Virginia Madsen

Virginia Gayle Madsen (born September 11, 1961)[1] is an American actress and film producer. She made her film debut in Class (1983), which was filmed in her native Chicago. After moving to Los Angeles, director David Lynch cast her as Princess Irulan in the science fiction film Dune (1984). Madsen then starred in a series of successful teen movies, including Electric Dreams (1984), Modern Girls (1986), and Fire with Fire (1986).

Virginia Madsen
Virginia Gayle Madsen

(1961-09-11) September 11, 1961
  • Actress
  • producer
Years active1983–present
Danny Huston
(m. 1989; div. 1992)
Partner(s)Antonio Sabàto Jr. (1993–1998)

Madsen received further recognition for her starring role as Helen Lyle in the horror film Candyman (1992). She received critical acclaim for her performance as Maya in Alexander Payne's comedy-drama film Sideways (2004), for which she received numerous awards, including nominations for the Golden Globe Award and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her other film appearances include Long Gone (1987), Gotham (1988), The Hot Spot (1990), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), The Astronaut Farmer (2007), The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), Red Riding Hood (2011), All the Wilderness (2014), Joy (2015), Better Watch Out (2017), and Her Smell (2018).

On television, Madsen has appeared in the comedy-drama series Moonlighting (1989), the comedy series Frasier (1998), the period drama series American Dreams (2002–2003), the science fiction series The Event (2011), the supernatural drama series Witches of East End (2013–2014), the political thriller series Designated Survivor (2016–2017), and the DC Universe superhero horror series Swamp Thing (2019).

Early life

Virginia Gayle Madsen[2] was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Elaine Madsen (née Elaine Loretta Melson), who became an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and author, and Calvin Madsen, a firefighter.[3] After Madsen's parents divorced in the late 1960s, when the children were young, her mother left a career in finance to pursue a career in arts, encouraged by film critic Roger Ebert.[4] Madsen's siblings are Cheryl Madsen, an entrepreneur, and actor Michael Madsen. Her paternal grandparents were Danish, and her mother has English, Irish, Scottish, German and distant Native American ancestry.[5] Madsen is a graduate of New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.[6]

Madsen later attended the Ted Liss Acting Studio in Chicago, and Harand Camp Adult Theater Seminar in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Of her experience with Liss, she said: "I had wanted to join his class since I was 12. It was well worth the wait because I don't think I could have got that sort of training anywhere else especially in the United States... I always wanted to make a real career out of acting."[7]



Madsen made her acting debut at age 22, in a bit part where she landed her role as Lisa in the comedy film Class (1983). She next appeared in Kenny Loggins' music video for "I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)" from the Footloose soundtrack.

She portrayed a cellist named Madeline in Electric Dreams (1984), the first film was released by Virgin Films Production Company. She was cast as Princess Irulan in David Lynch's science fiction epic Dune (1984).[8] In 1986, she starred as Boris' (Vincent Spano) romantic interest Barbara in the film Creator, which also starred Peter O'Toole.

Madsen first became popular with audiences in 1986 with her portrayal of a Catholic school girl who fell in love with a boy from a prison camp in Duncan Gibbons' Fire with Fire. As beauty queen Dixie Lee Boxx, she was the love interest of minor league baseball manager Cecil "Stud" Cantrell (William Petersen) in the HBO original film Long Gone (1987). Also in the same year, she appeared in the music video for "I Found Someone", by Cher. She played Allison Rowe, a secretary in the comedy film Hot to Trot (1988). She also starred as Helen Lyle in the horror film Candyman (1992).

Madsen appeared in a small role in the Francis Ford Coppola drama The Rainmaker (1997) alongside Matt Damon and Claire Danes. Film critic Roger Ebert said that Madsen had a "strong scene",[9] while reviewer James Berardinelli noted that "the supporting cast is solid, with turns from... Virginia Madsen as a witness for the plaintiff".[10] Madsen had a critically acclaimed performance as a supporting actress in Sideways (2004), directed by Alexander Payne. Her role catapulted her onto the Hollywood A-list.[11]

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 alongside Jim Carrey in The Number 23 and Billy Bob Thornton in The Astronaut Farmer; both films released in North America on February 23, 2007. She voiced Queen Hippolyte, mother of Wonder Woman, in the animated film Wonder Woman (2009).


In 1988, Madsen appeared as Maddie Hayes' cousin in the fifth and final season of the ABC drama series Moonlighting. She has since made various television appearances, including Star Trek: Voyager, CSI: Miami, Dawson's Creek, The Practice, Frasier, and other television series. She was also co-host of the long-running television series Unsolved Mysteries in 1999, during the show's eleventh season (which was also the second and final season on CBS). She starred alongside Ray Liotta in the short-lived CBS crime drama series Smith. She also had a recurring role in the eighth and final season of the USA Network comedy-drama series Monk.

