Actors Steve Guttenberg and Virginia Madsen spoke honestly and openly Saturday about the ups and downs of their careers in show business during two separate “In Conversation With” events as part of the 20th annual Sarasota Film Festival in the setting of Florida Studio Theatre’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre.
Virginia Madsen, who grew up in Chicago, told her audience for the Conversation that “acting was all I ever wanted to do… I was a performer, probably, from the time I was crawling.” Interviewed by SFF creative producer Joe Neumaier, Virginia Madsen said of herself as a child, “If I went to a movie, if it was 90 minutes, I’d then take 90 minutes when I got home to act out the entire film. My mother [with whom she years later collaborated on a documentary about women in their older years] was very patient.”
Spending her childhood fascinated by older, black and white movies, often silents, she was also drawn to the classic monster movies starring actors like Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney. She’s appeared over the years in a few herself, including the acclaimed Candyman but says it can be hard to find good scripts in the genre today, adding that recent hits like Get Out and A Quiet Place might change that.
Virginia Madsen recalled the the rollercoaster rides of her career with candor. After starting out in David Lynch’s epic Dune, she then spent time filming Electric Dreams in Europe. “I was living the dream,” she said ruefully. “But it didn’t stay that way for a long time.”
In fact, before she appeared in her Oscar-nominated role in the hit Sideways, Virginia Madsen said she had not been working much and was exhausted and depressed. “My kid was 5, and I still looked like I was pregnant,” she said. “I was smoking, eating pizza, watching TV. My family and friends said, ‘You’ve got to get off the couch.’ I started listening and when I got on the treadmill it wasn’t to lose weight, but to prepare for my next role.”
Ironically, she had to put on some weight to play Maya, the wine-loving waitress who meets up with Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways.“ [Director] Alexander Payne saw something in me,” Virginia Madsen said. And when she delivered the monologue about wine that is her most famous scene in the film, she said, it was one of those few moments as an actor when “I felt certain.”
Along with chatting about other films in which she’s appeared, like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker and Rob Reiner’s The Magic of Belle Isle, Madsen also disclosed one type of role she’s never played and would love to: a super villain, one who wants to “take over the world. The audience loves a film where you’re super bad.” In the meantime, she appears in the festival film 1985, about a young gay man in that year who has AIDS and goes home to his conservative family in Texas. “It’s about family love,” Madsen said. Family members may not always understand each other, but “they need to find a way to connect.”