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It’s not easy being a Hollywood actress after age 35. But at 46, Virginia Madsen still manages to nab parts with oomph.


“There were a lot of silly roles I had to play as a self-conscious ingenue,” says the Chicago native from her home in Los Angeles. ‘Now I get to play three-dimensional characters that have to something to say.”


Madsen has three movies coming down the pike - the drama “Amelia” with Hilary Swank, horror flick “The Haunting in Connecticut” and the Matthew Broderick comedy “Diminished Capacity.”


Not that her case is typical. Madsen, who skated by on the periphery in straight-to-video schlock like “Candyman” and “Third Degree Burn,” shot to the A-list after her turn as a lonely waitress in 2004’s “Sideways.”


‘I was very fortunate,” says Madsen of her role as Maya, whose tear-jerking, double-entendre monologue about fragile grapes clinched a best supporting actress Oscar nomination.


Besides her obvious talent, it also helps that she doesn’t look her age - thanks to a little help. She’s currently promoting a campaign sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Allergan, which makes the big B. It encourages women to express themselves, whether they’re at the polls or the plastic surgeon’s office.


“I have been very open about my treatment with Botox to the astonishment of many in the industry,” says Madsen, mother of 13-year-old son Jack with ex Antonio Sabato Jr. “The decision to share my experience was one I made for myself and not something I felt I should have to defend or hide.”


On to less wrinkly topics ...


Did you think “Sideways” was going to be such a hit?
“One day when we all realized it, yes. We costars - Paul Giamatti, Sandra Oh, Thomas Haden Church - were sitting on a blanket on a hill during a beautiful sunset. The light turned gold and silver and we were drinking wine and the cameras were so far away. We all looked at each other and we knew it was going to be one of ‘those’ movies.”


How did it feel to get nominated for an Oscar?
“I was a long shot, so I was blown away; I thought I had far too quiet a character. I was the straight man, very much in support of Paul’s character. When it was announced, I made quite a racket - screaming, jumping up and down, crying. I thought I was getting Punk’d!”


Are you a wine expert now?
“I only drank it for research laughs. Seriously, if I buy any good stuff, it doesn’t last. All my friends come over and drink it.”


So your birthday is Sept. 11. What a bummer.
“A drag. It’s never a woohoo party day for me. I celebrate it on a different day now. Someone should do an article on us 9/11 babies. It’s hard.”


Any favorite costars?
“It was pretty cool to be around Harrison Ford in “Firewall.” He really is a man’s man. So masculine, tall and handsome. Not a lot of actors look the way they do off screen; he does. A lot of people on the set had a hard time dealing with that. Older people were like, ‘Oh my God, he’s Hans Solo.’ Younger people saw him as Indy. I saw him more as “Regarding Henry,” a movie I loved. I think he’s really underestimated. A man of few words, but he makes it look so damn easy.”


What’s it like having Michael Madsen for a brother?
“When we first started it was really nice having my big brother in big, bad Hollywood. We’d trade stories and he’d help me if I was going through something difficult. He has five boys so these days we never talk about work, we talk about the kids.”


What do fans say when they see you?


“People in their 30s recognize me for a random movie I did called “Fire With Fire.” It’s not even out on DVD; I don’t get it. After “Sideways,” I definitely lost a good portion of my public anonymity. Airports, “man,” they’re a whole different thing now. But 98 percent of the time, people are polite and nice. When you do a play you get applause, but when you make movies, people saying, ‘Hey, I liked you in that movie’ is your applause.”


How do you like Miami?


‘I love the tropical, humid air, and it’s beautiful. Actually, my screen saver is me on the beach in Miami with my feet in the sand.”

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