Exclusive: Virginia Madsen on “Walter” & Acting Journey

 

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Balancing a solid career in both film and television, Oscar nominated actress Virginia Madsen (Sideways) has always had a soft spot for independent films, and the low-budgeted feature Walter combines that aesthetic with well executed storytelling.

The titular character (Andrew J. West, doing nuanced and subtly affecting work) believes he is the son of God. Part of his daily routine is to  immediately judge whether a person is headed to Heaven or Hell. Madsen is Walter’s mom Karen, a woman with a strange fixation for eggs.

Though the concept may come off as a bit to quirky for some moviegoers, Walter’s heart and soul lies in a much more evocative and grounded universe. The seeming novelty and comedy behind Walter eventually pays off (even Karen’s eggs!) to uplifting and heartbreaking effect.

Andrew J. West and Justin Kirk in "Walter" - eOne Films
Andrew J. West and Justin Kirk in “Walter” – eOne Films

During my chat with Madsen, whom I previously interviewed over a decade ago for Sideways, talked about her love for Walter, why independent films have been a staple in her life, and the joys of humbly taking a bow in the most unexpected places.

You’ve worked with your share of independent and first time filmmakers, and Walter director Anna Mastro fits into that category. Is it the material that draws you into such projects?

It’s definitely the material. There’s just a lot more opportunities for women in independent films. You’re certainly not going to find our faces up on the big screen for the most part. Even in television, we’re starting to slip out of that world just a little bit. But on the new networks that are on the internet and in independent films – they’re still telling our stories. I’m always looking for something that I can really chew on. I’m always looking for material that I can be excited by.

The only downside to this is that there’s not much of a paycheck (laughs). So once in a while you have to try and find something that’s more commercial to pay your mortgage and send your kid to college (laughs). It’s always been more satisfying to work in that world. Sometime those worlds collide and you get something like Sideways.

I read on IMDB (internet movie database) that Walter’s budget was just $700,000. Still, along with a great ensemble cast and well written material, the production value was surprisingly good.

It kind of had it all, didn’t it? First of all, it was such an original idea. I never read anything like it. I think that is what made Anna Mastro a really strong director – her preparation. She surrounded herself with really good people.

Everybody was game at making this a good film – everyone was willing to go the extra mile to make her dream come true. Of course she got the best actors because she had the material. And she was really relentless in pursuing us and getting the finances.

But I think her preparation (along with) her cinematographer and the production manager  – all of the ducks were in a row. So we all got to play. We really had something special.

One of the great advantages when you work on a film of this size is there aren’t really any suits running around. There’s not too many cooks in the kitchen. There’s no one looking over the director’s shoulder saying, “Alright, can we get a move on?” So it gives everyone artistic freedom and everyone gets to shine.

It would have been nice if we had an extra week – an extra million (laughs). But boy, she made the best of it.

So much of your acting seems to come from a real place, and that’s conveyed in your scenes with Andrew J. West (for a Q&A w/ West, check out the following piece on The Movie NetworkIs there a key to being in the moment. Is it part of perfecting your craft, or does that maturation as an actor come from life experience?

It’s both. Because for one, it’s being a mother and raising a child. I sort of took this deep sense of concern and worry that you carry with you at all times as a parent. Where at times it’s ridiculous. My son is 20 years old and I worry if he’s eating right. He looks at me, gives me a funny looking smile, and says “Mom, I’m OK.” (laughs) Oh my god, that’s right, you’re not 10 years old!

But I took that kind of concern and just magnified it. Being older now, I’m far more confident. I’m really strong on a set. I really know what I’m doing and I can trust it.

I often travel to Buellton, Ca. and I’ve met residents in the area who still talk about the effects Sideways had in the community. Is it always a great thing to receive such positive feedback from your work?

That’s a wonderful thing. For someone to acknowledge your work, when for so many years they didn’t.

(Sideways) changed my life. It brought me success. When you make films, you don’t get to stand before an audience and hear their applause or their boos (laughs). When someone approaches me to acknowledge my work, that’s my opportunity to take a bow and say “Thank you for watching.” And 98% of people totally mean well and they just want to tell you how much it meant to them.

(It can happen) in the strangest places. I took my kid to Cambodia because I always wanted to see Angkor Wat. I took him there after Sideways and we’re walking around and we see this young couple.

As they began to approach, I could see that they had tears in their eyes. (They said to us) “Our first date was Sideways. We loved the film so much and then we loved each other. And we got married and now we’re on our honeymoon, and you’re standing here on this sacred ground.” And I started crying!

That’s an extreme example because we were halfway across the world. I was in Cuba – in Havana – and there were people coming up to me saying that they loved Candyman and that they loved Sideways. That was the coolest thing ever. I’m just so delighted and grateful that I have those opportunities to take a bow. It’s a wonderful thing.

Thank you so much for your time. I really loved Walter.

Thank you so much for your support!

Along with Walter, Madsen will also be seen in Dead Rising: Watchtower and she recently signed on to director David O’Russell’s (American Hustle) next project Joy.

Walter, which also stars Peter Facinelli, William H. Macy, Neve Campbelland Justin Kirkopens Friday, March 13 in New York (Quad), Los Angeles (the Arena Cinema), Paramount, Ca. (the Bianchi), and the IMAX Theater in the Indiana State Museum.

If you’re nowhere near any of those locations, Walter is also available on such VOD providers as iTunes, Microsoft Xbox, Google, Sony, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Sony, M-GO, and Blockbuster.

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