Virginia Madsen

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A letter to my younger sisters…..

•• As a woman in her fifties, I can speak with some experience about our industry. Having developed a pretty thick skin, I can tell my younger counterparts that it’s not all bad. You are correct in feeling that you are discounted, discriminated against, undermined and all around underestimated. That’s the bad news. Here’s the upside. If you have chosen, as I have, to stay the course and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, then you are one hell of a broad. No matter how many candles you have on your cake, you can devour it with gusto. Dive in, ladies. But let’s start at the beginning.

When you dive into the deep end of the pool, most everyone tells you you’re insane. How dare you? But you do. You do dare. You dare to be what you truly believe you can be. And then…the business stops you cold. You are too green. You are too young. You are too “street”. You aren’t enough “street”. You’re too angelic. You aren’t innocent enough, not tough enough, not smart enough, not …well, here’s a list…

Too fat.
Too skinny.
Too tall.
Too short.
Too dark-skinned.
Too urban.
Too nerdy.
Too geeky.
Not geeky enough.
Too ethnic.
Not ethnic enough.
We don’t want someone blond.
We don’t want a brunette.
Your hair is too short or your hair is too long.
Your hair is all wrong.
She doesn’t have “good hair.”
Not edgy enough.
Too edgy.
Too old.
Too young.
Too smart.
Too dumb.


Hey, go fuck yourselves. Not that I would ever say that, but there you have it. And here’s why we survive and learn to thrive: we look towards the future. We find like minded women and connect. We emulate those we admire and are inspired by. This has helped me along the way. Our industry is rough. It’s called show- business because it is. That doesn’t mean we cannot be artistic and thrive. However, we will again and again deal with discrimination. Will you quit? I doubt it. If you want it, you will always come out of the corner swinging and there will be a round where you knock ’em out. It’s rare, but it will happen. When you stay in the game, you will see it all. Later down the road you will be called “old.” God forbid! But really, we got called old by the time we were thirty, didn’t we? So what? You won’t give a shit when you’re fifty. I didn’t and I don’t think Helen Mirren gives a shit either. And damn, I’d make out with her if I had the chance. The point is, there will always be people who try to define us as women, no matter what our age. I’m going to be a little bitchy and state that most of the people who did that to me are no longer in the biz. Later in life, this will matter to you. Not in a bitter way, only as a reminder of how resilient you learned to be.We will all be labeled. At every age. And it’s maddening. It’s painfully obvious and that’s probably what’s so difficult to deal with. We know what is happening and how wrong it is and how down right stupid it is. “Speak the speech,” they say. And we do. Time and time again. To no avail it seems. But then you may be called upon and you’d better be ready. The actor prepares and no matter what, they do the job, even with half what the men are paid. I still don’t make what they make. Arms akimbo, I cannot make them change. But I keep on and continue my climb up this mountain I love so well. I will never reach the summit because it does not exist. I love this mountain and by God, from what ever height, I love the view. I’m here. I will not turn my head towards those who cannot look up and see the beauty of the sky. I’m not trying to wax poetic. I mean it. I’m telling you to be bold. Forge ahead. Speak truth to power and speak truth to yourself. And fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

All of us will be labeled and judged. But I know there a lot of people who will give you a leg up and help you over the wall. We have a community of women who support one another. Perhaps the greatest hurdle is…. We can’t get financing for our movies.
That’s a bitch.

V mad


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