Let’s make a toast: to Virginia Madsen, a veteran B-movie siren and TV-cameo all-star, who uncorks a performance in Sideways so delicate and perfectly balanced that audiences are still savoring Alexander Payne’s boozy buddy comedy nine weeks after its release.

Madsen, 43, plays Maya, an earthy, witty, recently divorced waitress who falls for Miles (Paul Giamatti), a washed-up writer and highbrow wino who’s mourning his own defunct marriage by drinking his way through California vino country with his soon-to-be-hitched sidekick, Jack (Thomas Haden Church). ”There was no research for me to do with Maya,” says Madsen. ”I understand about having a divorce and what it takes to crawl out from underneath [and] come out the other side.”

Turns out her failed marriage (to director Danny Huston) and bumpy acting career (Candyman, for the record, was a peak) helped snag her the role. ”Alexander said he cast me because when he looked in my eyes, he could see I’d been through it all,” says Madsen, who was recently rewarded with a Golden Globe nod for the career-recharging role. ”Before [Sideways], I would never be cast in a kids’ movie. They’d go, ‘Um, not her. She’s the one who takes her clothes off.’ Now they’re thinking, ‘Yeah, we could see her as a mom.”’ Or better yet — as an Oscar nominee.

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