You've got to give Virginia Madsen credit for remaining true to her principles. Even before Sideways returned the '80s sex symbol to Hollywood's A-list, the Oscar nominee was picking and choosing — and abandoning — her roles as if she'd never been down for the count. Case in point: her recurring gig as housewife Helen Pryor's (Gail O'Grady) mod confidante, Rebecca Sandstrom, during the first season of NBC's '60s-set drama, American Dreams.

"Originally, I was supposed to be the catalyst for Helen to go to the university," she recalls. "[But the plot] started to look a little too controversial when I read a script where I was smokin' a joint. That was the end. They were like, 'Uh-uh!' I went from being a strong feminist to a divorced alcoholic. That's where my character was going... so we parted ways. It was OK."

Certainly, in the immediate future, you won't find the 41-year-old toast of Tinsel Town in any danger of compromising her artistic integrity (or starring in any more bombs like

Hot to Trot or Zombie High). In fact, she can pore over screenplays at her leisure during breaks from shooting her next feature, The Wrong Element — a highfalutin' Harrison Ford thriller, no less!

Since Sideways intoxicated critics, she marvels, "Everything has changed in my career. I can't believe that there's so much interest in me out there now. I have this stack of scripts that are for [movies with] budgets over $1 million. That's new for my career.

"And there are more names that I recognize on scripts now," she adds. "It's nice that I'm not calling my agent saying, 'Have you got anything for me?' Now he's like, 'Why haven't you called me back? I'm sending you four scripts!' So [my prospects have radically] changed. It's like night and day."