Alexander Payne strove to keep "Sideways" as pure as possible, casting actors who were believable, rather than the powerful Hollywood types who were seeking roles in his fourth film. With the two leading men in place, Payne began the process of searching for Paul Giamatti's onscreen love interest. While sorting through a list of names, Virginia Madsen's 8x10 publicity photo caught the attention of Payne and producer Michael London. After auditioning, Madsen was quickly signed on to "Sideways."
"Virginia's incredibly beautiful, lovely, warm and genuine and these are all very important qualities for Maya. Her soulful and authentic warmth is what made the chemistry work immediately with Pauls character. You could see how, given this particular set of circumstances, she could really feel his heartache and pain," says producer Michael London.
INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA MADSEN ('Maya'):
How did you find out about Sideways?
I had an audition and they wouldnt send me the whole script. I just got a couple of scenes, which made me very upset because this is what they do for network television. You go in and you do the scene and then they tell you youre not right for the role. Youre like, Well, why didnt you tell me what the role was? But when I read these scenes, it was all there. I knew exactly what aspect of me this was. It wasnt a character I would play. It would be an aspect of me that I would bring to the movie.
I did ask if I could get a little bit more and I promised I wouldnt show it to anybody. So they sent me the wine monologues, and then I knew it was in Santa Ynez and Id spent a lot of time there. So I wanted to make Maya like the valley. I wanted her to represent the character of that geographical place, if that makes sense. It does especially when you go there. And thats how I felt whenever I went there, so thats what I wanted to bring to her. I was really worried that I might blow it so I worked with my acting coach. I actually had him drive me to the audition so that nothing could distract me if there were other actors waiting in the hall. And Ive blown it many times and not necessarily fallen on my face in an audition, but Ive blown it where I really didnt come up to my full potential when I walked in. The stakes were too high and when the stakes are high, I just never quite make it. Ive missed out on some really incredible films because of it.
Were the stakes high because it was an Alexander Payne movie or because of what youd read?
Because of Alexander and what Id read. I knew that I could be her. I knew that that was, like I said, this aspect of me. I knew that place. There was nobody more perfect for the part than me. Every actor feels like that when they walk in but I felt so confident with this that I felt like this part is mine until they tell me otherwise, so I have nothing to be nervous about. I dont know what happened.
I think I did have an edge over other people because Id spent so much time there. So I went in just as I am when Im in Santa Ynez as myself. And I know that they must have felt that. Somehow he picked me. But I did what I wanted to do in the meeting, and I knew that I had my shot. And if he choose somebody else, it had nothing to do with me. This is one of the few times that I was cast based on what I did when I walked in the room. Its hardly ever that. It hardly ever has to do with your acting because theres so many different elements in casting.
Were you into wine before you did the movie?
Yes, I was but Id never been into the world of Pinot Noir (laughing).
Did you learn a lot about the wines used in this film?
Yes, I really did. Actually I really did and that was fun. All joking aside, it was a great experience. And then I also began to learn about the history of the area and how old some of the vines are, and how it all started. Because Im Danish I knew about the history of the Danes coming here and the cows, and everything was about cows and dairies. There were some vineyards that started more in the Santa Barbara area. But out there [in Santa Ynez], you know, mostly really when it comes down to it, it starts out with a couple of hippies who really dont want to be in society anymore. And theyre like, Youre planting what now? Dude, now were going to make our own wine. Nice So thats how it got started, I think.