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Virginia Madsen (born September 11, 1961) is an American actress. She came to fame during the 1980s, having appeared in several films aimed at a teenage audience. Two decades later, she once again became known after an Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated role in the 2004 film Sideways. She also starred in the slasher classic Candyman.

Early life

Madsen was born in Chicago, Illinoismarker, 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 Schoolmarker in Winnetka, Illinoismarker.

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, Wisconsinmarker. Of her experience with Liss, she said:


Audiences first caught a glimpse of Madsen in a bit part she landed as Lisa in the teen sex comedy Class. She was cast as Princess Irulan in David Lynch's science fiction epic Dune (1984).

She appeared with Kenny Loggins in the music video "I'm Free" in 1984. This was a track on the "Footloose" soundtrack.

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 also appeared as Maddie Hayes' cousin in the final season of Moonlighting. She also starred in the 1992 slasher film Candyman.

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 turned in a solid performance 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 fabled 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.

During the filming of Candyman Madsen was hypnotised by a hypnotist in order for her pupils to be dilated so she could act out certain scenes. Director Bernard Rose wanted the character to not have the typical screaming style of when confronted with the main villain as done in many other horror films. Madsen did state in an interview for the DVD in 2004 there were some days during filming she did not remember much at all due to the hypnotism. She told director Bernard Rose that she did not want to be hypnotised after the initial few experiences.

Madsen has made numerous television appearances including: Star Trek: Voyager, CSI: Miami, Dawson's Creekmarker, The Practice, Frasier, and other series. She starred opposite Ray Liotta in CBS's short-lived crime drama Smith. Most recently she has appeared as Captain Stottlemeyer's (Ted Levine) love interest on Monk.

She voiced Queen Hippolyte, mother of Wonder Woman, in the 2009 animated Wonder Woman film.

She was a member of the US Dramatic Jury at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Personal life

When Madsen arrived in Hollywood, she was engaged to actor Billy Campbell. She married actor Danny Huston in 1989 and they divorced in 1992. Madsen also had a relationship with actor Antonio Sabàto, Jr., with whom she had a son, Jack Antonio (born August 6, 1994).

Madsen has heterochromia, a genetic trait resulting in different pigmentation of the eyes. Madsen has one green eye, and one half-green, half-brown eye. Her brother, actor Michael Madsen, does not share this trait, however.


Nominations: Academy Awards
  • Sideways (2004) - Best Supporting Actress

Nominations: Golden Globes
  • Sideways (2004) - Best Supporting Actress

Other awards



  • Father of Invention (2010)


  1. Madsen's opening monologue from Dune ("In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.") was later sampled by Israel-based group Astral Projection in their tracks "Dancing Galaxy" and "Ambient Galaxy" on their album Dancing Galaxy, and by drum'n'bass artist Aphrodite in his song "Spice (Even Spicier)."
  2. Exclusive: 'Monk' welcomes Virginia Madsen

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