'I only knew you for a while, I never saw your smile, til it was time to go away ...'

Life Virginia Madsen has always felt to me like the one who got away. Like an Eighties Monica Potter she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong films, one breakthrough moment away from being a household name. Horror fans might know her work in Candyman and fantasy fans will have noticed she was in Highlander 2 as they were walking out. But to me she's Madeline in the prophetic Electric Dreams, breaking three hearts at the same time, Miles Harding, his computer and mine. Now here she is in the fantastic Sideways one nomination away from a statue. I think she's basically finally won hearts via a single speech she gives at the heart of the film in which her character Maya explains why she loves wine. I won't give away the details, but by the end you'll love wine and love her too.

But that's one of the great things about Sideways -- the chance to see actors I've whose work I loved for years, which no one else has heard of in something which everyone is talking about. I was afraid Paul Giamatti was going to end up being 'the guy from American Splendor' for the rest of his career but here people are putting a name to a face they've been seeing for years. Look at his filmography there are very few films you haven't heard of. In fact in some he's even played proto-Miles, especially Bruce Paltrow's Duets in which karoke was his love instead. Sandra Oh might look like a discovery but she's equally always been busy (Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Film to Under the Tuscan Sun). I remember her from Last Night and The Red Violin in which she had a quiet dignity far removed from Stephanie. If I'm being honest though I've never watched the sitcom Wings so I don't know about the cult of Thomas Haden Church. But is in George of the Jungle which is good enough for me.

In casting these actors, Alexander Payne knew exactly what he was doing. Apparently George Clooney was actively campaigning for Giamatti's part. Extrapolating that further, we could have ended up with Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and introducing some young actress. All perfectly fine actors and they would have essayed their roles well, and the chemistry would have been there, but it would have felt false -- this didn't need a successful cast -- a dream cast. It needed a group of actors who all seemed kind of familiar without being 'famous' because these are characters who are just like us or people we know. Very refreshing.

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