Interview – Virginia Madsen & Natalia Cordova-Buckley Talk The Portrait

When two talented, strong actors come together, whatever they are a part of is almost always an instant watch. In fact, Academy Award nominated Virginia Madsen’s teaming with talented Actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley is living proof. Madsen, an prolific actress involved in film/television for over forty years, is known for so many things; and this includes her role in 1992’s Horror hit Candyman and 2004’s Sideways. Cordova-Buckley, on the other hand, has made a steady climb to the top with many memorable roles, including one as Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez a part of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

Together they join forces in the new atmospheric Horror film The Portrait. Released On Demand December 8th, The Portrait is built heavily on the mood, characters, story, and has an undeniably gothic feel. Something that should appeal to Horror and suspense fans of all types, both Virginia Madsen and Natalia Cordova-Buckley recently took some time to chat about The Portrait, what attracts them to a script, plus more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have both been involved in film for some time now, done some interesting projects to both of you. Tell us, how would you describe your career to this point?

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – I’ve never taken the time to think of. I’d like to think I’m kind of against the current swimmer. I’ve always said that success is defined by you. It is not defined by the outside or what people define as success in the industry or whatever. So, I guess I would want to define my career in two words – my way.

Virginia Madsen – I think also I would have a problem defining; because I cannot because I play so many different kinds of roles, and I do so many different kinds of movies. And that’s always been very much on purpose. So sometimes, yes, I would say against the current, but I sort of go where the adventure leads me. I think it’s good to play a lot of different things and do a lot of different types of movies. It doesn’t matter the medium. It’s the material that matters.

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. And you both have respectfully done a lot of different things you know in your careers, not just one genre. Your latest film, The Portrait, is more of a Horror film. You have both worked in Horror and Thrillers before. Is the Horror genre one you enjoy working within?

Virginia Madsen – Well, that would very much depend on the screenplay; because it’s kind of one of the hardest ones to find when it’s really well-written. It’s very hard to find one that I’m really attracted to. And because I’ve done quite a few Horror films, I’m very particular when I go into that genre. It has to be character-driven. It has to be a good story. It can’t just be there for the jump out, freak-out moment. And there’s a lot of actors that work in that genre that would say the same thing. We want a good story. We want great dialogue. We want character development. Even if you’re doing a giant Action-Adventure film, you want character development. The Portrait has that. I saw this one as more of a Thriller and a Mystery… that was very appealing to me. It was the mystery of who these people are, and who is the portrait. Who’s the guy in the portrait?

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – I would have to completely agree with Virginia, and not add much more. I love this genre when it’s based on all those aspects that she mentioned. The greatest Horror films out there are you know Dramas that have horror. They are always Dramas, and Dramas are character development and based on story.

You think you know The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), or Midsommar (2019). All of them are Dramas at the core of them. I think that’s why they work and why they terrify us; there has to be a human aspect to them.

The Portrait movie photo 2023
The Portrait / Saban Films (2023)

Virginia Madsen – Even something like The Exorcist (1973). I think everyone thinks of it as a great Horror film, but it is really an intense, dark Drama. All the characters are realized. Also, the original Halloween (1978) and Alien (1979). Alien was character-driven; you can’t just define it as Sci-fi. This is why the audience responds to the films that are really good in these genres. It is because we latch on, as an audience. I’m a huge fan of the Horror and Fantasy genre. I latch onto them because I identify with the characters and the mystery. It has made me follow along since I was a little kid.

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – Yes, like The Babadook (2014). All of these films nowadays are Dramas, but they are really metaphors for something else. They are a metaphor for depression, and The Portrait is a metaphor for grief. There’s this Fantasy element to it, but there has to be a Drama-based script under it.

Cryptic Rock – Good point. All the films which you both just mentioned are thick with atmosphere. The Portrait does this well and it relies on the atmosphere. It has a very gothic feel with a mood that builds. When you read the script, was that something that you felt unfolding?

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – Yes, for sure. And Simon Ross, our director, did a great job at sort of creating that world within the onset and before when we were working the prior weeks.

Virginia Madsen I think you’re right about the atmosphere. And that’s sort of a roll of the dice. When we sign on to a film, whatever genre, we can’t really be sure of how they will create the atmosphere with whatever relationships are, whatever the story is, or whatever the genre is. And I feel like in this one, Simon really created an atmosphere that you could feel. It was not just tricks or just a big soundtrack, and I think our soundtrack is awesome.

You could feel this atmosphere in The Portrait. You could feel the atmosphere of the mansion that we were in. You could feel the atmosphere when you went up into the attic the first time. It’s not like, “Oh, there’s a scary painting.” No, you could feel it. Your reaction, and the way you look at that portrait for the first time, brings us into where we’re going. You’re not just going, “Why?,” and there is just scary music. There are no shortcuts in this movie.

The way you get captured by his look is not just your recognition of the likeness, but it’s like you’re captured by who we later learn is Calvin. You can see that it’s done something to you by the way you have a stillness about you that we know that this is going to be really important. It is not just because they put on a big scare or music. They have really let us know that, “Okay, we’re going there with you.” That’s what I felt when I saw Natalia’s performance of that scene.

