Virginia Madsen Almost Played A Completely Different Role In Candyman

In Clive Barker's original short story "The Forbidden," published in Volume Five of his "Books of Blood" (called "In the Flesh" in the United States), the character of Helen is studying graffiti patterns in Liverpool as part of her college thesis research into urban legends. A lot of language in the original short story is devoted to the horrors of big city blight, and Helen aims to write a paper on "the semiotics of urban despair." As she delves further into Liverpool, she encounters repeated painted representations of the Candyman, a yellow-skinned ghoul with sharpened teeth and a hook hand, who is said to have committed many horrendous acts of violence in the neighborhood. In true Barker fashion, the protagonist's obsessions get the better of her, and she continues to probe until she encounters the actual Candyman. 

Bernard Rose's 1992 film adaptation, "Candyman," transposes the action from Liverpool to Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects, a notoriously ill-managed attempt at urban renewal that fell into extreme disrepair. Portions of Rose's screenplay are focused on the history of Cabrini-Green and the inherent racism that underlies American housing projects of that magnitude. Helen, played by Virginia Madsen, explores urban blight much like her literary counterpart, but the Candyman, rather than being a mere ghost story, is given a new history. Candyman was turned into a Black painter named Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), who was lynched for having an affair with a white woman in the late 1800s. His ghost now lurks Cabrini-Green, and he can be summoned by repeating his name five times in a mirror. 

Helen, in her research, is accompanied by her classmate and friend Bernie, played by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons. In a 20th-anniversary "Candyman" retrospective on the Horror News Network, Madsen revealed that she was once cast as Bernie. 

A different role

Casting Lemmons as Bernadette "Bernie" Walsh in the original movie was a wise move, as it further pointed out Madsen's own white privilege when investigating the mostly Black-populated Cabrini-Green. The casting, however, initially pushed Madsen out of the movie. Madsen was going to play Bernie opposite actress Alexandra Pigg in the role of Helen. 

Pigg, married to writer/director Rose, was an actress perhaps best known for the British soap opera "Brookside." Her career is replete with notable supporting roles opposite big-name actors in smaller projects. Prior to 1992, she was in "Strapless," "Bullseye!," and "Chicago Joe and the Showgirl." Pigg, it turns out, had to drop out of "Candyman" when she became pregnant with her daughter Ruby Rose (not the actress). Helen was then offered to Madsen. 

Madsen admits to feeling ambivalent about the situation. She was friends with Pigg and didn't want to feel like she was stealing something. The actor recounted the entire experience: 

"I was going to play the part of Kasi Lemmons, until they made the character African American. Then I was out ... Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role. She found this story and really wanted it. So, when I was asked to step in I felt like 'I can't take my friend's role.' She actually came over one day and said 'it would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you HAVE to be the one who plays it.' So with her blessing I took on the role."

Madsen eventually agreed, and she wanted to make sure that she wasn't taking her new gig for granted. "I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her," she said. 

The other role Alexandra Pigg missed out on

"Candyman" was relatively well-received upon its release, and it was a modest hit. The film is hypnotic, terrifying, and intelligent. It engages with the scars of racism, and the ghosts hatred leaves behind. The rules of Candyman don't always make sense — sometimes he's a killer, sometimes a kidnapper, sometimes wants to frame Helen for unstated reasons — but they seem to lock into a bizarre dream logic. It's certainly one of the more notable horror films of its decade. "Candyman" became well-known enough to warrant three sequels in 1995, 1999, and most recently 2021, each one starring a new set of characters, and each one featuring Tony Todd as the title monster. 

Meanwhile, Pigg divorced Bernard Rose and never appeared in any of the "Candyman" movies. Pigg, prior to "Candyman," also once nearly appeared in a genre cult TV show that could have boosted her profile. In 1988, Pigg was cast as the role of Kristine Kochanski in the long-running British sci-fi sitcom "Red Dwarf." Kochanski was the long-dead would-be love interest of the show's lead character, and would crop up from time to time as a hologram, in old videos, or by being resurrected. Thanks to an electrician's strike, however, the show was rescheduled, Pigg had to drop out due to bad timing, and the role ended up going to actress Clare Grogan. Regardless, when the Kochanski character was brought on as a series regular, Grogan was recast with Chloë Annett. 

Pigg's last acting role was in the 1994 film "Immortal Beloved." She is given a special thanks in the credits of "Candyman."