In 2010, she landed the starring role of Cheryl West in the ABC comedy-drama series Scoundrels. In December 2010, it was announced that she would be joining the cast in the NBC science fiction series The Event.[12] In 2012, she joined the cast of the AMC western drama series Hell on Wheels as Mrs. Hannah Durant, first appearing in episode eight of season 2, "The Lord's Day". In 2013, Madsen began appearing on Lifetime's Witches of East End as Penelope Gardiner, the main villainess of the first season.

She starred as Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten in the first season of the ABC political drama series Designated Survivor.[13]


In 2008, she formed her own film production company called Title IX Productions.[14] Her first project was a film made with her mother titled I Know a Woman Like That. The film is a documentary about the lives of older women. On the creation of the film, she said her mother's active lifestyle was an inspiration to start filming.

My mother's level of activity, of productivity, was exactly why I thought a project like this would work. Originally, when we put the idea together, she had said, "I'm far too busy. I'm going to Holland, and then I'm going here and there and I'm writing my book." But that's really what it's about.[15]

Personal life

Madsen was married to actor and director Danny Huston after meeting on the set of Mr. North (1988). They married in 1989 and divorced in 1992.[16] Madsen was in a long-term relationship with Antonio Sabàto Jr. from 1993 to 1998, with whom she has one son.[17]



Year Title Role Notes
1983 Class Lisa
1984 Electric Dreams Madeline Robistat
1984 Dune Princess Irulan
1985 Creator Barbara Spencer
1986 Fire with Fire Lisa Taylor
1986 Modern Girls Kelly
1987 Long Gone Dixie Lee Boxx
1987 Slam Dance Yolanda Caldwell
1987 Zombie High Andrea Miller
1988 Mr. North Sally Boffin
1988 Hot to Trot Allison Rowe
1989 Heart of Dixie Delia June Curry
1990 The Hot Spot Dolly Harshaw
1991 Becoming Colette Polaire Sorel
1991 Highlander II: The Quickening Louise Marcus
1992 Candyman Helen Lyle
1994 Caroline at Midnight Susan Prince
1994 Blue Tiger Gina Hayes
1995 The Prophecy Katherine
1996 Just Your Luck Kim
1996 Ghosts of Mississippi Dixie DeLaughter
1997 The Rainmaker Jackie Lemanczyk
1998 Ballad of the Nightingale Mo Lewis
1998 Ambushed Lucy Monroe
1999 The Florentine Molly
1999 The Haunting Jane Vance
2000 Lying in Wait Vera Miller
2000 After Sex Traci
2001 Full Disclosure Brenda Hopkins
2001 Almost Salinas Clare
2001 Just Ask My Children Brenda Kniffen
2002 American Gun Penny Tillman
2003 Artworks Emma Becker
2003 Nobody Knows Anything! Prison Lawyer
2004 Sideways Maya Randall
2005 Scooby-Doo! in Where's My Mummy? Cleopatra (voice) Direct-to-DVD
2005 Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild The Beast (voice) Direct-to-DVD
2006 Firewall Beth Stanfield
2006 A Prairie Home Companion Dangerous Woman
2007 The Astronaut Farmer Audrey Farmer
2007 The Number 23 Agatha Sparrow / Fabrizia
2007 Ripple Effect Sherry Atrash
2007 Cutlass Robin
2007 Being Michael Madsen Herself
2008 Diminished Capacity Charlotte
2009 The Haunting in Connecticut Sara Campbell
2009 Wonder Woman Queen Hippolyta (voice) Direct-to-DVD
2009 Amelia Dorothy Binney Deleted scenes
2010 Father of Invention Lorraine King
2011 Red Riding Hood Suzette
2012 The Magic of Belle Isle Charlotte O'Neil
2013 The Last Keepers Abigail Carver
2013 The Hot Flashes Clementine Winks
2013 Crazy Kind of Love Augusta Iris
2014 All the Wilderness Abigail Charm
2015 Walter Karen Benjamin
2015 Dead Rising: Watchtower Maggie
2015 Burning Bodhi Naomi
2015 Joy Terry Mangano
2016 Burn Your Maps Victoria
2017 Better Watch Out Deandra Lerner
2017 A Change of Heart Deena
2018 1985 Eileen Lester
2018 Her Smell Ania Adamcyzk
2018 Spare Room Nat


