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“Lucky Stars” Madonna & Rosanna : Rolling Stone (May 09 1985)

Madonna - Rolling Stone / May 09 1985

How Rosanna Arquette, Madonna and director Susan Seidelman lost tempers and found each other through ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’

Our ostensible subject is Desperately Seeking Susan, the bargain-budgeted ($5 million) little film, directed by Susan Seidelman, that went from being an oddball artistes showcase to Orion Pictures rush-to-release entry for the Easter-season box office. Though the picture breaks many rules, both artistic and commercial, the result is one of the fresher entertainments to make it through the Hollywood bottleneck in these formulaic times.

Part screwball comedy, part satire, part set designer’s equivalent to “out” jazz, Susan turns on mistaked identity. Arquette’s bored housewife, Roberta, follows the trail of Madonna’s gutterball schemer, Susan, into a slapdash murder mystery that scrambles suburbanites and hipsters into something between farce and freaky fable. Early on, Roberta gets a knock on the head that gives her amnesia, and the two undergo an identity switch, setting up a skein of sardonic jokes that bounce off the wall at unexpected angles.

Madonna owned a platinum LP when she signed on to the project and has since earned a second one. The consensus, even among industry skeptics, is that singer has the goods onscreen, too. What clearly has Arquette cutting conversational wheelies, though, is Orion’s promotion of the film, in which she seems to play background to Madonna’s phosphorescent pop icon.

“Can you blame them?” she says. “A studio sees a hot commodity and they immediately capitalize on it. It’s a little misleading, because it’s not a teen movie. I know the preview has been playing before The Purple Rose of Cairo, and it’s been booed. The audience was people who love Susan Seidelman and who would go to see me, and that’s sad.”

There are precious few young actresses who can give Rosanna a power outage, onscreen or off. From a speck on the horizon, hitchhiking cross-country and arriving in Los Angeles at age seventeen, she’s built a career mostly on the kind of quicksilver expressiveness she showed in Baby, It’s You and in TV’s The Executioner’s Song; at twenty-five, she’s in the front rank of actresses arriving at stardom. Today she drove in to Hollywood from her new house an hour up in the Topanga Canyon hills, leaving a coating of ocher dust behind the back tires of her otherwise gleaming Saab Turbo. Her silky, silvery dress is a bit of a war whoop among all the cut glass and linen of this Beverly Boulevard restaurant’s cool, mirrored spaces, yet there’s something more fundamental out of place. It’s as if her heart were thudding audibly, even visibly, while she charges forward and back in a virtual self-interview.

“I’ve never been like this. I’m a wreck. I get hurt easily. I don’t have a tough shell. That’s why I’m so freaked out. I’m so insecure. I’m really insecure. It’s pretty stupid for me to be in this business, isn’t it?”

Rosanna pauses, then gives a little tadpole wriggle with her right hand to signal that she’s not really waiting for an answer. She glances once more at the Polaroid and tucks it away. She can’t stifle these complaints, yet she can’t stand voicing them. “We’re great friends,” she concludes in her trigger-burst style. “All these things I said to her. I think her performance is really good. All I’m saying is, ‘Let her be an actress.'”

“I had a few scenes where I was really sh*ttin’ bricks,” says the twenty-four-year-old refuge from Pontiac, Michigan. “A few times I was so nervous I opened my mouth and nothing came out.” Madonna is anything but mute tonight, as she takes a break from the Los Angeles rehearsal sessions for her first tour, and though she pauses occasionally to punctuate a phrase with a Mae West-ian secret smile, she lets you into the conversation only edgewise. “I think I surprised everybody, though, by being one of the calmest people on the set at all times. I think that had to do with the fact that I was in total wonderment: I was gonna soak everything up.”

Madonna - Rolling Stone / May 09 1985

One keeps waiting for the brittle bitch, the self-absorbed bombshell who’s supposed to lurk under her winking, vamping, wriggling electronic image, but the Madonna who sits talking over coffee comes on disarmingly humble.

