Genre Magazine (October 2002)
I stand outside the backdoor of our 1970s colonial: green aluminum siding, a two car garage, and a massive oak tree out back. Mom and Dad aren’t home so I take my very first cigarette from my pocket – it’s a Kool. I light it, inhale its mentholated smoke, and am not sure whether to faint or vomit. I know that I am on the verge of middle class cool. As I fight the urge to up-chuck the bologna sandwich I had for lunch, I see a jet plane streak across the blue sky. Thoughts of local cool fall from my head like cement galoshes. As the jet plane fades into the distance, I consider my sister’s offer to join her in New York.
It’s 1983 and she’s looking for back-dancers to perform with her at night-clubs around the city. It seems she’s written a song called "Everybody." I have yet to hear it, but what the hell, with a lot of faith, hope, and a deep phobia of burnt orange and avocado green I am on that jet plane to New York. And now, some 20 years later, fate, talent, and a hell of a lot of hard work have set this table that my sister and I now sit at. It’s her home in Beverly Hills, 90210. She sits no more than inches away from me, her two children rampant underfoot, her husband Guy off making a movie. While fame constantly lurks like a hooker with a heart of gold, the planet has become her paradise and prison. So we eat lunch – me and my sister, Madonna.
Madonna: Is this your barley tea?
Christopher: Yes, but I haven’t had any of it yet.
Madonna: [In British accent] It’s very good.
Christopher: I haven’t been sleeping well.
Christopher: I don’t know why, it started after that first Kabbalah class you invited me to.
Madonna: I haven’t slept very well myself, but I usually get G-ed up right before I’m about to do something, and I have terrible insomnia anyway.
Christopher: Um, it could be the book [The Power of Kabbalah] you gave me. I’m used to reading books before I got to sleep and having them put me to sleep, and this one is…
Madonna: I know.
Christopher: I put it down and I’m thinking – okay, the curtain, the universe, the window, the drapes. I’m like, fuck.
Madonna: Welcome to my world, okay? Because that’s what my world consists of now, but the thing is, once you start processing the information in the book it’s not so stimulating in an irritating way.
Christopher: What’s that?
Madonna: It’s gomasio. It’s got sesame seeds and a little bit of salt.
Christopher: It was interesting. The more I read the book, the more a lot of what Eitan [the Kabbalah instructor] was saying at the meeting makes sense to me.
Christopher: There are some things that I’m thoroughly confused about, like the start of the universe.
Madonna: The big bang theory, uh huh.
Christopher: I understand what that means, but in reference to where we come from, I’m not sure why it started. I’ll have to ask you about that.
Madonna: Yeah, well ask away.
Christopher: Now what’s this stuff?
Madonna: It’s also salad dressing. It’s very good. The thing is, you’ll think – oh well, this doesn’t go with the theory of evolution and all that, but in fact it does – it’s all very scientific.
Christopher: It wasn’t so much that. It was the why. Why it started. First the something, then the vessel…?
Madonna: Because the creator – if you believe there is a larger energy force out there, whatever you want to call it – light, the creator, God, he, she, it – wanted to share, wanted to give something to something, and created. The whole Adam and Eve story is a metaphor essentially, but it’s all based on the concept of earning things and bread of shame. You know what bread of shame is, right? Bread of shame is when you have everything and you haven’t earned it. It’s like when you spoil a kid. You give them everything and they short circuit. It just brings chaos into your life, because you haven’t earned any of it. That goes for everybody. Whenever you get something and you haven’t earned it, it will work against you. So the idea is that the creator created us as vessels, that we would work at filling up our vessel, that we would earn the things we had in the first place. And that’s the metaphor of the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve started off with everything, and then they ate from the tree of knowledge – good and bad – and [she is interrupted by children] okay, I’m doing an interview, so you go over there – now! Anyway…
Christopher: Has the Kabbalah affected your work?
Madonna: Oh my God, yeah. Totally. It affects the choices I make as well.
Christopher: Your choices are significantly different now than what they would have been before Kabbalah?
