Virginia Madsen Interview: Offbeat Comedy "Walter" Examines Grief and the Insanity That Ensues
Image attributed to Virginia Madsen
Virginia Madsen is best known for her role as Helen Lyle in Candyman (1992) and for her performance as Maya in Alexander Payne’s film Sideways (2004) for which she received numerous awards and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Other film appearances include Long Gone, Ghosts of Mississippi, Gotham, The Rainmaker, A Prairie Home Companion, Red Riding Hood, Firewall and The Astronaut Farmer.
Madsen has appeared on television in Moonlighting, Star Trek: Voyager, Frasier, The Practice, Dawson’s Creek, CSI: Miami, Monk, Scoundrels, The Event and Witches of East End. She is the sister of storied actor Michael Madsen and the daughter of author and filmmaker Elaine Madsen.
“I think he has the plague, and I kind of spiral into my own ridiculous insanity. Then the strange way it all unravels with this ghost, whether you think it’s real or in his mind, I found so fascinating. God, Justin did such a great job as the ghost. I thought he was wonderful.”
Walter, the feature film directorial debut for Anna Mastro, opens March 13, 2015 at select theaters and will also be available that day on all major VOD providers including iTunes, Microsoft Xbox, Google, Sony, M-GO, Blockbuster, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu. The gentle, absurdist comedy stars Madsen, Andrew J. West, Justin Kirk, Neve Campbell, Leven Rambin, Jim Gaffigan, Milo Ventimiglia, Peter Facinelli and William H. Macy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Virginia, how are you today?
Virginia Madsen: I’m good. What city are you in, Melissa?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Birmingham, Alabama. Can you tell I have a small accent?
Virginia Madsen: Oh, just a little bit. I love it. It’s beautiful! I love the Alabama accent.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you. You are one busy lady with several film projects happening at once!
Virginia Madsen: Well, what I feel is blessed, and what I feel is a lot of gratitude for just the fact that I have so much opportunity. There have been so many people out of work in my industry both in front and behind the camera. I’m well aware I’m in sort of a golden place right now by the fact that I keep working.
I love making small independent films. That has been 90% of my career, and it’s where I find the best material for women and characters where I really have something to say and something to explore, so I gravitate toward those projects. They’re making more of them now because you don’t only have to rely on a theatrical release to make your money back. Because of the Internet and VOD, they’re able to make a lot more of these movies now, so lots of people are going back to work.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It seems that more independent films have been nominated for Academy Awards over the past few years.
Virginia Madsen: I kind of didn’t understand this year. I’m a member of the Academy, and so I thought it was supposed to be ten pictures nominated, and there wasn’t. I’m never quite sure how that happens. But, yes, it was nice when the awards began to change, and the door was open for the independents.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk first about Walter. What attracted you to the film?
Virginia Madsen: It was certainly first and foremost the material, and I love to work in an ensemble cast. It’s my favorite way to work. Even though my scenes were only with Walter (Andrew J. West), I’m still in the midst of this wonderful group of people. I wanted to meet the director, and she was very interesting.
There was a short film of Walter, and I thought, “Wow! She’s really onto something.” She knew exactly what the tone of the film was, the kind of humor it was, and I thought it was an original story. That’s very hard to find. Then Bill Macy came aboard, and all these wonderful actors signed, and she got the money together. We were off and running.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some have described the film as a quirky piece of dramedy. What say you?
Virginia Madsen: I would say that it’s a comedy. It does have its dramatic elements, but it is a delight to watch, and it’s more fun than it is sad. Of course, the entire story hinges on how people are dealing with grief. The way they explore that is so interesting because both Walter and I … our lives kind of came to a stop after dad died. My son veered off the path, and I lost him and didn’t know how to get him back.
I never leave the house, and I’m constantly trying to nurture him and care for him. I think he has the plague, and I kind of spiral into my own ridiculous insanity. Then the strange way it all unravels with this ghost, whether you think it’s real or in his mind, I found so fascinating. God, Justin did such a great job as the ghost. I thought he was wonderful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found the entire cast excellent. It might be crazy to say it, but I believe your character’s egg obsession and Walter’s flashback of his dad cooking eggs were the pivotal points in the film.
