Three Great Things: Virginia Madsen

The Oscar-nominated actress, who is currently starring in the drama Lola, shares what matters most in her life.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release in theaters of the new drama Lola, starring Nicola Peltz Beckham and Virginia Madsen, Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated actress Madsen shared some of the things that mean the most to her in life. — N.D.

Being a Grandmother
I love that I’m a grandmother. My granddaughter is four months old and she’s named Bella. My son and his wife live really far away from me, so I’m not going to be able to see Bella again until the spring. But my mom and my sister told me, “You’re going to have a connection with her,” and it’s true. Bella coming into the world has opened up a side of my life that I’d never known before. I truly, truly love her and I can’t wait to see who she becomes. I’m probably going to be like Auntie Mame and steal her away so I can take her to Switzerland and Rome!

I was there when she was born. I just couldn’t believe she was a real, whole person. I really love my daughter-in-law, and when Bella was born, she just passed her to me and said, “Here.” A lot of parents are not like that with a newborn. I couldn’t believe this life force that was in my arms and I just couldn’t put her down. But she didn’t mind and her mom didn’t mind. It was a really extraordinary experience, and still is.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the experience of being a grandmother, but I’ve always been a natural with children in general. I love kids, I love babies. However, I think I underestimated how powerful the feeling would be and how much a part of me this baby is now. Immediately, I felt that deep connection.

There are so many things I want to pass on to Bella, but it will all depend on who she becomes and what she needs from me. So I won’t know until she reveals it. I’ve learned that you have to let children be who they are, because they come out that way. When my son was born, I immediately saw his personality. You don’t create who your children are, you’re there to support them and get to know them, so we’ll see what Bella brings to the world.

This is all going to sound so domestic, but I love cooking. To me, cooking is being creative and artistic. (I’m a creative person, as you can probably judge by what I do for a living!) Cooking is probably the only thing I have talent for, apart from acting. I don’t know how to do anything else but act and cook.

My husband is a brilliant cook and so we love to cook for lots of people, particularly now that friends and family can come back into the home. We’re real homebodies; we love being at home and just doing nothing but cooking, eating and watching movies. When you make movies, you’re almost always traveling, so whenever I’m working, I’m in hotel rooms, I’m in trailers, I’m away from those I love. So being home becomes the more exotic, more colorful experience, because it’s not work. And I never really want to go anywhere. I have a very beautiful house, and it’s really important for me to cherish that space.

If my husband and I have people over, I will most likely be cooking something with an Asian influence, like fish and rice, and Nick will be cooking a gigantic bowl of carnitas. He likes to serve giant, family-style dishes and I like my cuisine a little more on the delicate side of things. It doesn’t quite go together, but somehow it really works.

We have a pretty tight circle of friends, but if it’s just a family gathering, it would be my sister, my nieces and nephews, and my mom. My mom is 91, so I have her at the table anytime I can, and I cherish every second of my time with her. The communal experience with my family and friends is something where I’m nurturing myself just as much as I’m nurturing them, so I get a huge amount from it. It’s my favorite.

Though I used to love traveling, I don’t anymore. When I do travel, however, I love finding local museums, especially really tiny ones. I used to go on road trips with my son, and one time we were up in the mountains and there was a local history museum with an old caboose outside. He asked me, “What’s that?,” because he’d never seen a train before. And inside there was the Museum of Telephones. I told him, “This is like a time machine.” He looked at an old rotary telephone and asked, “What is that?” “Well,” I told him, “you pick it up and then you dial.” And so, of course, he asked me, “What’s a dial …?”

When you go to local museums, especially in small towns, they are there because somebody cared so much that they wanted to make a place where you could visit and learn about their history. I’m a great lover of history. At the moment, I am obsessed with Arctic travel. I hate the cold, but I’m currently reading every book I can get my hands on about Arctic exploration, from the 1800s up to the present. Besides the sea, we don’t really have anywhere to explore and I’m fascinated by the people who were drawn to these forbidding places.

I have no idea why in particular Arctic exploration is so fascinating to me, because I have no desire at all to go to the Arctic. I would love to see an iceberg calving and I’d love to see all the different colors that are in icebergs, but I could just watch a TV show about that. I don’t want to go there in person. Even though I grew up in Chicago, I cannot handle the cold. If you were to ask me about the three things I hate most, one of them would definitely be the cold!

Virginia Madsen can currently be seen in Nicola Peltz Beckham’s Lola, which is out now in theaters. She was most recently be seen in the Lionsgate horror film entitled Prey for the Devil, the psychological thriller The Portrait and the independent feature entitled One Day as a Lion, opposite J.K. Simmons and Frank Grillo. Virginia received an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance in Alexander Payne’s Sideways. She recently starred as series regular Maria Sutherland on the CW streaming service series Swamp Thing. Virginia can also be seen in the independent films Her Smell, directed by Alex Ross Perry and starring Elisabeth Moss and Cara Delevingne, and 1985, directed by Yen Tan, which premiered at acclaimed film festivals SXSW and Outfest. She also appeared opposite Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper in the 2015 feature Joy, directed by David O. Russell. Virginia’s other notable film credits include Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker with Matt Damon, the horror classic Candyman with Kasi Lemmons, The Hot Spot directed by Dennis Hopper, HBO’s first feature Long Gone and David Lynch’s cult classic Dune.