Madonna: Yes, because, I was sort of moving in this direction anyway, but it’s kind of like, you know, I never want to do anything anymore just for the sake of doing it. That doesn’t mean I don’t do frivolous things. I like to shop for a nice pair of shoes, you know? But in terms of work I’m much more conscious about what it’s about, what message it’s sending out into the universe. Is there light involved in the work that I’m doing, and is there any way for me to – like if somebody offers me some incredible job, that I could make a lot of money from…
Christopher: You mean, like, in a film…
Madonna: Yeah. At first I’ll think about the part itself. What’s the message of the movie? If it’s just exploitation or violence for the sake of violence then I’m not going to be interested in it, especially because it takes so much time. I’m not interested in putting so much of my energy into something that doesn’t have something to do with the big picture. What is the big picture? What we talked about the other night. Sharing, going outside of your comfort zone, restricting yourself… all of those things. If I can’t embody or make an attempt to embody those things in my work or even on a purely financial level… the whole thing is about asking for more. The Kabbalistic principles are not about giving up everything and living this monastic existence. You ask for everything, but you ask for everything in order to share. So, if that could be anything for me, like writing a song, which I did for the Bond movie [Die Another Day]. The song I wrote for the Bond film is about destroying your ego, and it’s juxtaposing the metaphor of, you know, and it’s juxtaposing the metaphor of, you know, the fight against good and bad, and it’s set inside the whole universe of Bond. James Bond is in prison and he gets out of prison. Like all Bond films, somebody’s chasing him or he’s chasing somebody and it’s always a fight against good and evil. I wanted to take it to another level. It’s kind of a metaphor of… I’m fighting myself.
Madonna: Anyway, I got sidetracked, but how Kabbalah influences my work is that it influences it in an obvious way – in terms of a story I’m trying to tell or a message I’m trying to put out there. Or, if I succeed in the physical world – like making tons of cash – then I would share that with various charitable organizations, so, when I say share there are a lot of different ways to share. Guy and I wrote five short children’s stories which were all based on stories that we learned from the Kabbalah, but they’re for children. I don’t know when they’re going to be published. We’re trying to find a publishing company right now to distribute them. All the money that comes from that will go back into the Kabbalah centers, any Kabbalah centers.
Christopher: And the stories are…?
Madonna: Good stories. They’re about everything from evil tongue and gossip to having certainty that even bad things that happen to you are good things. But they’re told in a way that a child can understand. I try them a lot on Lola, by the way, and when they don’t work she says, "What’s that? I don’t get that. That doesn’t make an sense." So I go and I change them. She’s my guinea pig. Anyway, so we’re looking for illustrators right now. And that’s a partial answer as to how the Kabbalah has affected my work.
Christopher: I’m curious about how it has to do with the new film you just did? Why Swept Away? Why choose it? That movie itself is… intense… on its own.
Madonna: You could call it an angry love story, but Guy put it very poetically. He said it’s a movie about getting what you need, not what you want. It starts out with this spoiled horrible rich woman who has everything that a person could want in the material world. She’s got a rich husband, she has designer clothes, diamond rings, she goes on beautiful vacations on yachts, and from the outside, you think, wow, she’s got it all, right? There are a lot of people who would be envious of that life. Maybe not you and I, but there are a lot of people who aspire to that, right?
Christopher: Well, of course. That’s the aim for most.
Madonna: Exactly. So she has everything she wants, but she’s not happy. Why isn’t she happy? Well, because she’s living life on a purely physical realm, she’s just living in a material world. I don’t believe she’s in a marriage that’s truly based on love, so she’s unhappy. She takes out that unhappiness on all the people that work on her yacht by humiliating them all and trying to make it very clear that she’s in charge, that she knows everything. She picks on one guy in particular who doesn’t have any of the material things, but he’s a decent soul, he has a simple life, and he appreciates nature. So as fate would have it…
Christopher: This is the main guy – they end up alone… together?
Madonna: Yes she ends up on an island with him because of her selfish, petulant behavior. When she wakes up it’s six o’clock. She’s like, "Where is everybody? Why did everybody leave me?" And he says, "I know why everybody left you." He’s always muttering things under his breath, like "Because you’re such a bitch and nobody can stand you." Anyways, she says, "Well I want to go out and meet them." He says "No, Madame, I don’t suggest you do such a thing – the tide’s coming up, the wind is changing, it could be a disaster." She insists that he take the dinghy down off the yacht, because everyone else traveling with her has left to go to a cove to go swimming.
