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Make Way For The Warrior Queen
An Interview with Virginia Madsen, Hippolyta in Wonder Woman

A Princess of Dune, a Queen of the Amazons and a stunningly beautiful and talented actress.

photograph by Joe McCabe, FEARnet.com

At WonderCon, things usually work out that we get the best for last. This year, though, DC Universe chose to debut its latest offering, Wonder Woman, on Friday night, which meant that the talent came in a little earlier.

Not only was Wonder Woman a refreshing work, this also meant that the highest point of the Convention came on the first day -- the chance to sit down with Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen.

This one's for Steve Nakano, who made my friends and I watch Electric Dreams about half a dozen times in the summer of 1984. She looks like she hasn't aged a day, and she is as gracious as one could hope -- and that's after having moved around to several tables and rounds of question.

Turns out, not illogically, Ms. Madsen really is a fan -- and a thoughtful one at that. With Joe McCabe of FEARnet.com, we had a great and insightful conversation. (And a tip of the hat to Joe for transcribing this and sharing.)

Question: What was the highlight of this project for you?

Virginia Madsen: Well, it wasn’t necessarily a highlight, but I’ve been doing voiceovers and commercials and animation for about fifteen years. So I kind of feel like I know what I’m doing. But when I first came in for the first couple of scenes, they asked me to tone it down a little.

I was [affecting aristocratic accent] extremely regal, and all of lines were coming out extremely exaggerated because she was the queen of the Amazons. And they kind of very gently said, “Virginia? I feel like you’re a bit too regal perhaps.” That was a very nice way of saying I was overacting. Thankfully they gave me another chance.

Question: How much of Virginia Madsen gets brought into Queen Hippoloyta?

Virginia Madsen: Well, what was funny is that it’s kind of what I’m going through in my real life. I have a fourteen-year-old son, and I always am amazed that… I don’t know if this is something that I draw into my life, but whenever I do a job there’s always some aspect of the job that mirrors my life. Like, every single job I’ve done. And I don’t even have to sort of reach for it – it’s there in every job.

And I’m having sort of the same dilemma that Hippolyta was. Which is a very human-level queen I know – I believe I’m the queen of my household. But just sort of giving my son freedom and letting him go out into the world, and trusting that he’ll have good judgment. It’s been a real struggle for me, and my son’s been very patient. But he’s always trying to say, “Mommm…”

So when I told him about this story he was like, “See?” [Laughs.] It’s what every parent has to battle against – the balance between protecting and teaching them, but also letting them go.

Hippolyta and her people.

Question: How familiar were you with the Wonder Woman storyline?

Virginia Madsen: I grew up with Wonder Woman. She was really the only superhero. I mean, there was Wonder Woman and there was Barbie, and I certainly wasn’t going to play with Barbie. I was so uninterested in her, and my mother was a feminist, so she thought Barbie was a negative influence.

And now what’s wonderful [is that] I have a six-year-old stepdaughter and she has many superheroes to choose from, and the female characters in videogames. When my boy was growing up, he had the Power Puff Girls as much as he had Dexter’s Lab. He had Spider-Man and he had Lara Croft. He’s growing up in a time when there’s more equality. The way his generation is seeing it is that we are different, but we are equal. And I thought that was pretty cool, much different from how I grew up.

I liked Wonder Woman because she was powerful, and she had her own plane! I thought that was really, really cool. And it had nothing to do with… I [never] saw her battling against men, although I did love the myth of the Amazons. I loved that story and I thought it was fascinating. Because there was more going on in Greek mythology with gods and goddesses, not just gods. I liked that there was a mystical part of the Wonder Woman story.

Now to be a grown-up and to actually be a part of it and get to portray Hippolyta, it’s come full circle in a way.

Question: In a broader sense, were you a fan of fantasy and science fiction?

Virginia Madsen: Yes, I was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, the whole genre. I mean, I was an actress from Day 1. So if I was reading The Wizard of Oz, I lived in that world while I was reading it. And if I saw an old Boris Karloff horror film, I lived in that movie, while I was watching it.

When I first went to Hollywood, and have one of my first films be Dune, where I actually got to go into that genre and be a part of it, that was a dream come true.

In a way, it’s more fun when you’re doing fantasy, horror, sci-fi. Because it’s truly playing make believe. And it challenges you more than anything as an actor, to react to things that aren’t there. And it’s really like playing make believe. It’s really like playing dress-up when you go to work.

