When Madonna’s film “W.E.” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August, it was savaged by critics. The Times of London called the drama “screamingly, inadvertently funny” while Daily Variety said it was “burdened with risible dialogue and weak performances.”
Since dropping out of the University of Michigan and moving to New York with $35 in her pocket, the woman christened Madonna Louise Ciccone has adopted a dizzying array of identities: the sexpot Material Girl; Esther, the Kaballah enthusiast; Queen Madge, the Anglophile. Now, she’s trying again to be a highbrow director—she cites Wong Kar Wai, Visconti and Antonioni as inspirations—following the dismal critical reception of her first film, 2008′s “Filth and Wisdom.”
At 53, she has taken her knocks—Ricky Gervais took a shot at her at the Golden Globes (she shot back, and later won the best-song award). So she identifies with her film’s subject, Wallis Simpson, the American socialite for whom King Edward VIII abdicated his throne, becoming her third husband. She and the Duke of Windsor were suspected by many to be Nazi sympathizers. Next Friday, “W.E.” will hit theaters in wide release, after a weeklong run in December. The film, re-edited since its Venice debut, interweaves the historical love story with a modern-day tale of a young woman in an abusive relationship.
When Madonna takes the stage on Feb. 5 at the Super Bowl XLVI half-time show, the performance will mark the intersection of various elements of Brand Madonna. Her first record in four years will be released in March. The first single, “Gimme All Your Luvin,’” featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, breaks in February and another new song, “Masterpiece,” plays to the closing credits on “W.E.” Her first fragrance, called Truth or Dare, will follow in the spring.
Dressed in a silk dress by the French couture house Vionnet and Chanel fingerless gloves that showcased her yoga-enhanced chaturanga arms, Madonna was perched on a Louis XVI-inspired settee in the Royal suite at the Waldorf-Astoria—where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once lived in New York—as several of her favorite gardenia-scented Diptyque candles burned during a recent interview. Her comment on the suite: “I like this one, don’t get me wrong. I just prefer the one in the Ritz Hotel [in Paris]. It’s more Art Deco, which is more my era in furniture.” Below, an edited transcript.
The Wall Street Journal: You have a movie coming out, a fragrance, a new album and a tour—and now the Super Bowl. Was this a master plan?
Madonna: No, everything kind of converged in a bottleneck. I was always planning on making a record when I finished my film but I ended up finishing my film much later than I had expected so, because I had already scheduled time with all the producers and writers for my record, I had to multitask and work on my record at the same time I was finishing my film. And then somehow it worked out that the record was being finished right around the time the movie was coming out. Then I got talked into doing the Super Bowl.