Rosanna has expressed resentment over the insertion into the movie of a Madonna song backing a quickly rewritten scene in which the Susan character gyrates around a New York club. A video clip using the unreleased tune, “Into the Groove,” spotlights Madonna. “It does take things out of context a bit,” says Madonna, “kinda calls attention to another facet, but…” What that “but” means is, it sells tickets, chumps. Still, it’s become an issue…

“Yeah, really?” says Madonna. “Who’s it become an issue with – besides Rosanna?” Her laugh is quick and not unkind. Insiders say the song found its way into the film on its own virtues. “Susan Seidelman was not out to make a pandering rock & roll movie,” says executive producer Michael Peyser, 31, who worked on Susan after serving as associate producer on Woody Allen’s film The Purple Rose of Cairo. One of the music coordinators, Danny Goldberg, had no time to compile a soundtrack LP when the film’s release date was pushed up, but in talks with MTV execs, he paved the way for “Into the Groove” to air, even though the song might never show up on vinyl.

Madonna is not naive about the studio’s gambit: “I have a big audience of kids for my music, and you know how they use soundtracks to push movies – I think they’re using me in the same way, and it’s really a drag, because I’m trying to establish myself as an actress, not as a singer making movies. But I’ll be happy if it becomes a commercial success, simply because it’s a different kind of movie than most of what’s out now. There are a few formulas people have been using the past five years, with Flashdance and Breakin’ and all that stuff; this movie is like a return to those simple, straightforward caper comedies Claudette Colbert and Carole Lombard made in the Thirties. They give you a taste of real life, some poignance, and leave you feeling up at the end – none of that adolescent-fantasy bullshit.”

If Madonna is a fan of screwball comedy, Susan Seidelman is more intent on spray-painting her own signature on the canvas of the blank generation she grew up with. “I think I’m a little bit of a satirist,” she says. “I grew up in the epitome of Sixties suburbia. You know, Dunkin’ Donuts shops, TV dinners. We had canned vegetables at home because we thought it was more modern than having fresh vegetables. So that pop-Andy Warhol-whatever aesthetic is something I took for granted.

“Inside that, I wanted to make a fable about identity and appearances. But this film isn’t an essay. I dislike movies in which the theme becomes the plot, where everything is like an essay on Loneliness or Frustrated Housewives of Sexual Whatever. If you look at movies like Some Like It Hot or Tootsie, you could probably write a lot about sexual roles, but the films don’t get bogged down in their message. To be able to show something rather than tell it is much more interesting, and the best devices are the ones that work most invisibly. I mean, if Rosanna’s character is torn between her husband and another guy, and we see her in a magician’s box being sawed in half – that works great if you think about it, but it’s gonna work on an immediate level, too. To me, a script is a skeleton that I liked enough to – well, hang my skin on.”

The skeleton of Desperately Seeking Susan had been rattling around Hollywood for five years before finding its skin, and it would be there still were it not for a coming together of inspired amateurs who – not incidentally in this male-run industry – are mostly women. The script was the debut effort for Leora Barish, 36, who has quit life as sometime saxophonist in Manhattan’s East Village and moved to California seven years ago. She brought it to a close friend, Sarah Pillsbury (whi indeed is from Minnesota cake-mix clan her name evokes), who went from Yale to producing documentaries, including a 1979 Oscar winner. Teamed with friend Midge Sanford, savvy in the Byzantine ways of Hollywood development deals, Pillsbury optioned Barish’s script as their first project. It floared through studio limbo, gathering praise from many women and indifference from most men, but it refused to die. “We reconceived it as a lower-budget, up-and-coming-star kind of movie as opposed to using the older, established actresses we’d been talking about,” says Sanford, and finally Orion took up the option. Sanford and Pillsbury sent Arquette’s agent the script, and a week later, in June of last year, she signed up. The producers had been fans of independent filmmaker Susan Seidelman’s critically lauded debut film, Smithereens, and they tapped the director for Susan early on.