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – Thank you. A lot of it was Simon. He just took the time to cast the right people, also in the crew. Lawrence, who did all our ambiance, the house, setting all the sets was incredible. As Virginia mentioned, Alexander Wells, who’s our composer and writer of the song. Everyone was just really linked into that atmosphere that you speak of.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ghost Rider poster
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ghost Rider / ABC (2017)
The Mosquito Coast series poster
The Mosquito Coast / AppleTV+ (2021)

Cryptic Rock – That atmosphere is omnipresent. And to your point earlier, Virginia, about how this was more of like a Thriller to you than our movie per se. There is an elegance amidst this film. That type of elegance might sadly be lost on some, but there is no question an audience for these types of detail.

Virginia Madsen – When you say it’s lost on an audience, I’m not quite sure what you mean, because I don’t think it is.

Cryptic Rock – Meaning that some more modern Horror films viewers may be looking for something more visual, such as gore. This film does not overwhelm your senses with such unnecessary aspects.  

Virginia Madsen – I hear you, but because I’ve been living in this genre for so long, my fanbase is looking for story and suspense. Because if they just get Slasher, that has its place. But the fanbase of the Horror genre really wants intrigue. They really want character development and beautiful music. They want an atmosphere, as you brought up. I think they will find this in their world.

Modern Girls movie poster
Modern Girls / Atlantic Entertainment Group (1986)
Candyman movie poster
Candyman / TriStar Pictures (1992)

Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. And to both of you, you both do a great job with your characters. It seems like you worked well together. What was it like working together as well as with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Ryan Kwanten, and others in the scenes?

Natalia Cordova-Buckley – For me, it was wonderful, because it’s so rare to get to work with. First, you know Ryan is such a profound actor and lovely human being. He’s just such a wonderful partner that it’s not easy to find that ego less male in a partner in films, in this industry. Mark Paul was wonderful, and I am so happy that we’re seeing him in this light. He’s a powerful actor. He did an incredible job transforming himself into Brooks. And he was lovely to do one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever had to do in my life when I read that script.

I didn’t know how we were going to do the Sophia and Brooke scene when he’s talking all this religious stuff to her and kind of making her uncomfortable. It turned out so great, and that’s all him; because he really set the tone for that scene.

The same with Virginia. Virginia is Virginia Madison. I don’t mean to you know kiss her ass here, but I’m going to do it. Virginia is one of the most powerful actresses out there. I don’t say it because she’s in front of me or because of who she is, but I’ve known this forever; I’ve watched her work.

When Simon called me and said she’s going to be Mags, I couldn’t believe it, because it’s not just an actress you admire, but it’s someone that’s an expert in this genre and that has done it before. It is someone that has done what I’m about to do, which is carry a Psychological Thriller. I believe that to be one of the hardest things an actor can do in terms of keeping stuff together… because it’s so high emotions, right? You got to know where you’re coming from; especially if you shoot in disorder. It was just such an honor to know that I’m getting this opportunity that I’ve never had before to carry a film. And I get to have the queen of this genre act with me, and do it with such grace, that it’s terrifying. Her seeing the way she exposes the mythology of the piece is just so scary and mysterious and spooky. Only someone like that can do it. I was insanely grateful to get the partners that I got. I wouldn’t have been able to lift my work as it is in all filmmaking, it’s a team effort. Sometimes you don’t get teamsters, meaning team people around you.

The Portrait 2023 movie poster
The Portrait / Saban Films (2023)

Virginia Madsen – You’re absolutely right. We don’t always get support or are surrounded by this kind of group. The way that they assembled this, it was a joy to go to work. Also, everyone was on their game. Everyone was prepared, and you don’t always get that. We cared about this script. So, going to work we said, “We’re going to make this something we’re going to make this something really suspenseful and really good. And this is for our audience.”

Everyone was just very focused, and you don’t always get that either with an entire cast. You just never know, but we had that. We had all the elements with the script and with each other. I think you can feel that on screen; we were all on the same page. I think that really added to the work and made it very strong.

I think Natalia and I both had the admiration of one another. We could meet each other head on, because as you mentioned, to carry a film is different than just visiting for a few days. To carry a whole film, this whole film was on her shoulders, and she was very much up to that task. You could feel it when you walked on the set. We knew what we were doing; there was nobody trying to shepherd us. You had two very strong women really believing in this script. We could go headlong into it and support one another.

Cryptic Rock – It seems like a lot of love and care went into The Portrait and that is inspiring. How excited are you for a broader audience to view this film now?

Virginia Madsen – We don’t get the sort of classic; you know everyone goes on a red carpet… all that stuff has changed so much. Our audience is waiting though, and I know we’re going to have the support of an audience for this film.

For more on Virginia Madsen: virginia-madsen.org | Facebook | Instagram

For more on Natalia Cordova-Buckley: Instagram 

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