Actress Virginia Madsen has spent most of her career playing girlfriends, femmes fatales and sexy blondes, but her recent role as a wine-savvy waitress in the low-budget film Sideways has boosted her career into high gear. With the role earning her a Best Supporting Actress award from the National Society of Film Critics, a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild award, and plenty of Oscar buzz, Sideways has turned Virginia’s world upside-down.
In addition to her film roles, she is also working on a musical. “I’m working hard on the talent show at my son’s school,” she says with a laugh. “He’s Elvis and rocks hard.” Virginia gives credit to her nine-year-old Elvis wannabe, Jack, for taking care of the family’s dogs, Dixie, a mutt they rescued from a desert roadside, and Spike, a French Bulldog. Spike demands the most attention, Virginia says, but is a sweet companion—except at night: “Jack loves to sleep with him… until he [Spike, that is] starts snoring.”
MODERN DOG:  So tell me about your two dogs.
VIRGINIA MADSEN:  Dixie, the larger of the two, is our desert dog, a mutt rescued in the Santa Fe desert by Antonio, Jack’s dad. She was hit by a car and was found on the side of the road. She had a tattoo! We figured she’d escaped her carnival past and was on the lam when an old trucker named Joe fell asleep at the wheel and struck her down. She still gets a bit sensitive when I want to show people her tattoo. We’re not altogether sure how old she is.
Spike, looking like our little cow, is the bull. Spike’s about five years old. He was given to my son, Jack, by one of my brother’s [actor Michael Madsen’s] boys. Jack is just amazing with animals and loves to sleep with Spike—that is, until Spike snores.
MD:  How did you decide on the names Dixie and Spike?
VM:  Dixie was named after a character I played, and Spike—well, he decided on that name because he believes he is big.
MD:  Which of the two dogs has more of your personality?
VM:  Dixie is a lady so she won’t kiss and tell. Spike is French. Need I say more?
MD:  Please do.
VM:  Well, he knows that wherever he goes, he is loved by many. He is deeply romantic and is overrun by girl-dogs. I understand, and never hold it against him. Dixie is confident enough to know that he only comes home with her.
MD:  What breed of dog would you say you’re most like, and why?
VM:  I am definitely not a pure breed! I’m a mix like Dixie, with a past but with an even temper and a loving nature.
MD:  If Spike was a celebrity who would he be?
VM:  P. Diddy!
MD:  Can you tell us something about these breeds that people might not know?
VM:  People should know that “Bulls” snore… LOUDLY. And Dixie is a woman of mystery. She is a mixed breed and has a tattoo on her belly. I’m not kidding: a real tattoo. We think she ran away from an evil carnie. We had a bodyguard for her for a while and it took some therapy before she was able to move on with her life.
MD:  Which dog is more demanding of attention?
VM:  Spike, always. He’s the male.
MD:  What is your favourite pastime to share with your dogs?
VM:  Our favourite hike is with Cesar [Millan], “The Dog Whisperer.” He has a show on TV now. We go out with a whole pack of dogs… Pit Bulls and Shepherds and even a Yorkie.You can’t imagine the power you feel running with a pack of dogs. It’s primal. Cesar taught me how to be an alpha.
MD:  Your dogs’ favourite possessions?
VM:  They love their beds, but sometimes they will sleep together. That’s too cute. Spike snores very loudly so sometimes I have to ban him from my room. People, don’t sleep with your dogs.
MD:  Tell me about the last film that you did.
VM:  It was Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne. It was like “actor camp.” I loved making this film, more than any other film I’ve ever done. Which says a lot ‘cause I love making movies.
MD:  Is there anybody special you’d like to work with in your acting career?
VM:  That’s a hard one to answer. I’d love to work with Marty Davidson (Long Gone) or Dennis Hopper (Hot Spot) again. [Definitely] Alexander Payne. Also Nicholas Cage, Elias Koteas and Rusty Schwimmer (A Perfect Storm)—she’s my best friend. And of course, topping the list would be my bro’.
MD:  Are there any scenes you’ve ever shared with a canine co-star?
VM:  I have shared the screen with a dog before, but never a four legged one.
MD:  What has been your favourite role to date?
VM:  Besides Dixie in Long Gone it would be, hands down, Maya in Sideways.
MD:  What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
VM:  The talent show at my son’s school. He’s Elvis and he rocks so hard! The kids are my whole world right now. They inspire me to be just like them.
MD:  If both of your dogs were able to speak, what do you think the first thing is that they would say to you?
VM:  Feed us the cat or the dragon is toast! [Cisco, a bearded dragon, is another Madsen household member.]
MD:  What do your animals mean to you?
VM:  Animals are a way of filling my house with happy chaos. My son takes care of all of them—feeding, grooming, and even cleaning up after them. He’s learning so much from them, and we are a full house. And when Jack is with his Papa, my house isn’t quite so empty.