It’s no secret that until Virginia Madsen hit it big with “Sideways” in 2004, the pretty actress wasn’t exactly on Hollywood’s “A” list.
“I think that I was sort of on the side of the map,” she mused back in 2006, “I was on the detour route, I was never really on the main road. And that movie changed everything.”
That’s not to say that Virginia Madsen hadn’t been working hard in Hollywood for decades before “Sideways” came into her life. The 46-year-old actress began her career in 1984 with a pivotal role in David Lynch’s “Dune” as Princess Irulan, a huge break for the voluptuously beautiful blonde 23 year old.
“With that role, I was sure I was going to go right on from princess to being the queen!” Madsen chuckles as we chat for this story. “It didn’t exactly turn out that way.”
In the twenty years that passed between that auspicious beginning and her Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her luminous performance in “Sideways,” Madsen always worked, in everything from horror flicks (“Candyman”) to period pieces (“Becoming Colette,” directed by her then-husband Danny Huston) to episodic television (“Moonlighting,” “Frasier,” “Dawson’s Creek”). She also had a son, Jack, in 1994 with actor Antonio Sabato, Jr.; that naturally changed her focus, and while she kept working after his birth, the ten years that elapsed until “Sideways” came along were a time of transition, a time of regrouping.
“I am very grateful for everything that has happened but it was definitely part of the plan. It didn’t, by any means, come out of nowhere. My story during that period of my life was sort of one of renewal or becoming the phoenix that rises from the ashes,” Madsen muses.
“Where I was in my life was so unacceptable to me that I underwent some really extraordinary change over several years,” she recalls. “During those years I changed physically, emotionally, spiritually. I drew success towards me. I began to attract a more positive energy into my life so that when success came I was able to carry it, and I knew what to do with it.”
She had entered her forties – sadly, her fortieth birthday was actually 9/11/01, a date that no American will ever forget – and instead of giving up the Hollywood game, Madsen got determined.
“I was prepared. That is what I had been telling myself when I began to change, that I needed to prepare for success. When I went to the gym and I was on the treadmill I wasn’t trying to get young and skinny, but I was preparing for my next job whenever it would come. I have said a lot of times that I began to live with intention. I was visualizing and I was going places.”
It was a formula for a new beginning, and it worked better than she could have even visualized. “People will respond to you when you live that way,” she says. “We are all attracted to positive energy because our spirits know that is what we should be around. You will then be attracted to other people that are positive. I think it’s just the laws of nature. I think it works that way, so the negative people, negative energy, the negative health issues, will fall out of your life the more you are working to improve yourself. Once I did that and changed, it finally came, all of that success.”
“Sideways” certainly brought Madsen universal acclaim, including that Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe nomination, as well as numerous regional critics’ group awards, the national Critics’ Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award. And that huge success finally propelled her onto Hollywood’s “A” list, garnering her roles in big studio-backed films opposite Harrison Ford (“Firewall”), Billy Bob Thornton (“The Astronaut Farmer”), and Jim Carrey (“The Number 23”).
It’s been an exciting couple of years, but Madsen is confident that those experiences are leading up to even another new chapter in her life.
“My mom says ‘When you live long enough everything comes around.’ Now I’m 46 and the last two years have been uncanny in how many things in my life have come full circle. I think that is pointing me towards a new beginning. Not that some things have come to a close, but it’s almost like I am taking inventory of my whole professional journey and my personal journey, and saying ‘Okay, now prepare for the next surprise.’ I am really kind of excited about it. I think that is what’s going on.”
In some ways, her life is the same; recently, she has appeared in the acclaimed new comedy “Diminished Capacity” opposite Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda, as well as the horror thriller “The Haunting in Connecticut”; and she has just finished shooting the much-anticipated biopic “Amelia,” costarring with Hilary Swank in the story of aviator Amelia Earhart. But with Title IX, her new production company, Madsen’s life is very different now, too. She has become a filmmaker.
“We have just begun the editing of the documentary film we’ve produced. It’s directed by my mother [who won an Emmy for directing a documentary in the Eighties and is now 76 years old] and it’s called ‘I Know A Woman Like That.’ The women in our film are from ages 64 to 94, and are living vibrant lives at a time when the world tells you that you should go away and get old. Our women refused. Most of our women are civilians, not actresses or famous. They are from all walks of life, all colors, and all religions. I shouldn’t say all, but it’s a wonderful blend of women,” Madsen explains proudly.
Taking a whole new career direction as she heads further into the middle of her life is an exciting new beginning for Virginia Madsen; and as she tells it, it is anything but midlife crisis.
“I think that it’s an interesting phrase, midlife crisis. We all make fun of men in a midlife crisis. They change their hair, they get a young babe, they get that Ferrari they always wanted to, and we are like ‘Oh, God.’ But you know what? I think men are onto something. It’s not a bad idea! Let me tell you, young men are fun,” she chuckles, then continues.
“I never settled down, but in the midlife time, I think it is time have an adventure. Make life an adventure again the way you never did when you were in your twenties. When we are in our twenties we don’t make the conscious effort. We are just constantly going through so much hardship in our twenties, so much passion, so much confusion, and idiot boyfriends. I totally had that ridiculous marriage, but then we learn and we grown, and then I think it’s this time in life that we can make the conscious decision to have an adventure. Now our lives belong to us. We are not beholden to anyone.”
She of course has her young son, now 14, to shepherd through high school and into the world, but otherwise she has shaken off the past, embraced the present, and is looking forward to the future. And one thing is certain about her future: Virginia Madsen is ready for anything and everything that comes along.
“I have always looked forward to my forties and fifties,” she says with a grin, and an attitude completely uncharacteristic of a Hollywood actress. “That always seemed to me to be the prime time for women.”
“Sideways” photos courtesy 20th Century Fox.
“Firewall” photo courtesy Warner Bros.
“The Haunting in Connecticut” photo courtesy Lionsgate Films.
All other photos courtesy Christina Radish.