Christopher: But she makes him take her anyway, right?
Madonna: Yeah, she’s like, "I make the decisions around here, so you can get the dingy down and you can take me where I want you to take me. You work for me. Okay?" And that’s their relationship. It’s very antagonistic and he wants to kill her for the first half hour of the movie, along with probably everyone in the audience. So they end up on the desert island and he does this trip around the island and he says, "Guess what? It’s deserted." When she first gets on the island, she tells him, "You’re in so much trouble." Because they get stuck out on the sea, there’s a storm, their boat is capsized so they’ve been out for 48 hours. She’s sunburned, she doesn’t have her things. She’s flipped out, and they land deserted on the island and she repeats, "You’re in so much trouble. I’m going to call my lawyers, I’m going to sue the company you work for." So he looks around the island and he says, "Well, you can call the sand police because there’s nobody else here but you and me." And she refuses to believe it, so he says, "Well, suit yourself, you think there’s somebody else on the island? Go find them." Anyway, he sets about figuring out a way to survive on this island. He’s a fisherman, so he fashions all these things to catch fish and builds a little shelter for himself. Meanwhile, she’s tromping around the island trying to find somebody, cutting her feet on everything and getting sunburned and cursing the world. Long story short, everything changes, because she tries to dominate him and he’s like, "No, the rules of the game are changed. Now I’m in charge." And she’s like "Fuck you." Anyways, she’s so disgustingly disrespectful to him he ends up slapping her and telling her, "You must call me master." And so the whole thing changes. In a sense, he has to break her. And in the process she has to go get water, she has to go catch fish, and do this, that, and the other, and suddenly she learns how to take care of herself. By the way, she’s miserable doing it, but she wants to eat. And because she starts learning how to look after herself she becomes more of a human being, and as a result he starts finding her more attractive, and they end up falling in love with each other.
Christopher: I recall the original being quite violent and not terribly redeeming.
Madonna: Well, hopefully we’ve changed that because I think in the original their sexual attraction was sort of based on animal lust, and it was kind of that thing that comes from violence sometimes.
Christopher: It was very dark.
Madonna: Yeah, this version is not as dark. She actually learns how to do things. She actually does stuff, and I think that he falls for her. He sees her charm. She changes – she has a sense of humor. There’s a night they find a bottle of booze and get very drunk and play charades and it’s complete insanity. It’s very funny.
Christopher: So, it’s a departure?
Madonna: It is a departure from the original in that I think there’s more of a transformation that occurs on the island, and then, of course, I won’t tell you the end, but they do go back. He wants proof that she can love him anywhere and not just on a deserted island.
Christopher: So they’re found?
Madonna: Yeah, they’re found. It’s a very simple story and I wanted to do it for all the obvious reasons – because I wanted to work with Guy, and I thought it was a great part to sink my teeth into.
Christopher: Are you taking part in that James Bond movie?
Madonna: I have a cameo in it. I did it already. I’m James Bond’s fencing instructor.
Christopher: I see.
Madonna: Yes. [with mock seriousness] It’s terribly important.
Christopher: Was it fun?
Madonna: Yeah, that was fun. It was great. He’s great. Very charming guy.
Christopher: Pierce Brosnan?
Madonna: Very professional.
Christopher: I’ve hung out with him at a few different functions
Madonna: You have? Don’t you think he’s charming?
Christopher: He was. He was also feelin’ rather well, if you know what I mean.
Madonna: Oh really? Well, he’s Irish. Embarrassingly so?
Christopher: It wasn’t the Charles Bukowski kind of drunk.
Madonna: Oh, well that’s good. That’s not a drunk you want to experience very often.
Christopher: No. But I do remember experiencing it, oddly enough. Somehow he popped into my head.
Madonna: What time?
Christopher: Just from the time in the house in Carbon Canyon. I remember him being up there with you and Sean.
Madonna: Charles Bukowski?
Madonna: Yeah, he was a trip.
