Sideways' Virginia Madsen
updated 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
A decade ago, Madsen, now 43, was as well known for her romances—she lived with Bill Campbell, was married to Danny Huston and had a child with Antonio Sabato Jr.—as for her sex-symbol turns in movies like The Hot Spot and Candyman. After years off Hollywood's radar, she's earning rapturous reviews for her role in the offbeat comedy Sideways as a worldly-wise waitress who wins the heart of a sad-sack wine lover (Paul Giamatti). Says director Alexander Payne: "There's just something in her eyes that seems to express having been through a lot."
The Chicago native, who heard the siren call early ("She had Marilyn Monroe posters up in her bedroom," recalls her big brother, actor Michael Madsen), saw her career stall after taking time off in the mid-'90s to raise her son Jack. "To come back was really hard," she says. "I was 30, but people just thought, 'Oh, we thought she was old and fat.' I didn't think doors slammed until you were 40, which is ironic because this is now when they're opening."
Now if only the right guy would walk through them. "They're going to have to pursue me like I'm the queen in order to get a date," she says, "because I'm worth it, damn it. I'm a catch."