Virginia Madsen: (laughs) Yeah, because it was the last time that Walter was okay. It was the last time we were happy, so somehow I just hooked into that. It was fun because we had to much to play with even though I certainly didn’t play it for comedy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have an exciting project coming up called Joy. Did you audition for the part?
Virginia Madsen: I did, but I’m telling you I’m legally bound, and I’m not allowed to say anything. I mean, it was the longest confidentiality agreement I’ve ever signed (laughs). I can say that I think David O. Russell is a genius, and I’m so grateful to him for casting me. Oh man, I can’t wait. You and I will probably talk when the movie comes out, and then I can reveal everything. It’s an amazing story (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, I can’t wait either (laughs). There could be some Oscar buzz surrounding the film with Russell at the helm, and the superstar cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Diane Ladd.
Virginia Madsen: From your lips to God’s ears.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it true that just to be nominated (Sideways, 2004) for an Oscar is a win?
Virginia Madsen: Oh of course, of course, for me especially. Talk about being an underdog. All the women in my category that year, nobody wanted to make our movies. It was a long road to get there, and by the time you got there, you sort of like couldn’t believe it. All of you meet at a luncheon, and everybody sits with different people. It’s like a lottery where you end up sitting, so I was sitting with a documentary filmmaker, an animated short filmmaker and Cate Blanchett.
It was this incredible gathering, and that, to me, was the Oscars because all the decisions had been made, the votes were all in, and all we had to do was go to the big dance. That luncheon was like, “It’s over. It’s done, and we all made it.” It’s incredible the camaraderie you feel about how long it took you to get there.
The fact that I was in that mix? That was my win. That was absolutely my win, and I was so grateful. I was so aware of how extraordinary it was to be there that the actual night when they gave away the statues was not the high point. That was the culmination and the final reward for those who actually win. Everyone feels so together by the end of it, and we had this extraordinary time of all being together making it all the way to the top.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your mom inspire you to become an actor?
Virginia Madsen: Yes! My mother is an inspiration in all aspects of my life. She is an extraordinary woman and taught me everything I know … well, almost everything (laughs). She is an extraordinary mother and just an amazing woman to look up to. She appreciated all three of her children for who they were.
To this day, she encourages us to be strong in who we are. I think she figured if we had strong identities, and we respected ourselves, then we would probably be successful. She believed in all three of us, and that’s really something. I’m really grateful to have her in my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand she became an acquaintance of legendary film critic Roger Ebert in the 1960s, and he encouraged her to pursue a career in the film industry.
Virginia Madsen: Oh yes. We miss him so much. The whole business isn’t the same without him. I think everybody felt like they were friends with Roger. Roger just loved movies, even a movie just because it was fun. It didn’t have to be a highbrow art film, although if he liked one of those movies, you know he would champion them. We were all so happy when Chaz was in his life and they got married. What an extraordinary women she is. She is an inspiration.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve interviewed your very talented brother Michael.
Virginia Madsen: Aw!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you two ever worked together on a film?
Virginia Madsen: We worked together on a movie called The Florentine (1999), and we just had one scene. Michael and I would love to work together, but there are not a lot of parts for brother and sister. They would much more likely cast us opposite one another thinking maybe we’re married, and they cast us as lovers. I’m like, “No. We’re not married. We’re siblings. You can’t do that.” (laughs) If the right project came along, we would both jump at it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Virginia Madsen: Right now, Walter is the big thing. I have All the Wilderness that is opening and Dead Rising: Watchtower, which is a big action movie. My son is beside himself with joy (laughs). He’s a big gamer, and he’s actually becoming a video game designer. He was like, “Dead Rising! No way!” So yeah, there is a whole collection of things coming out while I’m in the midst of filming. I’m so happy I got a day off.
Your support means everything to us and this film because we need to get the word out there to make sure everyone sees it. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.
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