Early lifeMadsen was born September 11, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Elaine (née Melson), an Emmy-winning poet, producer and playwright who often works for PBS, and Calvin Madsen, a fireman. Madsen's mother left a career in corporate business to pursue a writing career. Madsen's brother is actor Michael Madsen. Her paternal grandparents were Danish and her mother has Irish and Native American ancestry. Madsen is a graduate of New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.
Her first effort as a thespian was as her brother’s assistant in magic shows the two would concoct for their family. She later attended the Ted Liss Acting Studio in Chicago and Harand Camp Adult Theater Seminar in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
FilmAudiences first caught a glimpse of Madsen in a bit part she landed as Lisa in the teen sex comedy Class. She portrayed a role as cellist named Madeline in Electric Dreams (1984), which was the first film release by Virgin Films Production Company. She was cast as Princess Irulan in David Lynch's science fiction epic Dune (1984).
Madsen first became popular with audiences in 1986 with her portrayal of a Catholic schoolgirl who fell in love with a boy from a prison camp in Duncan Gibbons's Fire with Fire. As beauty queen Dixie Lee Boxx, she was the sexy romantic interest of minor-league baseball manager Cecil "Stud" Cantrell (William Petersen) in the made-for-cable Long Gone (1987). She appeared as Maddie Hayes' cousin in the final season of Moonlighting.
She also starred in the 1992 horror film Candyman. During the filming of Candyman Madsen was hypnotised so that her pupils would remain dilated while she acted out certain scenes. The director Bernard Rose wanted the character to not have a typical screaming style of when confronted by the villain. Madsen stated in an interview for the DVD in 2004 that there were some days during filming that she did not remember much due to the hypnotism. She told her director that she did not want to be hypnotised after the initial few experiences.
A couple of provocative film appearances followed: 1990's The Hot Spot with Don Johnson, directed by Dennis Hopper, and the equally steamy Third Degree Burn with Treat Williams. She was also co-host of the TV series Unsolved Mysteries in 1999, the show's final season on CBS.
Madsen appeared in a small but key role in the Francis Ford Coppola drama The Rainmaker (1997) starring Matt Damon. Film critic Roger Ebert said that Madsen had a "strong scene," while reviewer James Berardinelli noted that "the supporting cast is solid, with turns from... Virginia Madsen as a witness for the plaintiff". Madsen had spent more than twenty years in minor films before her breakout critically acclaimed performance in Sideways (2004). The role catapulted her onto the Hollywood A-list. Her first major role after Sideways was opposite Harrison Ford in Firewall. She later appeared in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, in a key role as the angel. She co-starred with Jim Carrey in The Number 23 and Billy Bob Thornton in The Astronaut Farmer; both films opened in North America on February 23, 2007.
She voiced Queen Hippolyte, mother of Wonder Woman, in the 2009 animated Wonder Woman film.
TelevisionMadsen has made numerous television appearances including: Star Trek: Voyager, CSI: Miami, Dawson's Creek, The Practice, Frasier, and other series. She starred opposite Ray Liotta in CBS's short-lived crime drama series Smith. She also made many appearances in the final season of the USA series Monk.
She appeared with Kenny Loggins in the music video "I'm Free", from the Footloose soundtrack (1984).
In 2010, she landed the starring role of Cheryl West in the ABC crime series Scoundrels. In December 2010 it was announced that she will be joining the cast of NBC's science fiction action series The Event.
ProducerIn 2008, she formed her own film production company called Title IX Prods. Her first project was a film made with her mother called I Know a Woman Like That. The film is a documentary about the lives of older women. Her second project is called Fighting Gravity and is about the inability of female ski jumpers to obtain recognition in Olympic competition.
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She was a member of the US Dramatic Jury at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
AwardsNominations: Academy Awards
- Sideways (2004) – Best Supporting Actress
- Sideways (2004) – Best Supporting Actress
- Candyman (1992) – Best Actress: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.
- Sideways (2004) – Best Supporting Actress: Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards; Chicago Film Critics Association Awards; Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards; New York Film Critics Circle Awards; and others.
- 1983: Class as Lisa
- 1984: Electric Dreams as Madeline Robistat
- 1984: Dune as Princess Irulan
- 1985: Creator as Barbara Spencer
- 1986: Fire with Fire as Lisa Taylor
- 1986: Modern Girls as Kelly
- 1987: Slam Dance as Yolanda Caldwell
- 1987: Zombie High as Andrea
- 1987: Long Gone as Dixie Lee Boxx
- 1988: Gotham as Rachel Carlyle
- 1988: Mr. North as Sally Boffin
- 1988: Hot to Trot as Allison Rowe
- 1989: Heart of Dixie as Delia June Curry
- 1990: The Hot Spot as Dolly Harshaw
- 1991: Victim of Love as Carla Simons
- 1991: Becoming Colette as Polaire
- 1991: Highlander II: The Quickening as Louise Marcus
- 1991: Ironclads as Betty Stuart
- 1992: A Murderous Affair: The Carolyn Warmus Story as Carolyn Warmus
- 1992: Candyman as Helen Lyle
- 1994: Caroline at Midnight as Susan Prince
- 1994: Blue Tiger as Gina Hayes
- 1995: The Prophecy as Katherine
- 1996: Just Your Luck as Kim
- 1996: Just Ask My Children as Brenda Kniffen
- 1996: Ghosts of Mississippi as Dixie DeLaughter
- 1997: The Rainmaker as Jackie Lemancyzk
- 1998: Ballad of the Nightingale as N/A
- 1998: Ambushed as Lucy Monroe
- 1999: The Florentine as Molly
- 1999: The Haunting as Jane
- 2000: Lying in Wait as Vera Miller
- 2000: Children of Fortune as Ingrid Bast
- 2000: After Sex as Traci
- 2001: Crossfire Trail as Anne Rodney
- 2001: Full Disclosure as Brenda Hopkins
- 2001: Almost Salinas as Clare
- 2001: Just Ask My Children as Brenda Kniffen
- 2002: Justice League as Dr. Sarah Corwin (4 episodes, 2002-06)
- 2002: American Gun as Penny Tillman
- 2003: Artworks as Emma Becker
- 2003: Nobody Knows Anything! as Prison Lawyer
- 2003: CSI: Miami as Krista Walker (1 episode)
- 2003: Tempted as Emma Burke
- 2004: Sideways as Maya
- 2004: Brave New Girl as Wanda Lovell
- 2005: Scooby-Doo! in Where's My Mummy? as Cleopatra
- 2006: Smith as Hope Stevens (7 episodes, 2006-07)
- 2006: Firewall as Beth Stanfield
- 2006: A Prairie Home Companion as Dangerous Woman
- 2007: The Astronaut Farmer as Audrey 'Audie' Farmer
- 2007: Ripple Effect as Sherry
- 2007: The Number 23 as Agatha Sparrow / Fabrizia
- 2007: Cutlass as Robin
- 2007: Being Michael Madsen as N/A
- 2008: Diminished Capacity as Charlotte
- 2009: The Haunting in Connecticut as Sara Campbell
- 2009: Monk as T.K. Jensen (3 episodes)
- 2009: Amelia as Dorothy Binney (her scenes were cut)
- 2010: Father of Invention as N/A
- 2010: Scoundrels as Cheryl West
- 2011: Red Riding Hood as Suzette