Christopher: And him being plastered, and having to carry him. I mean it was bizarre. I have this bizarre recollection of him getting very strange and violent and having to be carried out of the house and shit.
Madonna: Well, he did like his drinks. Indeed he did. You know he died.
Madonna: Yeah. He was a tortured soul. Fantastic poet though.
Christopher: So you must be enjoying the weather here, as opposed to in London.
Madonna: Uh, that is an understatement. I experienced about a week of sunshine in nine months. By the way, when the sun shines in London it is phenomenal, because the gardens are so lush. When spring comes and everything is in full bloom and the sun decides to come out, then you go, okay, this is why people live here. It’s exquisite. There’s nothing like it.
Christopher: It’s like a beautiful day in New York.
Madonna: But even more so because the architecture is older, and people really know how to cultivate gardens there. Especially in the countryside.
Christopher: I haven’t seen your house in the country yet.
Madonna: It’s just phenomenal. I didn’t really get the charm of the house in the countryside in the wintertime. It’s a really charming house, though. It’s a little Georgian jewel box of a house, and it has the history of Cecil Beaton living there, and it’s one of the most beautiful areas in the countryside of England on the Wiltshire and Dorset border, but it took me a while to appreciate it. Guy has a childhood fantasy, because he spent time in a country estate for about six years of his life and it was the best time of his life, so I think he was really searching to recreate the experience. And if you like, it’s got a pheasant shoot on it, and there’s a farm there with horses.
Christopher: Are you shooting a lot?
Madonna: I did go pheasant shooting last year. Joe came with me.
Christopher: Joe Henry?
Madonna: Yeah, yeah. At Christmas time last year. I took shooting lessons. You know me, once I undertake something…
Christopher: You do it with a vengeance.
Madonna: So, yeah I got my three-piece tweed suit made. I must tell you, that’s the most important part of it for me. [laughs] "The look." I had "the look" down. Wore my tie, my shirt, my cufflinks. I had my brogues made. You get together in the morning, you have this ritual thing – there’s a big hunting lodge on the property, a big roaring fire in the fireplace. Everybody gets together, dressed the same way.
Christopher: A group thing.
Madonna: Yeah, but it’s all men. And me. Which is another thing I like.
Christopher: You’re the only woman?
Madonna: There are some women that shoot, but not very often. So I like being one of the chaps. Also not a surprise.
Christopher: You have a huge breakfast or something?
Madonna: Everybody does. But I skip the huge breakfast which is that typical English -
Christopher: Eggs and sausage and tomatoes and mushrooms.
Madonna: Yeah, and it’s like, once you eat it, I don’t know how you can get up and move around, but I guess if you’re used to it. So, I have my bowl of macrobiotic miso soup and then I go out and I shoot some pheasant. [Laughs].
Christopher: Mmmm, the paradox…
Madonna: Yes, indeed. But, hey, uh, wait, shooting pheasant and eating it. Very organic. In season.
Christopher: Do you eat what you shoot?
Christopher: Is it true that you shoot it and then you hang it up and let it rot for a while. I guess you don’t call it rotting.
Madonna: You say, is it, how "high" is it? I think it’s how "high" is it. I can’t remember what the phrase is. But you let it age for a bit so that the meat gets very rich. You can never eat it the day you shoot it, you’ve got to hang it for a couple days. That goes for deer, duck, pheasant, pigeon, which is all shot and eaten on our property.
Christopher: So do you consider yourself an Englishwoman on some level?
Madonna: An Englishwoman?
Christopher: An Englishman?
Madonna: [laughs] I consider myself an English chap. I’m a lad. No, I don’t know. I feel like I am a bit of an Anglophile, because Guy is, and that’s what happens when you fall in love with somebody, you kind of, well, at least for me – what they love to do you want to experience too. So you start doing it as well. I’m not going to take up Ju-Jitsu, I assure you. But I never would have imagined I would have lived in the countryside in England or been shooting pheasant, or…
Christopher: I would have never imagined it myself. Seeing you drink a beer was shocking to me.
Madonna: Please, yeah. I like bitter, not beer, which is room temperature.
Christopher: Something yellow in a glass with a bit of foam on the top is a bit of a shock to me. Seeing you drink it the first time.
