Following the lead of Glenn Close, Edie Falco, and Holly Hunter — great actresses of a certain age — Virginia Madsen went and got herself a television show. Starting Sunday night, the actress, recognized in airports for eighties movie Fire With Fire, horror flick Candyman, and, most notably, her Oscar-nominated turn in 2004’s paean to wine-drinking Sideways, will star in ABC’s new dramedy Scoundrels. The show, based on a hit New Zealand series, centers on a crime family whose matriarch, Cheryl, played by Madsen, decides it’s about time her brood went straight after her husband Wolf lands in jail (the rest of the family’s not quite convinced). On her last day of shooting the series, Madsen spoke with us from New Mexico about why she got into TV, how Sideways is the gift that keeps on giving, her gig as a Botox spokesperson, and how she can’t turn off CNN.
So the very first scene of Scoundrels is a sex scene.
“Page One, Scene One: Cheryl and Wolf make love.” I was like, “Okay!”
Was that the first thing you shot?
No, but it was in the first couple of weeks. They gave us some time for [the actor who plays Wolf] David [James Elliott of J.A.G.] and I to do some establishing scenes, before we had to have sex. I appreciated that. We try to push the boundaries with Cheryl and Wolf because they are very sexual people. But it is network TV, and I’m kind of grateful for that. There isn’t an awful lot we can show.
Had you been looking for a TV show to do?
Well, they sent me the script and I had a dilemma. Did I want to go into the network-TV world? It was an area that I really knew nothing about and I’d always heard that, “Oh, the hours are crazy, it’s so corporate and you’ll be miserable.” But I really loved this material, and so I met with the producer and writers, and they were such lovely people that in one lunch, they convinced me to do the show.
You’ve worked on a network-TV show before, haven’t you? Smith, with Ray Liotta?
But that wasn’t a very satisfying experience for me, creatively. It was a very testosterone show. It’s a lot of action and violence, and I was ever the pancake-maker at home in the kitchen and that was very frustrating for me, as it would be for any woman. My story line wasn’t really developing, and then, suddenly, before it had a chance to develop, the show was canceled. I just felt burned by the whole thing. But I took it in stride.
Do you feel like the woman as pancake-maker is more common in movies than TV at this point?
Oh, definitely. In the last five years, I have watched our presence onscreen shrink into next to nothing. It really angers me. It seems like the movies that will star a woman are mostly horror movies We’re all flocking to TV because this is where they’re telling our stories. You go where the work is.
Sideways came out in 2004, and you were nominated for an Oscar in 2005. Has that experience affected your career in the way you imagined it would?
No, not at all. It was so unexpected that any of that stuff happened, let alone going all the way to the big dance. It was the best year. I had such a good time and I thought, I’ve got two years to ride this wave and then we’ll make a plan at the end of those two years. But Sideways is the gift that keeps on giving. Once you get a nomination, you’re sort of put on a list and you are offered jobs. When my agent told me that my life was going to change, I didn’t think it was going to change for this many years.
Have you had any experiences since Sideways that you’ve found as fulfilling?
I love my job, so being on a set is always fulfilling to me. You don’t work to get awards. I had an incredible experience making Haunting in Connecticut. I made a movie in New Orleans; I had an amazing time making that. And then Scoundrels — this is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had.
One of the things you’ve done since Sideways was to become a spokesperson for Botox. Why did you end up doing that?
I was talking about it anyway. People ask me a lot about my beauty regime and the only thing they end up printing is that I use Botox. That is one thing that I do. They came to me and said, “Would you like to be a spokesperson?” What was so surprising was how many people thanked me for talking about it.
Yeah. Like people in elevators. And I think that it kind of helped end the frozen face and I’m happy about it.
Because the cat’s out of the bag. Stop using it too much and here’s the real information about it. There’s so many people who use it who look like me, like where our face isn’t frozen and our forehead moves and that’s really, more often than not, how it’s used. So, I was very happy the word was out there.
Do you worry that it’s a slippery slope, being pro-Botox? Such as when someone like Heidi Montag comes along?
Sure. Some people make a different choice than I make. The only thing I can really do is tell you what I do, and what I do is a lot more than lotions, potions, and injectables, but if asked about those lotions, potions, and injectables, I’m happy to share that information. I think that what’s happening now is that people are not seeing Botox, what they’re seeing is the overuse of fillers. They’re seeing a lot of faces filled with silicone. And I don’t know much about that. I wouldn’t make that choice.
Since plastic surgery was invented, there are people that have been abusing it and overdoing it. You see someone who is a very, very young girl who is using this to make a career and using it to wear a size H breast; I mean, I don’t get it, but then I feel like I sound like an old lady, like, “You’re a beautiful, young girl! Why would you ever want to do anything like that?” There’s a tendency right now to want to show the freak show. We’re making these young girls run a gauntlet. It’s the public shaming of very young women — that scares me more than somebody like Heidi … whatever her name is.
I guess that means you don’t watch The Hills. Do you watch TV, though?
I do. I have so many TVs in my house; it’s embarrassing. I’ve got five TVs and four computers. I’m glued to CNN right now, watching the oil feed. I just think it’s a responsibility to witness it or something.
Have you watched Outrageous Fortune, the show that Scoundrels is based on?
No. They didn’t want me to. I was trying to sneak and watch it on YouTube, but I couldn’t find it. It’s a big hit show and they didn’t want any of us to compare our characterizations with theirs. They wanted me to create my own Cheryl. She’s a huge star over there. She’s won like 7,500 awards, and many of them for Outrageous Fortune, so I get it. I follow her on Twitter.
Does she follow you back?
I just found her the day before yesterday, so I don’t know.
Are you into Twitter?
Oh my God! I’m obsessed! I try to take days off and try not to be on, because I am chatting constantly on Twitter and it’s not a good thing. I mean, it’s really fun and there’s also a lot of news stories I follow on there, like the oil spill, and there’s a lot of news coming out of Iran.
So you’re a news buff?
Yes. And I could actually name you the newspapers I read.