Ares tries to put the moves on Hippolyta.

Question: When you don’t dress up, when you just play the voice, how does that differ? Because you’ve played in the DC [Animated] Universe before -- such as Roulette (in Justice League Unlimited). How does that differ from putting on a costume for you?

Virginia Madsen: Well, when you’re only working vocally, then it has to be the ultimate make believe. Because then you don’t even get to use your body, you don’t even get to use your physical being. You can’t use your eyes to communicate the role. You can only use your vocal skill.

So you have to really remember your childhood. You have to really go back to make believe and let go of all of your rules. So it’s very freeing creatively to work on that level.

For many actresses it’s stifling. It’s like, “What do you mean I can’t use my hands? As you see I can’t talk without using my hands.” But when I go into the recording booth, I hardly need them at all. I just feel completely into the sound, and completely into my head, much in the way as I would when reading a book. It’s an odd comparison, but that’s what it feels like when I do it.

Question: Your next film is The Haunting in Connecticut. What attracted you to the project, and what do you think makes it unique for a horror film?

Virginia Madsen: I’d been looking for a good horror script since Candyman – actively looking for a good horror script.

Question: Was The Number 23 part of that search?

Virginia Madsen: Well, Number 23 to me was a thriller. It wasn’t horror. It was classic thriller. It was a little scary, but this is a full-on horror film. And those are sometimes the hardest scripts to find. Because they tend to take shortcuts, and they think that if there’s just gonna be somebody bloodletting then it’s gonna scare people. And it doesn’t, especially nowadays it doesn’t.

So I think that when a movie has a really solid script, when you care about the people that are in the horrific situation, then the stakes are higher, and the audience is invested. And so the whole movie experience becomes more intense and scarier. So this movie was [like that], and then I just had to make sure it was the right director and the right cast, even down to the music – I wanted to know everything before I signed onto it. I wanted to know everything they were gonna do, because it was that important to me.

I loved Candyman, and I love the genre. I love the genre, and I feel like it’s kind of gotten lost in gore. And that’s okay – a lot of kids have fun with that stuff. But to me those aren’t good movies, and they’re not good stories. And even if they start with a good story – and I’m not gonna name the particular films – they may start with a good story idea, but it falls apart in context. And then you’re just waiting for the next slice and dice. That’s not a good horror film to me.

A good horror film has to have a good story. And whatever I did, would be compared to Candyman. Even though it was such a long time ago, Candyman, it was such a good horror movie that I wanted it to be scary on that level, on a very deep level, where you can’t stop thinking about it – like, really dark; and it needed to appeal to some really base fears in our humanity.

Question: What films do you admire within the horror genre?

Virginia Madsen: I would probably have a pretty long list of that, but I can go all the way back to the original Mummy. I think that’s a great one. And the original Frankenstein and Dracula and all those, which I showed to my son. He loves it.

Now I’ve made a monster of my own. But he’s very snobby about horror films, because I gave him a real appreciation of what the real ones are, and he didn’t like the gross-out movies, because he thinks they’re stupid.

But, oh my God, when the first Halloween came out, for that age I was at then, sneaking into the movie theater, that was a great horror film. It had a great story, it had a great villain.

I’m trying to think more recently…it’s not coming to mind. I’m gonna regret it later. I’m blanking on it. But I actually have quite a long list, and there are some good ones recently.

Who wouldn't want the chance to play act this?

Question: So as far as other opportunities, you’ve set the bar pretty high with this move. Are there any other comic-book characters you’d be interested in playing, that come to mind?

Virginia Madsen: I think this should be a live-action movie. I really do. And I want to play Hippolyta in the live-action movie, so I’m gonna start campaigning for that part now. Could you imagine what my competition would be? Because everyone, so many actors, want to play that kind of thing, because it really would be so much fun to go to work everyday, and, just as a female, to be able to play that kind of role, where you can kick butt and have awesome power. It’s not that often that we find those kinds of roles. So I’d have pretty strong competition for this role if it becomes live action.

Question: You’d be strong competition, though. Think of it that way. [Laughs.]

Virginia Madsen: Thank you!

So we thank Virginia Madsen. A truly talented actress that could, indeed, kick our butts.

Derek McCaw

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