Madonna: It is a shock to me too, but I just figure, you know what? It’s all about adventure and taking chances and doing things different and you know, I even went on a vacation with him. Remember we went to Greece?
Christopher: Oh yeah.
Madonna: Took a boat around Greece, jumped in the Mediterranean, I was seven months pregnant, went swimming in icy cold water, ate sea urchin raw out of the shell, had fish brains. Please…
Madonna: Why? Because I have a very bossy husband who goes, "Be adventurous. Come on, just try it."
Christopher: My God.
Madonna: I’m like, "Okay, okay." You don’t understand. There’s a lot of pressure to be adventurous in this house.
Christopher: Fish brains.
Madonna: Yeah. Anyway, plus I was pregnant so everywhere I went all the fishermen and people in the villages were always shoving things down my throat, saying it was good for the baby. Half the time I didn’t know what I was eating – it was all weird and mushy and warm and gunky.
Christopher: Any vacation this summer?
Madonna: No vacation, but I can assure you coming to L.A. from London is a vacation. There’s a pool and there’s sun.
Christopher: That’s true. But you’re here mainly to promote the movie.
Madonna: Promote the movie, shoot the video, pay attention to my record company.
Christopher: What’s up with Maverick? Is there a game plan, are there movies in the future?
Madonna: Oh, Maverick films, yes. We have a film company which we’ve done in a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of way. We don’t have a deal set up with anybody in particular but we have nine producers, nine independent producers that all work in the Maverick office space. They don’t get paid a salary, they get paid a percentage of what they can put together. They’re all bright, they’re all really motivated, they’re all ambitious, and all of them have a movie set up. So it’s good because it’s very self-motivated.
Christopher: And music?
Madonna: Music. We’ve got Justin Case. Paul Oakenfold has a record out. We’ve got Michelle Branch, who’s doing very well right now. We’ve got Alanis still.
Christopher: Did MeShell just come out with a new record?
Madonna: MeShell N’Degeocello? Yeah. Lots of talented girls, just to name a few. And we’re struggling. We’ve taken a bit of a hit, just like everybody has right now, as you know with all the downloading, people downloading records. It’s affecting record sales immensely. And um, the stock market crash.
Christopher: I’ve refused to download anything from the Internet.
Madonna: That’s very nice, thank you. Thanks for that act of loyalty… I haven’t either. I’d rather have the CD.
Christopher: Frankly I don’t know how to do it. But I can’t bring myself to – it just seems so incredibly unethical.
Madonna: Yeah, well, anyway, we’re doing very well for a label of our size. We’re not really independent, we have Warner Bros. as our parent company. But there aren’t too many labels around like us, so we’re hanging in there and we’re doing good.
Christopher: Mario’s still there, right? [Mario Ciccone is the youngest of eight siblings.]
Madonna: Yes, and he’s doing a very good job.
Christopher: He’s still doing promotions?
Madonna: Yeah. He wants to get into A&R. He wants to move around the company. But he’s doing a fantastic job.
Christopher: Are you working on a new record?
Madonna: I am. I’m halfway finished. I stopped doing it when I was doing the play [Up for Grabs], and now I’ve got a couple more months of work to do on it, which I’m going to go back to.
Christopher: How did the play end? Has the run finished?
Madonna: Yeah, it’s over. They wanted to take it to New York, but I couldn’t do it anymore.
Christopher: They didn’t want to keep it going without you?
Madonna: I guess not. I don’t know. I didn’t really get into it. They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said no. I thought about it for a minute, but the last couple of weeks of doing the play were really hard for me. It’s hard doing the same thing night after night. It really is. It’s eight shows a week in the world of theatre, and I never get to see my kids. I’d rather do a movie and come home at nighttime and put them to bed. You know what I mean? It’s a weird schedule. So…
Christopher: It’s a lifestyle, that’s for sure.
Madonna: Oh yeah. And there are a lot of people who dig it. But I’m not one of them. I do like being onstage though. Love that. Love that.
Christopher: I always said you belonged there. I just suits you. It perfectly suits you.
Madonna: Yeah, so I’m gonna go back in October to England and finish my album.
Christopher: You ought to work on some kind of theatre project that changes from night to night.
