WONDER WOMAN: Virginia Madsen

Virginia Madsen is best known for her Academy Award-nominated role in the hit comedy "Sideways," but the talented actress has appeared in over fifty films in the last twenty years including many in the Sci-Fi and Horror genres like "Dune," "Highlander II: The Quickening," "The Prophecy," "Candyman" and "The Number 23." But what many people don't know is that she has quite a voice-over resume as well, with projects including "Justice League," "Teen Titans," "Spider-Man" and "Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild."

Madsen can now add Queen Hippolyta to her long list of roles. On sale now on DVD and Blu-Ray, "Wonder Woman" is an original story by screenwriter Michael Jelnick ("Batman: Brave and the Bold") based on a story by "Wonder Woman" comic book writer Gail Simone. The film stars Keri Russell ("Mission: Impossible 3") in the title role and is produced by animation legend Bruce Timm ("Batman: The Animated Series"). The movie also boasts an all-star cast that includes Nathan Fillion ("Serenity") as Steve Trevor, Alfred Molina ("Spider-Man 2") as Ares, Rosario Dawson ("Sin City") as Artemis, Marg Helgenberger ("C.S.I.") as Hera and Oliver Platt ("Frost/Nixon") as Hades.

CBR News had an opportunity to talk with Madsen at last weekend's WonderCon in San Francisco. The actress spoke candidly about "Wonder Woman," her career, motherhood, her love for superheroes and her disdain for Batgirl.

CBR: What was it like for you playing Queen Hippolyta in "Wonder Woman?"

Virginia Madsen: It's just really fun to do voices in movies but [in a loud, aristocratic accent] I AM THE QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS! As I began recording, they were like, "Uh, Virginia you're a little too regal." And I said, "Does that mean over-acting?" And they were like, "Yes." It was a legend and a story that I knew about when I was a really little girl and I kind of always wanted to be queen of the Amazons. I didn't really want to be Wonder Woman. I didn't like her outfit. But that was back in the '70s. I thought it would be great because I have a five-year-old stepdaughter and I like that she has her own superhero. When I was little, that was really the only superhero for us. Now you see little boys with their action figures and they'll have a female for every male. So it's a great sign of the times that we're doing this movie now.

So you were fan of comic books and superheroes when you were a kid?

Yes. But as I was saying, when I was really little, Wonder Woman was the only one. I really didn't like Batgirl. As a matter a fact, I just hated Batgirl. And I really hated Barbie, you know. She certainly wasn't a superhero but she was the only doll that had like a career, you know, because she could be a doctor and a stewardess, as they were called then. But I did think the plane was pretty cool. I liked the Invisible Plane but I didn't know how she found it? How could she see the plane before she was in it?

But I always liked the Justice League and I like the Green Lantern. I just thought he was such a cool character and I'm glad that there's going to be a movie about him because I think that would be a really great feature film. There weren't a lot of girls that were into to that when I was little because we weren't really supposed to be. We weren't encouraged in that way. I love how that has changed for little girls now.

There is a lot of Greek Mythology involved in Wonder Woman. Were you familiar with it before you took the role of Hippolyta or is that something you had to research?

Well, I love mythology all around -- both Greek and Roman mythology. So I think that's another reason why the story is great for kids. I think the producers were glad that I knew the background and that I was into it myself, the fact that I knew the character and that I knew how to pronounce her name before I got the job. So I think that that encouraged them and they knew that it was going to be fun, because when I walked in I was so excited to be a part of it.

You've been doing voice-over work for a long time. What are the challenges of this kind of work, as opposed to live-action?

I think all actors really think that they can do a voice in a cartoon but this is a skill you really have to learn. I started doing it when I was pregnant with my son, who is now fourteen, and it was really a skill to be learned; how to work on the microphone and how to do characters without using your body because we work in a visual medium and when you're not in that and you're only working vocally, it's not easy at first. Now that I've been doing it so long, I can really go in and fly.

Is there anything special you do to prepare for voice-over work?

Before you go in, you have to know that you are going to have fun. And I get to do things with my voice that I would never get to do on camera. Especially if you're going to do a longer job, like you're not just doing a twenty-minute show you're doing feature-length, so you have to warm up your voice. You have to sharpen your vocal skills before you go into the recording studio.

Actually, because in animation there's a lot of screaming, there's a lot of grunting when you're doing fight sounds and action sounds -- everything has to be vocalized. So if you're not careful with your voice before going in, you won't have a voice by the end of the day. I pride myself on the fact that I can scream and grunt and I'll still have a voice and be able to record the next day without being hoarse.

How is Hippolyta different than parts you've had in other animated projects?

Because this was a full-length feature, it was a longer story and a character that was fully fleshed out. She had a full story, it wasn't just an episode. In this one, I got to have a full story that was long and it got to be a three-dimensional character even though it's in a two-dimensional world.

As a mother yourself, what's your view on Hippolyta 's motherly role in "Wonder Woman?"

The lesson that Hippolyta had to learn was to let go, to give her daughter freedom and trust her daughter. She can't treat her like a little girl anymore and that's exactly what I'm going through with a teenage boy. You have to let your kids, when they get older, use their own judgment and make mistakes. That's really the lesson of Hippolyta, allowing your children to grow up. But [in a New York accent] "Call ya Mutha!" Do you realize that's the lesson at the end of this movie? "Call ya Mutha!"

Is your son excited about you being in a Wonder Woman movie?

Oh, he's really thrilled. He's much more excited about when I do voices than when I am on camera. Some of my movies he can't see, but the first time, when he was little, it might have been a "Justice League" episode where I was playing this evil scientist and I had just put in the DVD. He kind of just blinked a few times and then he stood up and he was pointing at the TV and pointing at me and he was like, "Mama that's you. Mama you're a cartoon." So it's more exciting to him and to his friends than my work in live-action. It's a much bigger deal than movies.

What's your view of Wonder Woman in the feminist context? She's typically viewed as a symbol of power, as opposed to an objectification of women.

A female superhero, that's not objectifying. Especially with the story of her being Amazon and the actual legend and myth of that. So I don't think there's anything wrong with her showing her fantastic strong legs. I don't think of Batman being objectified -- except when Joel [Schumacher] made the nipples show [in "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin"]. He admits to that, too.

You know, Wonder Woman's a cartoon character. It's a superhero, so everything is blown up and out of proportion. I have more problems with Barbie than I do with Wonder Woman. Also, it's a little bit a sign of the times because I don't know if Lara Croft was objectified because she was badass. I know she wasn't wearing very much but I didn't take offence to her nor do I take offence to Wonder Woman because of the story of the Amazons. When I think the female is objectified is when she's the victim. When she's got barely anything on and she's helpless. That's where I draw the line. When there is a powerful female who has sexuality, the little girls aren't looking at it like that. They're looking at it like, "Wow, I want to be that powerful."

I think [the film] will have a positive effect not just for adults who remember her from a long time ago, but for little girls and little boys alike. It's just a cool superhero to them. It doesn't matter to my son's generation or to his sister if it's a male or female hero now. That's a lot different than how it was when I grew up. So there's a lot more opportunity.

Finally, now that you've been involved in an animated superhero movie would you be interested in appearing in a live-action one?

Oh yeah, I'd love to kick ass. I think it would be cool if they did Wonder Woman in live action. "Wonder Woman" would be a great live-action movie and Keri [Russell] would be great as Wonder Woman in that. She'd be perfect. And I would be perfect as her mother. We do look like Mother and Daughter. It's interesting that even though we're animated characters, we really do kind of match in some ways. So I'd love to see this come to the big screen.

"Wonder Woman" is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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