Virginia Madsen: Freedom of expression
By Katie Scarvey
The actress Virginia Madsen was in Charlotte Monday with the “Freedom of Expression through Film” campaign, in partnership with Allergan, Inc., the maker of Botox Cosmetic, and the League of Women Voters. The campaign focuses on urging women to express themselves and make smart choices in life.
Although Madsen has been an actress for many years, her role as Maya in “Sideways” earned her an Oscar nomination and rejuvenated her career. Since then, she’s been in “The Astronaut Farmer” with Billy Bob Thornton and “23” with Jim Carrey.
She will star in “Diminished Capacity” with Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda, set to open this July.
We talked by phone on Monday morning.
KS: So I need to ask what year you were born because according to conflicting information on the Internet, we’re either the same age or you’re two years younger than I am.
VM: I was born in 1961.
KS: So we are the same age! OK, so I’m upset and embarrassed that I haven’t seen “Sideways” yet.
VM: Are you married? Go rent it, make an elegant dinner, and drink a beautiful bottle of wine together. It will be a great date.
So much has come from me doing that movie.
I was just in Cambodia, exploring Angkor Wat with my son and this couple came up to me and said, “Oh my God; we’re on our honeymoon. We fell in love over ‘Sideways.’ ”
It was wild.
KS: So your son, Jack, is he about 14 now?
VM: He’s 13.
KS: Do you still like him?
VM: Oh yeah! He’s great.
KS: I’ve got girls, 15 and 17.
VM: Is it true that girls are harder?
KS: No! Girls are great.
VM: Yes! I’m glad to hear you say that. My mother and I were good friends when I was growing up.(Talk shifts to the reason she’s in Charlotte with her mother, Elaine Madsen.)
VM: It was a big deal for my siblings and I when my mom took us to register to vote. I was so excited.
For the last 20 years or so, people haven’t been involved in the political process. There’s been a real sense of apathy ó with some of my friends as well.
KS: Are you endorsing a particular candidate?
VM: I’m truly undecided.
I’m registered as a Democrat, but I like all three of the candidates.
I’m so proud of this country. People are finally standing up and saying, “I want my voice to be heard.” That’s so American.
Now, we just need to make sure they get to the polls.
We’ve been to 10 different cities, and it’s so interesting to get 300-400 women in a room together and start talking about beauty and voting. Everybody starts talking about all these women’s issues. “Is it OK that we want to be healthy and beautiful? Is it OK if I’m worried about aging? Is it OK that I don’t want that ’11’ in my forehead?”
My mother talks about this little voice in the back of her head that says, “That’s vanity.” Then she tells the audience, “I officially give you permission.”
KS: So, you’ve done Botox and Juvaderm. What about plastic surgery? Will you do that?
VM: Ask me in 10 years. I can’t criticize other people for the choices they’re making. But it’s not the choice I’m going to make right now.
I think I most likely will go down that road. But I think the days of the Big Pull are numbered.
(Injecting Botox) is only one of the choices I make. I have a really good diet, and that’s not the four-letter word diet. It’s what you choose to eat, every day. I take good care of myself. I go to the gym. I go hiking with my son.
I’m going to fight aging every step of the way so that I look on the outside the way I feel on the inside. I don’t want to grow old gracefully. I want to grow old strong.
It’s body, mind and spirit. All of those things have to be strong.
KS: What women in Hollywood who are your age or older do you admire for how they’ve handled themselves and their careers?
VM: Oh! There are a lot. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, Rita Moreno. They are amazing women who are really healthy and fit. Rita Moreno looks phenomenal in her 70s. That’s not just genes. You can have perfect genes and still screw it up after 35. I see a lot of women my age breaking down.
KS: That’s true.
VM: You ask yourself, what kind of 65-year-old do I want to be? You need to decide now what you want those years to be like. It’s like a life insurance policy, every time you go to the gym.
KS: Your brother (Michael Madsen) is also an actor. Have you ever compared notes about how getting older has affected your careers?
VM: I think both of us feel that both our careers are much better than when we were younger. Both Michael and I were pigeonholed in a way, Michael as the tough guy (he was in “Reservoir Dogs”) and me as the sexy, voluptuous ingenue.
KS: Some have speculated that your beauty as a young woman might have actually hampered your career.
VM: Well … it had to do with some of the choices I made. With not knowing myself. I don’t think people valued me, and I didn’t understand my own value in the marketplace. And I didn’t really care about power.
And a lot of young women think that they shouldn’t go after go after a position of power in their industry or even their personal life.
You want to be liked. I was more concerned with people’s perceptions of me. Now, I don’t need to be liked.
KS: Do you regret any of the roles you took?
VM: I have no regrets. I really learned how to be a strong woman. I didn’t come of age until I was ready for it. Once I prepared myself for success, I was ready to receive it. And success came, came in a big way.
KS: Is it unusual for someone to really have that big breakthrough, as you did, after the age of 40?
VM: Well, that was also the year of “Desperate Housewives.” Terri Hatcher had a similar story. Felicity Huffman. That year it kind of became cool to be 40 and up. People started celebrating what it was to be in your 40s.
KS: Being a mother ó how did that play into your career?
VM: I think I was blessed to be unemployed (after Jack was born). Most of my time was spent with my son for the first 10 years of his life. It was really wonderful to be able to make him breakfast, take him to school.
I used to teach art at his school. I really recommend it to people, especially in the creative industries. If you’re down and out, go teach little kids. It will be the most inspiring thing you’ve ever done in your life. It really got me through that period of time. And so did gardening.
You’ve gotta always be in preparation. I made this dramatic change in my life.
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I told myself, I’m not going to the gym to get skinny; I’m preparing for my next role. That’s when things started to break.
KS: You went through a tough time after Jack was born.
VM: It was pretty awful. I didn’t know that there was something wrong with me. Hormonal issues, postpartum issues. I didn’t know.
I was so happy to be a mother. I’d waited a long time for that. Everything else was just dark and going wrong. It was like I was stagnating.
You can’t stay the same. You’re either going to go up or down. I was going down.
I have a very supportive circle around me. They were not amused. They said, “You have to do something, now.” They supported me into a forward momentum.
I started healing my body. I had a bad neck injury (from falling off high heels). It didn’t seem a very bad fall, but I damaged my neck and it just kept going downhill. My body was betraying me. I needed to heal my body.
I sought out teachers. I read about people who inspired me. I found people to teach me how to work out.
When you open yourself up to receive counsel, it will come to you.
KS: Who are you dying to work with?
VM: Felicity Huffman. I love her. I’d like to work with Jim Carrey again.
There are so many people I’d like to work with.
I’ve worked with so many amazing men in the last several years. I guess I’m the woman who can go up with the strong men, wink, wink. And I’d like to go up against them! (Laughs.)
I love Billy Bob Thornton. I genuinely love that man.
KS: Oh, me, too. “Sling Blade” is one of my favorite movies. That the same person could do that and some of those crazy comedies … it’s amazing.
VM: I wasn’t a big fan of “Bad Santa.” I had some problems with alcoholic men, so it wasn’t funny to me.
I can’t even call him because I’ll start crying, I miss him so much. He is just … What a guy.
OK, they’re telling me I have to go.
KS: Thank you so much for your time!
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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