Madonna: Yeah, that would be nice. Or how about working on a theatre project where the shows are at six o’clock or four o’clock? [Laughs].
Christopher: I still think that working on something that changes from night to night might be kind of interesting.
Madonna: At least with live shows when I do my music I can change things. I can change a song. I can change the way I do it. I can sit still for it. I can move around for it. I can change my costumes. There’s so much more freedom, you know what I mean?
Christopher: There must be a way to do it. Maybe I’ll work on something.
Madonna: Okay. But I do love being on stage and I do love acting on stage. It’s definitely preferred to acting in a movie. It’s so fragmented and twisted doing a film, you know, you do the penultimate moment of a scene and you do the rest of the scene building up to it three weeks later. Or you do a whole scene but you never do the whole scene. You do this angle over here, and then you move over there. It’s a mind fuck. It really is a mind fuck.
Christopher: Yeah, I guess it must be.
Madonna: I find it very frustrating and the rehearsal process is so great. When I think of all the movies I’ve done – if I’d had a five week rehearsal period for all those movies there would have been so many other things I would have tried. The beauty of rehearsal – to do it over and over and over…
Christopher: The difference between rehearing for a tour and for a movie…
Madonna: And rehearsing for my play. We rehearsed for five weeks, and what I started off thinking I wanted to do for that character changed so immensely by the time we were ready to do it. I felt so liberated and freed by the fact that I really inhabited that character – I knew it inside and out. It was part of me, you know what I mean? And I was free to try things and really relax into it, versus, you know, a movie. When I did Swept Away, for instance, I started shooting the film ten days before my tour ended and I kept saying, "Guy can’t we rehearse or shouldn’t we…?" He said "Just don’t worry about it, just be yourself, whatever. Don’t worry about it."
Christopher: [Laughs]. Don’t worry about it…
Madonna: But most movies I’ve had, tops, a week to rehearse. And then you’re just getting to know the actors and nobody knows each other and everything’s weird. The first few days of shooting on a movie are always a nightmare. Everyone feels a little self conscious. And the luxury of getting to know people, hanging out with them every day, trying stuff out, not being afraid to step on each other’s toes, you know? The exercise of it – it is brilliant. And if I were ever to direct a film I would insist that that’s what would happen. And I know it’s a luxury.
Christopher: And shooting from start to finish?
Madonna: No, not necessarily. I would try to shoot in sequence wherever possible. But the rehearsal process. Weeks and weeks and weeks of it. It changes everything.
Christopher: I can imagine that must get expensive.
Madonna: It depends, though. You get a shitty little rehearsal space. I mean, where we rehearsed for the play was a shithole, you know? You just break up the day with different actors, different scenes.
Christopher: Are you going to direct a movie?
Madonna: I might.
Christopher: I thought you had a few things on the burner.
Madonna: Well, I have a script that I’ve been writing, but it’s been interrupted by everything from children to plays to records to videos.
Christopher: Is it Going Down?
Madonna: No, that disappeared a long time ago. I decided that it was just a morally bankrupt film, or idea. And then I started writing my own thing, which I would like to direct – which is, I think, hysterically funny. It’s about a girl who’s incredibly famous – she lives in Hollywood. She’s incredibly famous but she’s not incredibly well respected, and it’s like, all the insanity of her life. Slightly autobiographical.
Christopher: Write about what we know.
Madonna: Absolutely. But it’s very funny. It’s absurd. It’s just about the absurdity of fame, the absurdity of people having preconceived notions of you, and it’s based on a lot of characters and people that I know, of course, loosely based. And uh…
Christopher: There are some funny people around you.
Madonna: No kidding. Anyway, so there’s that. I’m thinking that if I was to direct something I would like to do something small and close and personal.
Christopher: Are you close to being somewhere where you want to be with it?
Madonna: Not yet because I keep getting sidetracked by a thousand other things. That’s my next thing. I do the Bond video, finish the children’s books, finish my album, and then I’m gonna concentrate on finishing my script.
Christopher: Well good.
Madonna: Not too busy.
Christopher: Well, hey. What the hell.
Madonna: A girl’s gotta make a living.
Christopher: That’s true. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Madonna: No sirree.
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