Virginia Madsen had already been in dozens of movies when she starred in "Sideways," but that was the film that made her a household name and earned her an Oscar nomination. Now Madsen is starring opposite Morgan Freeman in Rob Reiner's new movie "The Magic of Belle Isle," which expands into multiple city this weekend. In it, she plays Mrs. O'Neil, a single mom to three kids who find themselves living next to Monte Wildhorn, a wheelchair-bound, alcoholic author whose best days of writing pulp Westerns seem to be behind him. The film is sweet, though it often veers towards the sentimental, but it will likely leave its intended audience--which we'll call it an older generation than those coveted by the studios--feeling good.
Madsen spoke to Upcoming-Movies.com about the new movie, her career, and the state of American filmmaking.
Upcoming-Movies.com: We've becomes so accustomed to something going wrong in movies that I was surprised when I got to the end and nothing horrible had happened.
Virginia Madsen: I agree. I think in watching the film, you almost think when the swing breaks, Carl might drown, you think he's going to drown and that's going to be the big lesson for everyone. It really stayed on point and allowed these people to--as Morgan said, we were onioning. We just revealed ourselves layer by layer by layer. It's a wonderful human story, and it's a love story.
It seems like it's also about the way that people constantly surprise us.
Virginia Madsen: Yes, and life surprises us. Be ready, because when you least expect it, life is going to walk in. And sometimes love walks in. You never know.
True enough. But I'm referring to the smaller things, like the moments your character has with her oldest daughter.
Virginia Madsen: Oh, yes, thank you for noticing that.
It's small things like that that we don't necessarily expect in life.
Virginia Madsen: Yeah, that's true. That's a Rob Reiner film. Not many people still do that in American films. It saddens me, really, the state of the American filmmaker. That's not a statement against the big tentpole films. I love those films--I'll get my bowl of popcorn and go see a big action movie anytime. But the rest of our industry, the artistic side of our industry, the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. The inability to get financing for a movie like this one, and over and over again, they'll make their money, they'll make a profit. Morgan Freeman should get nominated for Best Actor for this role, but I don't think they're going that way for this.
It often feels as though the big tentpole films are made more for the overseas box office than the domestic one.
Virginia Madsen: They lack story. I think that's the thing that I am always disappointed in. My son is 17, so sometimes I take a whole bunch of them to the movies together. So many times they walk out disappointed. They loved "Iron Man," because "Iron Man" had a good story. But another one, which I won't mention, they thought was lame. They liked "Prometheus" because it was interesting and mysterious, and they couldn't quite figure it out. This sort of dumbing down of movies is entirely unnecessary.
But this one stays on point, it's just a little movie about people.
Virginia Madsen: It is a little movie about people. Like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Try to get financing for that, a bunch of senior citizens go live in India? And there's a love story in there? But people line up around the block. I know for a fact that audiences are hungry for a story.
That's a reasonable comparison, because they're both intended to a degree to an older demographic. What I see as different is that this is like the way that we all romanticize the summer romances we might have had.
Virginia Madsen: Oh, yes!
You know, at 15 or 19 or whatever. This is like a summer romance movie for an older generation.
Virginia Madsen: And I loved it because I never had a summer romance. I actually had the first summer romance of my life that summer. And I brought my fella with me on the movie. That was the first time I ever had a summer romance. And it was happening in the movie too, so it was so great. I never had that kind of attention, so of course, this movie would find me, because it was really happening. And of course, it's never too late to find it.
Speaking of that, how did you find this film? Or did it find you?
Virginia Madsen: I was feeling very low about the state of art films and that side of the industry, because most of my career has been and always will be small independent films. So I decided to get out of Dodge, so I took a road trip into the desert. As I was pulling off the road into this little hotel, my cell phone started working. All of a sudden it had reception. And it was my agent, and he said, 'Rob Reiner wants you to do his next movie.' I said, 'he does?' And he said, 'Are you sitting down yet?' I flopped back into the car and said, 'yes, I'm sitting.' He says, 'It's Morgan Freeman and you're the leading lady.' I gasped and said, 'Are you fucking kidding me?' I started crying and I was jumping up and down, and my guy was, like, 'it's good, right?' And all I could say was, 'It's Rob Reiner!' I didn't have to read it, I just said yes. I didn't care about the money. And then reading it was a delight and brought tears to my eyes. I just couldn't believe the beauty of the script. I knew it would be good because of the two of them, but the language, the dialogue, the way that it was written, was like I felt when I read "Sidways." It was just so beautiful. So I sat in the middle of the desert by this funky 1960s pool at the Orbit Inn and just cried like a baby. It's just so unusual that a script like this would ever come along.