Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen is best-known for her role in Sideways. Her other films include Dune, The Hot Spot, Candyman, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Rainmaker, The Haunting, Firewall, A Prairie Home Companion, The Astronaut Farmer, and The Number 23. She has appeared in such television shows as Moonlighting, Star Trek: Voyager, Frasier, The Practice, American Dreams, and Boomtown. Voice-over gigs on Spider-Man, Teen Titans, and Justice League prepared her for the role of Hippolyta in the new DC Universe Animated Film Wonder Woman. Madsen met the press at San Francisco's Moscone Center during WonderCon 2009.
Groucho: First of all, can you tell us about the character of Hippolyta in the film and what her character arc is?
Virginia Madsen: My character arc! Uh, I don’t feel very “actor-y” about the whole thing—it’s just really, really fun to do voices in movies, and um. But I am the Queen of the Amazons, and as I began recording, they were like, “Um, Virginia, you’re a little…too…regal.” And I go, does that mean overacting? And they were like, “Yes.” (Laughs.) It was, you know, a legend and a story that I knew about when I was a really little girl, and I kind of wanted to always be Queen of the Amazons. I didn’t really want to be Wonder Woman; I didn’t like her outfits. (Laughs.) But that was back then, in the '70s, and uh, yeah, yeah. But it was just—I thought it’d be great because I have a five-year-old stepdaughter, and I like that she has her own superhero. Because when I was little that was really the only superhero for us. And now, of course, you know, you see little boys with their action figures, and there’ll be a female just for every male. So, it’s a great sign of the times that we’re doing the movie now.
G: When you’re doing voice-over, do you do anything particular mentally or physically…any kind of tricks of the trade to get the most coloring or character out of your voice?
VM: You know, you just, before you go in, you just have to know that you’re going to have fun, and I get to do things with my voice that I would never get to do on camera. But, really—especially if you’re going to do a longer job—like, you’re not just doing a twenty-minute show, you’re doing a feature-length, and so it takes—you have to warm up your voice, you have to work with your—you know, sharpen your vocal skills before you go into the recording studio. Especially because, in animation there’s a lot of screaming, there’s a lot of grunting. You know, when you’re doing fight sounds, action sounds, everything has to be vocalized. So if you’re not careful with your voice before going in, you won’t have a voice by the end of the day. And I pride myself on the fact that I can scream and grunt and I’ll still have a voice, still be ready to record the next day without being hoarse.
G: What’s a role of yours, either stage or screen, that you wish more people could have seen?
VM: Well, recently Astronaut Farmer. That one I definitely wish the studio had been—but they didn’t like it, they were not behind it, and it’s no secret they didn’t like it.
G: Why did that resonate with you so much?
VM: Oh, ‘cause it’s a good movie, and it’s a family film, and it’s so rare that there’s a family film that the adults can enjoy as much as the children. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the theater with my son, going, "Whyyyyy…" (Laughs.) I mean. It used to be that I’d flip a coin with his dad to see which one of us would have to endure the latest offering, you know, of family fare. And that was just a beautiful film, it was intelligent, it was really entertaining, and it was also a story about a family, and the kids weren’t caricatures, and the wife wasn’t a caricature. So, all around—and it was the Polish brothers, who I think are just brilliant filmmakers. So there was a lot of things about that movie -- I loved it visually, and Billy Bob, you know—it was such a great thing for Billy Bob to be a leading man, you know, to be a sweet, gentle man, when he’s always thought of as more “Bad Santa.” Because I know he likes to be—he might prefer to be— (Laughs.) But, you know, I saw him as my farmer, you know, and he was just—he’s a beautiful man in real life, so, I wish more people could have seen him in that.
G: As a mother, what are some motherhood "dos" and "don’ts" that Hippolyta could teach people?
VM: Well, I think the big lesson that Hippolyta had to learn was to let go and give her daughter freedom and trust her daughter, and she can’t treat her like a little girl anymore, and it’s exactly what I’m going through with a teenage boy. You know? I mean, I was berating him about going to the park the other day, because of the danger of the park, and I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth. And, you know, we had this big fight about it, and I realized, "Oh God, I can’t... he can go to the park." You know? He has to learn to—you have to let your kids, when they get older, use their own judgement and make their own mistakes. That’s really the lesson of Hippolyta: allowing your children to grow up. You know? But you still listen to—"Call your mother!" That’s the—do you realize, the lesson at the end of this movie is just "Call your mother!"? I understand that!