A lot has changed for the striking actress, Virginia Madsen, since her role in the box-office sensation, Sideways, won her not only accolades but an Oscar nomination. For starters, the single mom took a hiatus from Hollywood to focus on raising her son, Jack. During that time, she stopped taking on new work and headed back to acting school.
Here, she talks openly about how hard it was balancing motherhood and her acting career at first and her latest film project, Amelia Earhart, with Richard Gere and Hilary Swank (hitting theaters in 2009). Plus, she shares why her cause-du-jour is urging women nationwide to show up at the voting booth this November 4.
Q: Why does it matter to you if women pull the lever on Election Day?
A: All voices matter. My mother taught me that. I remember turning 18 and registering to vote. It was a big deal in my house. Voting meant being part of the world around me, being an adult. On November 4, I'm taking a high school senior who lives on my block to vote for the first time—with her mother's permission, of course.
Q: What's your answer to women who say their vote won't make a difference?
A: People have their reasons for not wanting to get involved, but this time you can't opt out. This election is too important. Gosh, have we forgotten what this country is really about? We didn't always get to be in the room. We have to remember that. Women didn't have the right to vote until 1920. I don't see voting as a privilege. It's a responsibility. You can go to vote411.org and click on your state to find out how to register and find a polling place near you.
Q: You pull off quite a balancing act in your life. How do you juggle motherhood and work?
A: It's about making choices every day—what to eat, how to take care of my body and my son, how to think about myself, how good am I going to be to myself. We can decide to live each day with intention.
Q: Must be tough cramming exercise into your schedule—how do you stay fit?
A: Mostly yoga. It's almost a spiritual practice and reflects the way I live my life right now. Before, I was too anxious and couldn't quiet my mind. My workouts were hard and fast—rock the cardio! Now, I allow myself to slow down and be still. I don't wake up wanting to go to the gym, though. I like working out, especially yoga, but I still have to trick myself into doing it.
Q: What are your get-to-the-gym tricks?
A: It's all about finding what appeals to you on that day. For me, exercise is a necessity. I think better. I don't get depressed. I'm a better mother and a better actress. I have to work out because it seems everything falls apart when I don't. If I don't feel like going to the gym I go hiking with my son and the dogs—that's a workout. It's about being consistent. Deciding to do something three times a week and sticking to it. That's how you get results.
Q: What's in your age-defying arsenal?
A: We look much different after 40 than our grandmothers, even our mothers, did. Fitness, diet and exercise are part of our culture so we lead healthier lifestyles. We can give ourselves permission to color our hair or get Botox. Years ago, women didn't share beauty secrets. But let's not keep secrets. Let's bring it all out and talk about it.
Q: How did becoming a mom change your life?
A: I just love being a mother. I waited a long time to have that baby! There's nothing more exciting, nothing I feel more passionate about, nothing cooler, funnier or more fulfilling than being Jack's mom. Going back to work was hard. But I had to make a living. That's when I figured out how to juggle.
Q: How did you get back on the set?
A:After Jack, everything slowed to a grinding halt. My career was flat on its face, a runaway train going the wrong way. I had to derail it completely, even stop the bread-and-butter jobs on Lifetime that saved my house. I had to stop scolding myself with these things we say to ourselves as women—get off the couch, put down the pizza, you're awful, you're fat. If a man had treated me the way I was treating myself, I would have broken up with him. I took inventory and went back to acting school. Starting things up again while raising my son is one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Q: And you did it! What can you tell us about the projects you're working on?
A: I co-star in the biopic, Amelia Earhart with Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. I play the wife of the man who created the image of Amelia. I leave him and he marries Amelia. I had so much fun. I wore a brunette wig and wonderful clothes from the 1920s. I also launched the Title IX production company with a partner. Our first documentary, directed by my 75-year-old mother, is called I Know A Woman Like That. It's in the editing room now.
Q: How did you become so confident?
A: I got older. As you age, you get smarter. I know who I am. I love watching my son thrive. I'm proud of this documentary I'm finishing up about women living vibrantly in their upper decades. I love my body. I don't really care if someone else doesn't like me. In my 20s, I was self-conscious. I had a strong personality but beneath it was a bundle of nerves. I'm not so hard on myself anymore. Success—that's it—success.