Virginia Madsen

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Virginia Madsen: Age Is Not the Enemy

•• Oscar-nominated actress has come a long way since she got to Hollywood. Today she is enjoying the sweet ride of success and the advantages it brings. Below, an edited version of MORE interview with Virginia Madsen.

More: You recently turned 51 years old. How are your fifties treating you?  
VM: The older I get, the smarter and stronger I get. My body is great, I feel youthful, and I see changes that I am really grateful for.

More: It’s great that you celebrate your age.
VM: Oh, yeah! I was raised by an incredible mom. My mom always had all the candles on her birthday cake, whereas all the other moms never talked about their age. My mom was open and honest about her journey in life. She was never ashamed of having a few lines or a few more candles. I wasn’t raised in an environment where age was the enemy. If anything, age made you stronger. Age made you smarter and even more sensual. Age also made you feel free.

More: Sounds as if you don’t miss your twenties.
VM: No. Look, I get that Hollywood is about being young and beautiful and age is the enemy. These young actors may get the abundance of work, but I get the quality of work. Hollywood may come across as a youth-oriented town, but there is plenty of room for actors of all ages.More: Did being in your twenties have its advantages?
VM: I was very uncomfortable being a young talent. I was stepped on and very taken advantage of. I was told to lose weight and then told here is how to be bulimic. They put a lot of young girls through a lot. I tell young talent to hang on because it will get better. When you get older and walk through the door, you will automatically get respect.

More: What were some of the disadvantages?
VM: You are really self-conscious. In every meeting, they pick you apart, find all your faults and tell you what is wrong with you. Then when you get the job, they try to turn you into perfection for their film. Let me tell you, that had ramifications in my personal life, especially when it came time for lovers. I was so self-conscious when it came to the physical body, my hair, my face, even my tits—everything made me self-conscious. I always had to change something. Now I don’t have to do that. I am happy with who I am!

More: Did you get your big break because you hung out with the in crowd?
VM: I made it later. I had two big breaks. The first was Dune, which was my first real role in Hollywood. My monologue at the beginning of the film is what so many people remember me for. I got a lot of attention for that role—many more roles after and a ton of meetings. The other really big role for me that got people to notice me was Sideways. That was another huge break for me.

More: A star is born!
VM: In this business, you hopefully get a number of lucky breaks along the way and with them get that lucky audition and lucky part. What we do, because it is artistic—you never stay on top. You are always trying to get the next gig. You have to have thick skin if you want to play this game, plus you also have to be patient and smart before the next break comes along.

More: Did you stress yourself out to find a film like Sideway sto keep yourself adored by fans?  
VM: If I had that “people have to love me” attitude, I would never survive. You cannot think of, “I have to repeat this.” All you can do is go from job to job to job and be stable in your private life. You have to treat this as a business and take care of the soft underbelly that is the artist. The longer you stay in it, the smarter you get. I credit that part of my longevity to age.

More: Has anyone ever said age was a problem?
VM: Even if they did, I don’t care. I’ve been too young, too pretty, too fat or too something. Now, if they think I am too old, fuck them! I am not looking to be 25. I recognize the value of who I am and the value of what I have to offer the industry. As you get older, your opinion of yourself matters more than other people’s opinion of you!

More: What’s your take on plastic surgery or Botox?
VM: Less is more. You need to work on the inside out. You need to work on your spirit and personal health; otherwise, none of that stuff will work.

More: Are there any drawbacks to having a high-profile job?
VM: Sometimes it may be harder to bounce back. Disappointments can be more difficult, but you know how to persevere. It was very much a blessing for me not to win the Oscar for my work in Sideways, because if I did, the expectations would be huge to live up to that role of Maya. It did, however, give me the attention and recognition I needed.

More: You aren’t the slightest bit disappointed you didn’t take home the Academy Award?
VM: No. If anything, I remained the underdog and didn’t venture over into the stratosphere. There was no pressure for me to win again or be at the Oscars the next year. If anything, I got to enjoy the success of playing a wonderful role. Sideways is the movie that just keeps on giving, and for that reason alone I am so grateful.

More: But you must be looking for a role like Maya, which garnered so much attention?
VM: I am always looking for that role that will bring me to the Academy Awards again as a nominee. You can’t look for an award in every role, and you can’t make a movie with the intention that you will get a nomination. You make a movie because you love the work.

More: Another advantage to getting older: You starred alongside Morgan Freeman in Magnolia Home Entertainment’s The Magic of Belle Isle, now available on DVD.
VM: He is so wonderful and such a lovely man. I cooked pasta for Morgan and sang with him every day. Plus, it was directed by Rob Reiner. How awesome is that?

More: You were singing with Morgan Freeman? I love it!
VM: No, really, the man has an awesome voice. I told him to record an album because he is that good. But sadly, he said no because he only sings for his own pleasure!