Nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Sideways, Virginia Madsen is venturing again into television with her new dramedy (drama-comedy), Scoundrels.
Based on a popular series in New Zealand called Outrageous Fortune, Virginia Madsen portrays Cheryl West, the head of a family that dabbles in petty crime. When her husband Wolf (David James Elliott) is sentenced to four years in prison, Cheryl decides it’s time for the family to go straight, as she explained to me when I spoke with her at ABC/Disney studios.
What was it that attracted you to this series?
Actually what attracted me was that it was a family, and that it was a really tight- knit family. I particularly loved that they sit down for dinner together. So here is this totally outrageous crime family, and yet I’m trying to maintain this sense of normalcy by sitting down and having dinner.
It is what I do in my own life. I’m an actress, that’s my day job, but at night I still try and sit down and have dinner with my son.
Can you tell us a little about the family and particularly your part – you’re the one who is trying to go straight, right?
Yes, because my husband goes to jail and so I really take this to heart and I decide that the whole family is going to go legit and we’re all going to get real jobs.
My 15-year-old, who has been blackmailing the school principal so she doesn’t have to go to class, she gets totally busted, and I assure the principal that her attendance record from now on will be spotless.
So needless to say my daughter is quite upset about this new development. Everyone’s upset about it, and I try to have a real job. It doesn’t go over well. None of it goes over well.
How is it working with the David James Elliott?
Honestly, and this very rarely happens to me, but I have really a hard time memorizing my lines when I do scenes with him. We have a tremendous chemistry and I feel very distracted by him.
He really is in all seriousness a wonderful actor to work with, and you never know that until you get there and you are on location and you’re faced with the person. You can’t act chemistry; you just can’t make that up because the camera doesn’t lie.
We have a powerful chemistry, him and I. It was almost like we knew each other and it gives us a lot of freedom to experiment. I like to do every take differently, and he goes with that and so working with him is sometimes like dancing, sometimes it’s like fencing. It’s just so much fun.
You were on the TV series, Smith. Do you see any similarities, because you were married to a criminal in that one and trying to go straight?
One of the reasons when I got this I (wanted to do it) was because Smith really didn’t work. One of the reasons why I don’t think Smith worked was because it was really hard for people to identify with that family.
This family you can identify with, this family you can understand. And it’s a dramedy, so it’s a totally different vibe, and also we’re not blowing things up and killing people. Our crime is like stuff that falls off a truck, so it’s kind of benign.
Did you see the original series?
No, I didn’t know about it and the show creators asked me not to see it, because I thought, ‘Oh, that’s the first thing I should do. ’ They said, ‘No, no, no, we want you to make your own Cheryl, we want everyone on the show to do their own thing.’
We’re almost finished shooting, so now I think I could see it. And then I think we should guest star on each other’s shows.
Can you talk about your time on Monk?
Oh it was a lot of fun, and I did that because in the last four years I’ve been really studying comedy and really trying to work around people that can teach me, and work with people that know more than I do, which is not so hard. I don’t know anything about comedy; it’s a lot harder than drama.
Are you drawing on that for this show?
Yeah. I learned so much from being on that set, because they also had a feeling of family on Monk and they’d been doing it for all those years, so I know it can be done.
I know you can get along for that many years without it being a nightmare. I’ve just heard that it’s really hard to do a one hour show; you have no life, that part is true, but this could not be more fun, so I wanted to create that atmosphere on my show.