Seidelman, 32, had come out of the split-level Philadelphia suburb of Abington, studied fashion design at Drexel University and clerked for a few months at a local TV station before applying to film schools; New York University “shocked” her with an acceptance. She moved to the Lower East Side in 1974, when St. Mark’s Place was a strip of shuttered hippie boutiques. She gravitated toward directing in the three-year course and began piling up awards with her twenty-eight-minute debut, “And You Act Like One, Too,” about a too-married woman. Smithereens, begun in 1980 with $10,000 from her grandmother’s will, became the surprise hit of the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. (“I think they wanted to make a statement about mainstream American films,” she says diffidently.) In it, young actress Susan Berman played Wren, a sort of punk-rock groupie living by her wits against the harsh and indifferent backdrop of the Lower East Side and it’s punk rajah, Richard Hell. Shooting was delayed when Berman, racing along a row of loft windows, ran out of fire escape (“like some horrible Road Runner cartoon,” recalls Seidelman) and broke a leg. Still, Seidelman brought it in for $80,000, and it earned plenty more – enough to buy her a SoHo loft whose spotless varnished-wood floors and sparse, Sixties-gauche furnishing hardly mirror the unkempt world of her films.

So messy and wheedling are her heroines that Seidelman’s films seem to have at least one foot in the genre pundits are calling “slob comedies.” Madonna’s Susan is an empress of trasg, a libidinous but untouchable she-wolf who washes down cheese puffs with vintage wine, cadges triple tequila sunrises and steals other peoples’ goods and services with an amiable, Pigpen-ish air.

Madonna admits that when she arrived in New York in 1978, she, like Susan, “relied on the kindness of strangers.” When Seidelman heard of the singer’s interest in the part, she invited her over: “She was nervous and vulnerable and not at all arrogant – sweet, but intelligent and verbal, with such a sense of humor. I just started seeing her as Susan.” The chiefs at Orion were skeptical – some 200 actresses had read or been video-taped for the part – so Madonna was given a screen test. “She had this presence you couldn’t get rid of,” says Sanford. “No matter how good the other people were, we kept going back to that screen test.”

“Susan is conniving, an opportunist,” says Madonna, “but she really did care about {Roberta’s husband} Gary Glass and her boyfriend, Jim, and all these people.” Part of her cockeyed charm is a warmth underlying her aloof facade: “Anybody who goes around acting like nobody matters obviously is protecting themselves and hiding what they really feel. So I always wanted to have that little underneath there.”

What underneath may be the “little tiny girl” Arquette is sure she sees in Madonna – perhaps the girl whose mother died when she was six. “I knew I had to be extra special supercharming to get what I wanted, ’cause I grew up with a lot of brothers and sisters {she was the theirs of eight children}, and we had to share everything, I did all I could to really stand out, and that nurtured a lot of confidence and drive and ambition.”

Poet Edward Field wrote that Mae West “comes on drenched in a perfume called Self-Satisfaction,” and it’s a knack Madonna shared. She and Seidelman had a decent repport, but conflicts between the young director and three precocious pros – Arquette, Laurie Metcalf (as Roberta’s vituperative sister-in-law) and Aidan Quinn (as Roberta’s love interest) – were frequent. Production veteran Michael Peyser often picked up the pieces. “Susan has a wonderful quality; she guileless, totally honest,” he says, but he pegs her as a Hitchcock-style director: “She comes from filmmaking, as opposed to directing. She was working with excellent people, like Laurie and Aidan, who are and will be major stage actors of their generation; they’re used to a little more stroking.”

“I really do like actors,” says Seidelman. “I’m not manipulative, at which Hitchcock prided himself. I’m not good at hiding what I feel. I can’t say, ‘Oh, brilliant’; when I’m unhappy, it’s written on my forehead.”

Amid the production’s turmoil, Madonna took consolation from Mark Blum (so likably obtuse onscreen as Roberta’s husband, Gary). “If I’d get upset, he’d take me aside and tell me a joke or make an analogy about the situation, chill me out.”

Rosanna, fresh from her dream collaboration with director Martin Scorsese on his forthcoming After Hours, was not to be chilled out. She and Seidelman staged tense debates over the degree of Roberta’s amnesia, and during one twenty-hour day, an angry Rosanna burst into tears. Stalled and frustrated, Seidelman cried too. “You could say it was cathartic,” says Seidelman. “You scream, cry, get it out and go on.”

“Our whole souls were in it,” says Rosanna now, “but any film I’ve ever made was hard. By the second month, she would look at me and I would know what she wanted. It’s just that I had never worked with a director who needed complete control of me. See, I never rehearse my lines exactly how I’ll say them. I just memorize them and know my character.” While making After Hours, she points out, Scorsese was “never negative. In one situation he came up to me and said, ‘Do you think you should laugh in this scene?’ and I said, ‘Oh, no, Marty. I can’t see where she’d laugh in this scene.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah. You’re right. You’re right. Forget I ever said anything.’ And he walks away. That’s what he does, very subtly. It’s like he planted the seed, watered it and split. And as I was doing the scene, I don’t know where it came from, but I just started laughing.”

