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Virginia Madsen plays the supportive wife Audie Farmer in "The Astronaut Farmer." Madsen also stars in the thriller "The Number 23," which stars Jim Carrey. Both reviews follow on Pages 17 and 18.
Madsen’s path has actress in a good place
The veteran of screen and TV can now be choosy about her roles
When actress Virginia Madsen hears "Hawaii," she veers from Hollywood talk and starts to gush. "Oh, I'd live there if I could, that's how much I love it!" she says via phone from San Diego during her nationwide press tour for "The Astronaut Farmer." She and her 12-year-old son favor the Grand Wailea on Maui, but she wants to try a new island on her next visit.
Eventually, the conversation moves back to the assigned topic: her new movie and varied career.
Though the 45-year-old Madsen has worked steadily since the early 1980s, "Sideways" (2004) ushered in fresh possibilities. These included "Firewall" with Harrison Ford and "A Prairie Home Companion" in 2006, followed by "The Number 23" with Jim Carrey this year.
"I'm in an incredible place as an actor right now," she admits. "All actors dream of being able to choose when and if you work and what you're going to do. It's not always going to be that way, but right now, I love it."
One of the payoffs involved working with Billy Bob Thornton and the Polish Brothers in "The Astronaut Farmer," a film she seems pleased to promote at every level.
"I'm so proud of it," she says. "It's a good family film, as opposed to the usual fluff. A lot of times when there's a kids' film, the parents simply have to endure it for 90 minutes, but this movie the grownups can enjoy as well. And the message of the film is really important to me, the idea of working hard to make your dream come true, against all odds, no matter what anyone else says. You know, that's kind of my life story!"
Madsen has spent the last two weeks touring the country, conducting interviews, introducing the film in various cities and participating in question-and-answer sessions after screenings. "We wanted to meet people in real life," she says, "not just parade (the media) in and out of the room at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles."
Madsen was in Hawaii when she first received the script, vacationing with another family that included a rocket scientist. "I thought, 'It's a sign,' " she laughs. The scientist friend appreciated the premise and informed Madsen that the homemade rocket ship angle was more than plausible. But it wasn't just the heartwarming story that attracted her to the film.
"It's exciting now because I get scripts with names I recognize and people I admire," she says. "Before, it used to be trying to find a good part. Now I look for the whole package; I want the producers to be powerful and to know what they're doing. I want the directors to know more than me. I want to work with the most gifted actors."
She and Thornton did not know each other before shooting began. "You can't act chemistry, and we had it from the moment we met," she says. "We just really liked each other. We have so much in common; our careers are really similar. We'd both been around for a long time before we got real success. He doesn't take anything for granted and he loves coming to work. We're kind of like two kids in a candy store, and that's a great atmosphere to be in, when an actor is like that. And we're both parents, so we particularly liked working with the kids. We were more than compatible."