The onetime Material Girl has grown up to play Argentina’s saintly sinner in Evita, but she will forever remain a self-styled experiment in sexuality… her own work of erotic art
“This entire experience has been a test of how much I want to do Evita, how much I’m willing to give up to do it – because believe me, I really gave up a lot!”
That’s Madonna speaking backstage at Manhattan’s Webster Hall last spring, preparing to go out and shake everything the good Lord gave her for two thousand screaming fans. But as she slips out of her red silk lounging pajamas and into a pale-blue off-the-rack nightgown (the evening’s theme is a slumber party, in keeping with her video Bedtime Stories, after the album of the same name). Madonna has more on her mind than whether she should have worn a bra. Although that is a concern? Every time she moves, her bosom pops up over the top or out the sides of the gown’s flimsy bodice. (She thought it might be fun to don something cheap and sleazy for the event. Now she realizes her audience is going to have more fun than she anticipated!)
Breasts aside., this is the night that Madonna put in a call to her longtime manager. Freddy DeMann. telling him to forget about her touring again — a venture that would have put millions in both their pockets — because she’s accepted the starring role opposite her Truth or Dare heartthrob, Antonio Banderas, in Alan Parker’s screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita – the long-aborning project for which everybody from Barbra Streisand to Michelle Pfeiffer has been mentioned. Madonna herself has waited seven years for the opportunity to play Argentina’s saintly sinner, the fiercely ambitious wife of dictator Juan Peron. And as much as the onetime Material Girl enjoys performing live and as much as she appreciates financial security, giving up a potential fifteen to twenty million bucks means very little to her at this point. (We can assume DeMann, who’s been with Madonna since her multicrucifix/rubber-bracelet/rags-in-her-hair days, knew better than to object.)
Lush and Harlowesque, Madonna stares into a full-length mirror and performs an amusing, intensely feminine, and sexy ritual – carefully, luxuriously repainting her mouth while continuing to give an interview: “I know this sounds ridiculously immodest. but I always had a feeling I’d do Evita. Not that it was something that occupied my thoughts constantly, and not that I didn’t give up several times after Meryl Streep was supposed to do it, and then Michelle.
But it always fell through, and I couldn’t help feeling that somehow I was hexing it; that it was meant for me. So finally, after Michelle backed out, or whatever happened. I said to myself, You’ve got to give it one more try. So I sat down and wrote Alan Parker a ten-page letter. I just let loose with all my feelings about the project, about Eva Peron, how I was the right one to play her. I seemed to be possessed as I wrote, and I sent it all off with a copy of my Take A Bow video. I told him I had to play her.”
Starkly glamorous in the tacky backstage dressing room all platinum-blonde hair, opalescent skin, nude beneath her tissue-thin gown — Madonna turns away from the mirror and looks at me. Her freshly painted lips gleam. Her vivid blue eyes, edged dramatically with kohl, are like lasers in the dimly lit room. “And now I’m doing it.” she says.
At this point, a functionary appears at the door, announcing. “They’re ready for you.” Madonna embraces me, takes a deep breath — and bosoms erupt alarmingly from her chemise. “Good grief, the things we do,” she mutters.
And then, with one final, futile adjustment of her slumber-wear, she descends into the maelstrom.
The next day, the papers are full of Madonna’s pajama party. She’s pregnant, one “very good source” says. “Suspiciously voluptuous,” says another. One columnist states authoritatively that the star’s breasts are those of a woman in her third trimester. We speak on the phone, and Madonna seems vastly amused by the speculation: “Ha! This is what I get for eating like a normal person and not working out six hours a day. Of course, when I turn out not to be pregnant, they’ll say I had a miscarriage or an abortion.” She laughs merrily. “Quick, tell me when the fun part of being famous kicks in.”
Flash forward six months. The fun part of being famous is finally kicking in. Sort of. We’re backstage again. This time at Radio City Music Hall for the MTV Music Video Awards. Madonna, now in the twellfth year of her extraordinary fame is presiding over the chaotic event like an empress though her demeanor, as usual, is charmingly girlish. At thirty-seven, she still possesses the flesh and vibrancy of adolescence. Her hair – surely the world’s strongest follicles! – is no longer platinum. She has gone to a more flattering gold and styled it in an amusing multilayered homage to Ursula Andress or Ann-Margret or any sixties chick who lived in hairpieces. Madonna looks sensational. And though one senses she might prefer to be spending the evening somewhere else the theater, perhaps she obliges MTV’s every request this night. (She’s due to present Best Rap Video while offering an obligatory expletive as well as a call for freedom from censorship. Later, she’s to win Best Female Video of the Year.)