Arquette also had few problems making Lawrence Kasdan’s next film, Silverado. “I’m just a pioneer woman heading west who has a very strong vision. And she wants to work her land.” She’s completed two other projects, a public television play, Survival Guide (“It’s just a very bizarre half-hour comedy”) and the recent disaster The Aviator, which prompted At the Movies reviewer Gene Siskel to say, “This is garbage,” while Roger Ebert confirmed, “Transcendentally bad.” Rosanna’s one-time boyfriend, Toto drummer Steve Porcaro, had been so upset at the love scene in The Executioner’s Song that she says she made The Aviator partly because “it didn’t have any nudity, it was safe – one of those all-American kind of movies.” Her eventual breakup with Porcaro spurred her recent spate of work.

Now Arquette is with L.A.-based record producer James Newton Howard, and things seem… serious: “We work hard on our relationship. We have an incredible therapist. Our guy’s name is Don, and he’s great. We’re gonna work out all the shit in our relationship before we make a giant decision like getting married.

“I don’t want to talk about my relationship with Steve Porcaro anymore,” she says, with some heat. “We’re very good friends. But everybody’s gotta ask me, ‘Well, you’re the Rosanna in the song,’ and blah-blah. Isn’t it boring? Say this: ‘I am so bored talking about my relationship with Steve Porcaro.'”

She made another change around the time of the breakup. “I had gone to drug program with a friend. That was another thing {reported in the media}, that I was the one with a drug problem. I did take drugs. I smoked a lot of pot. I don’t think I was an addict.” (These days, Rosanna will not touch drink or drugs, and her choice for lunch is a spinach-and-avocado salad and mineral water.)

“Life is wonderful. Why do you guys have to look for the shit? ‘Cause it’s bad karma for you to do that, do you know that? It’s not proper journalism.”

It has become clear that Rosanna just had a crash course on this subject: “I did nine interviews yesterday.” The actress and her publicist seem determined to blow back the Madonna promo machine by filibuster. The problem is that the quick-draw dramatics that are a blessing in front of the camera make her emotional dynamometer shudder ominously during what should be a simple talk.

“I grew up pretty fast,” she says of her gypsy-like upbringing on the artsy-hippie circuit traveled by her actor father and writer mother. “I think I was nineteen when I was fifteen. And now I’m fifteen. Madonna taught me a good lesson, because she just laughs off the band press. They think they’re hurting her, and she just laughs: ‘Ah, that’s bullshit.’ But I still get hurt.”

She’s balancing her promo chores with acting class: three times a week, she joins a group of about fifteen (Nicolas Cage among them) for four-to-five-hour-sessions with Sandra Seacat. “She’s also Jessica Lange’s coach,” says Rosanna. “She’s a very spiritual, highly realized being, a guru.”

Her list of professional heroines includes Lange, Christie, Hawn, Winger and Spacek, but hovering above them all is Natalie Wood. The cat who shares Rosanna’s hillside retreat is named Natalie, and when Arquette was being costumed for her character in Baby, It’s You, she balked at a pageboy haircut until someone reminded her it recalled Natalie.

Wood is an interesting point of reference for Arquette – two beauties whose acting carries a seemingly artless transparency. Right now, Rosanna is a capital-A Actress, and as a result she’s in many ways a considerable snob. But for the last three pictures she shot, she took pay cuts that left her with perhaps half of her real price. She’s pouring her life into her work, and that leaves rough edges. She’s walking contradiction in terms, a Topanga Canyon firecracker.

Rosanna abruptly jumps up and reaches into her coat pocket, fetching a plastic bag of sizeable vitamins in assorted colours. She counts out a handful, recounts and down them with water: “Stress depletes your body of vitamin B and C.” As an afterthought, she pops one more. The ritual seems to take the pedal off the floor, and she looks across the table apologetically, coat over her arm. “This is who I am, just hyper and emotional. I always have been. My emotions have always been right there.”

© Rolling Stone

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