“It’s expected that I’m going to have an opinion about things,” actor Virginia Madsen said Thursday in a Midtown cafe. We were meeting to discuss 1985, Yen Tan’s acclaimed black-and-white drama about a man named Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) who goes home to visit his family during the titular year, knowing it may be the last time he gets to do so because he has AIDS. Madsen plays Eileen, his mom who, in the words of Glenn Kenny’s New York Times rave review, is “almost desperately radiating affection.” It’s a complicated role, one that finds Madsen playing a woman who’s playing her own role as cheerful caretaker, while clearly aware that something is wrong.
Madsen’s performance is a highlight, as it is in most of her films. She’s best known for her work in the 1992 horror film Candyman and for her Oscar-nominated performance in 2004’s Sideways. But lately, she’s taken on supporting roles in smaller indies like 1985 and Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, as well as television work (she appeared in the first season of ABC’s Designated Survivor).
When our conversation turned to #MeToo and the sexual harassment she experienced as a young “hot babe” in Hollywood in the ’80s, Madsen surprised me with her candor—she had previously mentioned said harassment in a brief Facebook post last year in the wake of reports about Harvey Weinstein. She doesn’t name names, but she did talk about about her experience and the emotional fallout in detail. We also discussed her experience with Hollywood ageism at 56 and her late realization that she’s “kind of slutty.” An edited and condensed transcript of our conversation appears below.
JEZEBEL: What did you think when you received the script for 1985?
VIRGINIA MADSEN: You know, I read a lot of bad scripts. I read a lot of bad writing. I try to be nice, but it’s work. This script was not work. It was something I fell in love with and felt very moved by. I felt there was an importance to this story, and I was looking for that. “Send me something with meaning, goddamn it.” I do need to pay the rent, but I need something that has depth and meaning. I’d been doing television. That’s the only place where the money is now, but that’s not satisfying. That’s a job. You make sure at least you’re having fun doing it, but I wanted something that people could feel something and learn something from.