The ragtag basketball team The Hot Flashes, including Virginia Madsen in pink legwarmers.
Virginia Madsen is an Oscar nominee, a longtime working actress, a mother, and the founder of film production company Title IX—great feats on all counts. Madsen has had dozens of roles in her career—including Maya in 2004's Sideways and Princess Irulan in 1984's Dune—and is most recently a star of The Hot Flashes (alongside Darryl Hannah, Brooke Shields, and Wanda Sykes), a new film released July 12 from director Susan Seidelman about a group of misfit middle-aged women who form a basketball team to raise money for breast cancer prevention.
I was lucky enough to speak with Madsen about the film, her perspective on Hollywood, and the sexiness of Helen Mirren.
First of all, is Wanda Sykes as hilarious as she seems?
Yes. Wanda is one of the best women I've ever met. She's so much fun. She's got such a strong spirit, and she's incredibly generous. People would jump out of their cars and leave their car running in the street to come over to hug her. And she always says hello to people and stops and takes a picture. She didn't care at all, she just loved it.
Was your character in The Hot Flashes a fun departure from your dramatic roles?
I've been experimenting with comedy over the last few years and it's something that I'm learning about. This was one of the first times that I got to be funny and not just the "straight man," like Maya in Sideways. So it was a lot of fun for me to work with the physical comedy and what I got to do with my look. I really enjoyed it.
You started in Hollywood in 1983. How has the industry changed since you started acting?
Technology has been the biggest change. It's been the most noticeable change and the most welcome change. We all love shooting on film because the technology's not quite there. But it's almost there.
Everything else is still pretty much the same; all the more negative sides of our industry, like the way that women are portrayed and the way they're treated, and what size we're expected to be. And men have that to a certain extent too. But it's always been that way, it's really nothing new. You just have to grow a thick skin, fight against it, and stand up against it to be yourself.
And it's very challenging to be a woman at this time, because our presence in film is almost nonexistent. We're about thirty percent of the entire film industry right now. And that's a sad fact. But we don't have to be twenty-five anymore. It is okay to age. I mean, look at Helen Mirren. She's still such a badass and she's still considered sexy. Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep, too. There's not as much ageism as there used to be.
Why did you name your production company Title IX?
It wasn't just that we wanted to make films about women, it was that Hollywood has been a male playground for so many years. It's our way of saying, "Put me in coach!" That's what we're doing. We have two things we're working on right now. One is a film based on a book called The Bitch Posse, which is perfect for this interview. And we have director Catherine Hardwicke involved. It's a fun read, and a little bit pulpy. It didn't have an ending, so we're working with a writer now. It'll be a really great story, especially with Catherine directing it.
Have there been times in your career when you felt limited by your gender?
I feel it now more than I ever have. Although I've had wonderful opportunities to work, I feel very frustrated in getting financing for films that I'd like to make as a producer. I felt very frustrated in trying to work on television. I guess I'm not discouraged, I'm frustrated with the state of the industry when it comes to women.
But now there are really amazing women, and so many strong, dynamic, talented women of all ages that they're not going to be able to do this forever. We will continue to make movies about US. We will continue with the help of not only our sisters, but with some really great men, to keep telling our stories. We will have our voices heard. And that's not going to be on network television. It's going to be on cable and in the new media.
When you're a young female in Hollywood and you have ideas and an opinion, there are people in power who would rather you keep that to yourself. They'd rather you shut up and look pretty. And that still exists. You have to negotiate that. It doesn't mean you have to listen to it, I certainly didn't.
Women are much more likely to be typecast or pigeonholed, whether they're too sexy or considered too ugly, or too fat or too ethnic or whatever category they have to put us in. They're less likely to do that when you get older, because they can't. No one would dare to do that to me now because I'm tougher now and smarter.
Watch the trailer for The Hot Flashes:
Related Reading: Check out Women of a Certain Age, our blog series all about portrayals of older women on TV.