Although best known in recent years as New England socialite Victoria Grayson on the ABC nighttime soap “Revenge,” Madeleine Stowe has held numerous roles over the course of her lifetime. She appeared in a number of popular films, including “The Last of the Mohicans” and “We Were Soldiers,” but long before she found fame, she served as caregiver for her multiple sclerosis-stricken father. On June 11, Examiner caught up with the talented Stowe to learn about her involvement with the “Lights, Camera, Take Action on MS” tour, her real-deal opinion of Victoria’s stunning demise during the May 10 “Revenge” finale, and her upcoming film and TV projects.
Madeleine, we’re used to seeing you as an actress, of course, but this summer you’re taking on an entirely different kind of role. I know you have a really personal connection to multiple sclerosis, so would you share please how MS has affected your family and why you’re so passionate about it?
Stowe: A long time ago, when I was three or four years old, my father was diagnosed with MS. He had a particularly difficult case because it progressed rapidly. So he was wheelchair-bound by the time I was seven, and it meant helping my mother; I have a brother and a sister as well. She had her hands full and my father had a very, very difficult time.
So we fed him and clothed him and bathed him, and these are things that I think are very unusual for such a young child. But during that time, there were no treatment options for MS, so you’d be given a false sense of hope that a cure was around the corner or something that would help his disease was around the corner and that never happened.
Cut to many year later, I became an actor, my father had passed away [after 20 years with the disease]. I’d kind of turned a blind eye [because] I didn’t think that anything empowering could ever be done: to me, MS just was what it was. And that’s all changed. There are people living very vital lives, there are a variety of treatment options for MS, and Genzyme asked me to partner with them to talk about my life story, to talk about my father. And I had to really consider that for a long time, because I wasn’t sure if what I had to say was all that interesting, [but] I eventually jumped on. It’s been a kind of extraordinary experience.
We’ve been holding a series of live events [the “Lights, Camera Take Action on MS” tour], we held them last fall, and we’re going to be in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and Atlanta this month, and MS patients and their caregivers can come. I’ll be sharing my story, there will be a Genzyme ambassador patient who will be on the panel, and also a leading neurologist. We just talk about what MS is to everybody; what it is to them emotionally, what it is now in terms of the progress that has been made… and talking to the caregivers. Love is a very profound thing, and I think what’s very important for caregivers is to live full lives so they can come back refreshed and renewed and be supportive.
You see all kinds of people with varying stages of the disease: people who are incredibly active, people who you cannot even tell have MS, and that was unthinkable to me when I was a child. I never thought it would see that day, and it’s been quite wonderful.
I understand there are going to be six on demand webisodes available over the summer geared toward the MS community. Can you share some details of that project?
Stowe: Yes, there are. So people who can’t attend –because obviously we’re just in a few cities and sometimes the dates don’t line up– there will be questions that are raised during the live events and we’ll be addressing a lot of those questions… and you can go to takeactionms.com both to register if you want to attend but also to see the webisodes in August. It’s a really great, dynamic way to just bring everything forward and talk about anything you want to talk about. That’s what we do, because the important thing is never to recede and stay in the shadows, and I know as a child that’s what I tended to do as my father’s disease progressed: I became more and more recessive because it was almost too much to talk about in the world. People didn’t really understand. Now with the online community, there’s more information out there… and I think people are more willing to open up, and opening up is really vital to really improving the way you live your life.
Absolutely. I lost a son to cancer a few years ago, so I do understand the challenges that can go along with the caretaker’s role.
Stowe: I’m sorry for your son. You also know what’s in your heart and the profound –not only challenges– but the profound love that you feel for your family, and that’s a gift in and of itself. It’s really something.
Yes, it is. I want to go a little off-topic now. We loved you as Victoria Grayson on “Revenge.” My husband and I ate up that show. You were just brilliant in that role; you owned it. I know that she needed to die at the end because that’s the storyline; the projection was going that way and it wouldn’t have been right if anything else had happened. If you could take Victoria out of the Hamptons and give her the life you feel she really deserved, how would her story read?
Stowe: I loved Victoria. I think ABC and the writers wanted to take the story in a certain direction. I think in a much more complex world when you view what really happened to her, she’s quite a remarkable woman. But I think as time went on it developed into a kind of, I wouldn’t say psychosis necessarily, but a defensiveness that she had, because everything… she had no parenting, she’d been violated time and time again, and I really wanted to see her happy. Really wanted to see her happy. And I think had they developed certain stories, she probably would’ve gone off with the artist from season one [laughs]. But I loved her, and didn’t necessarily feel that she should die, but that if she died, she died with dignity. That was important to me.
Victoria did everything with dignity.
Stowe: Thank you. And by the way, I thought it was hilarious that in the end, Emily ended up with her heart.
Yes! And it was perfect. If she had to die, it was perfect that Emily got her heart because it meant that she was always around Emily forever.
Stowe: Forever! And Emily would have to decide if that was a good heart or a bad heart. I actually think that maybe, maybe Victoria actually had a very good heart. She knew how to love.
I agree! I think she probably did have a good heart underneath all of those layers. Okay, last question. What do you have coming up in film and TV?
Stowe: Two things. I want to get back to a film that I’ve long wanted to direct. It actually had come together during the time that I was shooting “Revenge” and there was just not enough time during my hiatus to shoot it. So now I’d like to concentrate on putting that right back together again because it’s a great passion story. It’s a big, epic love story set in a western backdrop.
And I’ve written a television series. It’s very challenging and I haven’t revealed it yet to people so let’s see where that goes. But it’s another passion project as well.
Oh, that sounds intriguing. I’ll have to look for that.
Stowe: Thank you!