Due to a technical issue, this
roundtable with Virginia Madsen isn’t as long as it could have been. But most
of the second half of the interview dealt with spoilers about The
Astronaut Farmer
or general discussion about The Number 23, which
needs no more discussion. You’re missing out on a good anecdote about Madsen
showing up to The Number 23 to find ex-husband Danny Huston also hanging
around, but that’s about it.

It’s rare, though, to find an actress
that speaks as frankly and openly as Virginia Madsen. You quickly get the idea
that she’s been through so much that she’s got nothing to hide, and her
comments flow endlessly. That makes her tough to keep up with, but great fun to
listen to.

There’s a quote attributed to you and I want to make sure
it’s right: "
When you say no a lot as an actor,
you’re going to go broke, and that’s been the hardest thing to go through in
the last 10 years. Being a single mother and having financial problems is a

Yes, I
said that. That was probably all around the Sideways time. People
related to, or enjoyed my story of the ups and downs of my career. I had been
able to do quite well, as long as I could do a movie for Lifetime instead of
some bad movie, but then I started getting known as just someone from those
movies, so I had to start saying no to them as well as saying no to all the
crap. That got really hard, since those were by bread and butter. Without
those, that’s when things were really chaotic financially.

So you’d turn down some things to get
better offers.

You have to make choices. I laugh when I hear someone talking about an actress
‘making such good choices’. Yeah, well, she was probably broke! Or she’s being
supported and doesn’t have to worry about it. And I hope that people keep that
in mind when an actor suddenly does a movie for the Sci Fi channel that is
maybe not ‘important’. We’ve got to make a living. People are going to do the
pay the rent movie once in a while. The important movies don’t pay well.
They’re for scale, or even worse, something they invented called ‘independent
scale’. In which case it’s like it’s costing me money to make the movie. You’re
getting $500 per week, before taxes and American Express is calling, and…

So it
is our job. It’s how we make our living, and you don’t always have the luxury
of making a movie like Sideways. I even got paid well to do
that! Especially for me, at the time.

Were there other obvious peaks and
valleys for you?

a high peak would be getting to make a good movie. Like The Hot Spot, though that
became detrimental because it wasn’t a success. That was a lot of fun to make,
though. There was a great high point that might not have seemed it, where I got
offered this movie about rats, and it was a time I was saying no to everything.
And they offered me a lot of money to be attacked by giant rats, and oddly
enough the rats were tearing my clothes off at one point. Gee, what a surprise!
I said no, and my accountant said ‘what part of foreclosure don’t you
understand?’ But to me it was a test. And about three or four days later Tom
Selleck called and offered me this really great western. It was a good part, it
was good money, I got to shoot a gun and ride a horse. It wasn’t a giant career
move, or a big feature film, but it was a good movie and it saved my ass and my
house. And it was a sign, and a test, and I passed. And a lot of things started
to happen after that.

Does the press lose sight of what it means to do something
that’s just a good movie?

I think it’s frustrating for the press,
and for everyone, because there just aren’t that many good movies being made.
Our whole Sideways group, we all thought there were going to be a lot of Little
Miss Sunshines
made. We thought a lot of people would make movies like
that because they saw it would make money, and it didn’t happen. Alexander
Payne challenged producers quite openly. ‘Make a film like this. Make more and
they’ll make money.’ But it didn’t happen, and that’s frustrating for the
press. They like to be generous when the time comes. But time after time, we have
to sit through the same crap. And right now, horror films are really popular
and making a ton of money, so why isn’t there a good one? Even that young
demographic is hungry for good stories.

And that’s the thing about this. It’s a
good movie, and it’s a happy movie. Why is that so wrong? I know this is award
season and it’s the time we roll out all the dysfunction, but there needs to be
an alternative. There needs to be the good movie you can bring kids to, and I
don’t always want to go see an animated feature. I loved Happy Feet, sure, but I
want to go to a real film with my son, too. And I’d like to be able to go see a
movie with my mom. And that’s rare. I was pretty sure that the reviews would be
50/50 because of the ending, but for the average person who’s going to see
movies, I think they’ll love this. That’s why people responded to Pursuit
of Happyness
, and critics couldn’t argue too much because it was a true