The superstar who’s been everything tries on two new roles – Eva Peron and Mommy. Julie Salamon drops in on Madonna on the set of Evita.
“Oh, God, I’ve done something horrible.”
That’s what raced through Madonna’s mind as she stopped cold in the middle of a blistering tango and urgently called for a break. A doctor was summoned to the Evita set on a smoky Buenos Aires soundstage. Over the preceding 36 hours Madonna had repeated an arduous dance sequence requiring fifteen partners at least 40 times.
Now she decided she couldn’t dance another step until she was sure her baby was all right. The film crew stood around idle while Madonna stopped to hear fetal heartbeat.
“OK, I didn’t kill it,” she remembers thinking. “I can’t go back to the set now.”
This is Madonna, out of control.
Evita had already tested the limits of her famous energy. She had spent months recording the sound track in a London studio and five months on location in Buenos Aires, Budapest and London. On arrival in Argentina, Madonna, known for her insistence on control, found herself a pawn of political opportunists unhappy with her portrayal of Eva Peron, and a virtual prisoner of screaming mobs of fans.
Not long afterward, her guarded private life became a giant peep show with the publication of Dennis Rodman’s autobiography and its intimate “revelations,” including his dismay to find that Madonna not only enjoyed but demanded oral sex – a maneuver, he confessed, that was surprisingly beyond his considerable athletic talents. As if all that weren’t enough, after long proclaiming that she wanted to have a baby, she had become pregnant at what was arguably the most inconvenient time imaginable – as filming began on Evita, the movie that could profoundly change her career.
And she was in the hand of a director – Alan Parker – who has asked her to give up her personal retinue of makeup and hair people, singing songs that she hadn’t written for a production that was totally out of her hands.
“I was scared the whole time I was going to hurt the baby.” Madonna told me, referring to her tango scene. “It’s getting harder and harder. I can’t hide in my costumes anymore. I’m becoming very self-conscious about my body. Very protective.
“You have no control with being pregnant. Things just happen and you have to hope for the best. I had to do that with Alan. I have approached work from a completely different, more submissive point of view,” she said. “In the beginning I really fought it, and finally I realized I had to have a leap of faith. It was a real letting-go process for me.” Never one to miss an opening for irony, she added in a mocking whisper, “It’s prepared me for having a child.”
Even the Kensington town house she’d rented for the London shoot was defying her. At 7:30 a.m. on the morning after Madonna moved in, workmen arrived at the adjoining house, and the jackhammers began.
“Isn’t it hideous?” said Madonna upon entering the room, referring not to the awful noise but to the decor, lots of books and chintz and heavy furniture bespeaking a certain kind of gentility. As she had done so many times before, she had altered her physical appearance to reflect the persona she currently wanted to project. She was a portrait of matronly elegance, with barely a trace of the bawdy girl who had become, by dint of her inventive outrageousness, the most famous woman in the world. The much-photographed musculature was softened by pregnancy, then seventeen weeks along. Wearing a pretty flowered dress, cut low but not inappropriately low, a deep pink cardigan with cloth-covered buttons, and simple jewelry, which did not include a nose ring (though she would confess a navel ring remained in place), she looked tired but quite beautiful. The only clue to those other incarnations lay in her hair, bleached and tired, tucked behind her ears, the casualty of innumerable bouts of experimentation.
I was unable at first to connect this pristine apparition with the dangerously frisky woman I’d seen clothed and unclothed on film and video and in books, simulating sex with humans and objects, including crucifixes and bottles.
Madonna, who would have had to be bleeped only three or four times if our interview had been televised, spoke with a voice modulated to sound as if it were the product of Connecticut boarding school. She talked about the research she’d done for Evita. She had traveled to Buenos Aires early to interview friends and enemies of the Perons. “I had to assure them that I wouldn’t reveal who they were or take their picture. They were really paranoic,” said Madonna, telling war stories with the bravado of a seasoned foreign correspondent.
Madonna revealed more than a little identification with Eva Peron, an ambitious girl from the hinterlands who changed her hair and clothes a lot as she acquired enormous fame and power. “There’s such a fleshed-out story now that the film barely resembles the stage production, and thank God,” she said. “I was actually enraged by the play because I felt it was only the British-aristocracy point of view and portrayal Eva as this one-dimensional ambitious bitch.
“It’s as ridiculous as portraying or thinking of me that way,” she said. “People don’t accomplish the things that she accomplished, or that I accomplished, by being one-dimensional or power hungry. She affected too many people. So it was really important for me to do the research I did to give her a humanity I don’t think Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice gave her in the musical.”
I was leaning over to check my tape recorder for the second or third time when Madonna stopped mid-spiel scooped up the machine from the coffee table. Locking her glacial eyes on mine, she said coolly, “You are driving me crazy.”
She placed the recorder on her nicely swelling stomach. “There,” she said, grinning. “I’m going to hold it. You can’t touch it.”
And with that gesture, she both humanized this formal proceeding and took control of it. Not that there was ever any doubt about who was in control.