Year Title Role Notes
1984 American Playhouse Lou Ellen Purdy Episode: "A Matter of Principle"
1985 Mussolini: The Untold Story Claretta Petacci Miniseries
1987 Long Gone Dixie Lee Boxx Television film
1988 Gotham Rachel Carlyle Television film
1989 Third Degree Burn Anne Scholes Television film
1989 Moonlighting Annie Charnock 3 episodes
1991 Victim of Love Carla Simons Television film
1991 Ironclads Betty Stuart Television film
1991 Love Kills Rebecca Bishop Television film
1992 A Murderous Affair: The Carolyn Warmus Story Carolyn Warmus Television film
1993 Linda Linda Cowley Television film
1997 The Apocalypse Watch Karin De Vries Television film
1998 Star Trek: Voyager Kellin Episode: "Unforgettable"
1998 Frasier Cassandra Stone 4 episodes
1999 Unsolved Mysteries Co-host 6 episodes
2000 Children of Fortune Ingrid Bast Television film
2001 Crossfire Trail Anne Rodney Television film
2001 Just Ask My Children Brenda Kniffen Television film
2001 The Practice Marsha Ellison 2 episodes
2002 Justice League Dr. Sarah Corwin (voice) 2 episodes
2002–2003 American Dreams Rebecca Sandstrom 7 episodes
2003 Tempted Emma Burke Television film
2003 Dawson's Creek Maddy Allen Episode: "All Good Things..."
2003 CSI: Miami Krista Walker Episode: "Death Grip"
2003 Spider-Man: The New Animated Series Silver Sable (voice) 2 episodes
2003 Boomtown Erika Ashland Episode: "The Big Picture"
2004 Brave New Girl Wanda Lovell Television film
2005–2006 Justice League Unlimited Veronica Sinclair / Roulette (voice) 2 episodes
2005 Teen Titans Arella (voice) Episode: "The Prophecy"
2006–2007 Smith Hope Stevens 5 episodes
2009 Monk T.K. Jensen 3 episodes
2010 Scoundrels Cheryl West 8 episodes
2011 The Event Catherine Lewis 4 episodes
2012 Hornet's Nest Judy Hammer Television film
2012 Hell on Wheels Mrs. Hannah Durant 4 episodes
2013 Hatfields & McCoys Eloise McCoy Pilot
2013 The Anna Nicole Story Virgie Arthur Television film
2013–2014 Witches of East End Penelope Gardiner 8 episodes
2015 An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success Karen Thomas Television film
2015 Lost Boy Laura Harris Television film
2015 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Beth Anne Rollins Episode: "Maternal Instincts"
2016, 2019 Elementary Paige Cowan 3 episodes
2016 American Gothic Madeline Hawthorne Main role
2016 Pickle and Peanut Jackson (voice) Episode: "Night Shift/Scalped"
2016–2017 Designated Survivor Kimble Hookstraten 16 episodes
2017 Voltron: Legendary Defender Commander Heera (voice) Episode: "Hole in the Sky"
2018 The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair Tamara Quinn Miniseries
2019 Swamp Thing Maria Sunderland[18] 8 episodes

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Result
1992 Candyman Saturn Award for Best Actress Won
2004 Sideways Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cast Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Acting Ensemble Won
Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female Won
Iowa Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
New York Film Critics Online Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Satellite Award for Best Cast – Motion Picture Won
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won
Seattle Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
2006 A Prairie Home Companion Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast Nominated
Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Ensemble Cast Nominated


  1. "Virginia Madsen". TV Guide. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  2. "Virginia Madsen Facts". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on October 29, 2019.
  3. Bell, Mark (February 23, 2007). "Method Fest to present the 2007 Maverick Award to Michael Madsen". Film Threat. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  4. Kennedy, Lisa (February 21, 2007). "A strong role, an equal partner". The Denver Post. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  5. Bray, Tony (April 2004). "Virginia Madsen". Archived from the original on August 16, 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  6. "Virginia Madsen and Suzanne Adams". TeachersCount. 2006. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  7. Madsen, Virginia (2007). "Virginia Madsen Biography – Bio – Life History". Virginia Madsen Official Site. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  8. 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 and bass artist Aphrodite in his song "Spice (Even Spicier)".
  9. Ebert, Roger (November 21, 1997). "The Rainmaker". Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  10. Berardinelli, James (1997). "The Rainmaker". ReelViews. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  11. Tarshis, Joan (September 2005). "Virginia Madsen's Vintage Year". Smoke Magazine. Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  12. Ausiello, Michael (December 13, 2010). "Virginia Madsen Joins NBC's 'The Event'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  13. Andreeva, Nellie (July 26, 2016). "'Designated Survivor': Virginia Madsen Joins New ABC Series In Key Role". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  14. Siegel, Tatiana (April 21, 2008). "Virginia Madsen added to 'Amelia'". Variety. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  15. "Virginia Madsen and Elaine Madsen Interview". Ability. February–March 2010. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  16. Fink, Mitchell (July 13, 1992). "People Insider". People. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
  17. "Virginia Madsen Says Ex Has 'Taken Parenthood On'". People. June 24, 2010. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  18. Petski, Denise (November 1, 2018). "'Swamp Thing': Virginia Madsen Cast As Maria Sunderland In DC Universe Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
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