with that now that I’m older that I didn’t really understand when I was doing them when I was so young and now I could
chew it up.