W Magazine (April 2003)
She made it through the wilderness, all right. And she’s remained at the center of global pop culture ever since. The mother of reinvention talks about her art, her husbands and her early years as "an ego-driven nutcase."
It doesn’t really matter whether you buy the transformation of the world’s onetime reigning sex kitten — okay, lioness — into a New Age Mother Theresa determined to bring a ray of light into your spiritually parched life. It doesn’t matter at all.
Because she believes it ardently for all of us.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Ritchie simply has more conviction than you do. Much more. She practically reeks of it. It’s in the way she enters a room, in the way she exits, in the rather regal pronouncements that pepper her conversation, and most of all, it’s in her seeming immunity to criticism — something she’s had a surfeit of since she and her husband of two years, director Guy Ritchie, released their movie Swept Away last fall.
Madonna, clad in black pants, a leopard-print and flower-strewn black top, a greenish fuzzy fur jacket, stilettos and a crocheted black beret, may have left the house today sans makeup, but she is more than adequately shielded by her own psychic armor, as thick and dense as concrete. Call it what you will — centeredness, smugness or egomania — but don’t think for a second you’ll pierce it. It’s the quality that let’s Madonna be Madonna, that defines her as a star, perhaps the biggest star who ever lived, and that compels us — more than 20 years after her first single, "Everybody," became an underground dance club hit — to still be sitting around talking about her.
No doubt her forthcoming album, American Life, to be released this month, will lead to another round of Madonna-musing. An introspective tour de force, less melodic or pop than Music or Ray of Light, the record is both darkly self-reflective and socially engaged. Indeed, rumors about the album’s political stance began to circulate before anyone had heard a note: Matt Drudge reported that the "American Life" video, directed by Jonas Akerlund, "may be the most shocking antiwar, anti-Bush statement yet to come from the show business industry." (In the video, she plays a fatigue-clad glam superhero who tosses a grenade on a fashion runway, among other things.)
Madonna’s response: "Who’s Matt Drudge? He’s on the Internet? Never believe anything you read on the Internet. I don’t want to comment on idiotic people making assumptions."
She had to postpone our interview one day owing to a cold, and now, after a visit to Beverly Hills fave Joseph Sugarman, M.D., the 44-year-old pop diva (a proud devotee of Ashtanga yoga, numerous trainers and a macrobiotic diet) is, uncharacteristically enough, fending off a wicked cough and a case of the sniffles. Still, like the indomitable force she is, she’s shown up to do her job.
As for the other big item of recent speculation — that the return to her natural dark brown hair color just might signal that another baby is on the way — she rolls her eyes. "Do I look pregnant to you?" she asks, sitting on a couch at the Beverly Hills office of Maverick Records, the label she started with Warner Bros. 11 years ago. "I am a brunette after all, and I just like to match my pubic hair sometimes," she adds with a laugh. "People who have nothing better to do than talk about my hair color have no lives."
It wasn’t so long ago that Madonna seemed thrilled to have people talking about the color of her hair. And the color of her pubic hair, for that matter. Not anymore. "Let’s talk about serious issues," she begs.
"I just saw Michael Moore’s one-man show in Camden Town [in London]," she continues, " and I loved him for it. It was so amazing and revolutionary. He basically was saying we’re all in the ‘comfortable class’ — and we can’t be f*cked to do anything about ‘what’s happening over there [in Iraq],’ because we don’t believe it will make a difference. And of course that isn’t true. Michael Moore is one person, and he’s making a difference. Afterward, I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go! I’m starting a revolution by myself!’ I felt so inspired."
Despite being a mother of two, with several mansions and a record label to worry about — in addition to sessions at West Hollywood’s Kabbalah Learning Center several nights a week to pursue her ongoing studies in Jewish mysticism — Madonna remains, she insists, a rebel.
"Because what is a rebel? It’s someone who thinks outside the box — someone who doesn’t subscribe to any program. Besides, I think the Kabbalah is very punk rock. It teaches you that you are responsible for everything. We don’t realize there’s a bigger system at work. Everything that comes to you is for a reason. And I think that’s really revolutionary, because we are not trained to think that in our society."
Another of Kabbalah’s lessons, she adds, is the power of words — and the negative energy of gossip. And no one seems to have more gossip swirling around her than Madonna. "If we truly believed," she says, "that every act of denigrating somebody is a small form of murder — the negative energy you create by talking badly about somebody — we’d never do it again. Because all anybody does anymore is slag everybody off. That’s American life. That’s our media. And isn’t it important to speak up against?"
Some speculated it was precisely this sort of negative energy that Madonna was seeking to avoid when she skipped the Golden Globe Awards, where her theme song from the James Bond movie Die Another Day was nominated for Best Song. Elton john, who was to have been seated next to her, claimed she begged off to avoid running into him after he publicly called the song "the worst Bond tune of all time."
Madonna sighs upon being asked about this. "Every once in a while," she admits, "you do get caught up in that — Oh, they said about me? You feel that twinge. But then I snap out of it and think, Oh who gives a shit? That’s when I’m reminded I need to stay focused on my spiritual studies."
The real reason she didn’t go to the Golden Globes? "I wanted to hang out with my kids," she says. "On my list of priorities, it wasn’t that important. I have a hard time with awards shows. We spend far too much time making popularity contests, and not enough time caring about each other. They’re just dumb. They’re just fashion shows and ratings for TV, and they don’t mean anything."
Boldly pressing forward through a veritable asteroid belt of negative energy, we speed-chat through the rest of recent Madonna rumors.
On prepping a movie musical: "Yes, I’m working on a musical project. It’s already been written and it’s totally original. The director and I have put together a creative team, and we’re working on getting financing right now."
On why she giggled upon meeting Queen Elizabeth at the premiere of Die Another Day: "Well, there’s nothing to say, really. I met the Queen."
On whether she spent the last week of photographer Herb Ritts’ life at his bedside: "Yes. He was a friend. That’s what friends are for. Herb was a good egg. He didn’t want people to know he was sick — he didn’t want them to feel sorry for him. He just got on with his life. He was a very shy guy and didn’t do the fabulous thing. Like a lot of other photographers who shall go unnamed."
On supposedly hating London: "I’ve already said this — I love London. And I live there a good part of the year."
On the debacle of Swept Away: "My husband and I set out to make a small movie, with not a lot of people involved, about power and politics within male-female relationships. People wanted it to fail before it came out. And people wrote bad things about it that permeated people’s consciousness. And that’s how it goes. Would I work with him again? Sure."
On Frida, the biopic she’d once hoped to star in. "I didn’t like it. Not at all. I think Salma Hayek did a great job, but I still think ultimately the soul of Frida Kahlo nobody knows. The movie doesn’t even scratch the surface of who she was and what she went through."
© W Magazine