Obsessed by royalty
Vilified as an ambitious American, her scandalous love life seized the headlines. So what drove Madonna to make a film about Wallis Simpson?
Madonna has been up partying for most of the night. “I’ve had about four hours sleep,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.”
She doesn’t look particularly tired, although it’s rather hard to tell because that famous face is a mask of make-up – she’s come straight from TV interviews – beneath a curtain of perfectly sculpted cornfield-yellow hair. And she certainly doesn’t seem nervous either, although she says she is.
Where once she played sell-out stadiums around the world, right now she’s on a very different kind of tour, taking in Venice, Toronto, London and New York, where she’s promoting her debut feature, W.E. (opening in cinemas here on Friday 20 January), a fictionalised story based around the romance between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
She knows, of course, that the critics are out there waiting, pencils sharpened, eager to pass judgement on Madonna the film director. “Of course I’m nervous,” she says. “I think being nervous means you care about something and want the outcome to be good. I come to the art of film-making with great humility; I respect it immensely as an art form and I know I have a lot to learn.
“It would be great if people liked my movie and it’s a success because that means I will be able to influence people. Let’s be honest, one doesn’t put all this hard work and effort into something, then say, ‘I don’t care if people see it or not, I don’t care if people like it or not…’ I hope it finds an audience.”
She is, then, stepping outside her comfort zone. But, then again, reinvention has been her speciality. She was born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, 53 years ago, but by the time her debut album was released in 1982 she was simply known by its title, her first name.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since as one single after another – Material Girl, Like a Virgin, Papa Don’t Preach, Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Take a Bow, Ray of Light, What It Feels Like for a Girl, Music, American Pie and many more – and the albums they were drawn from dominated the charts worldwide.
Along the way, she has become a popular music icon to rival Michael Jackson, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, selling more than 300 million CDs, and has rarely been out of the headlines thanks to a tempestuous relationship, and marriage, to actor Sean Penn and a second marriage to British film director Guy Ritchie, which lasted eight years.
She has two biological children, Lourdes, 15 (from her relationship with Carlos Leon, a personal fitness trainer), and Rocco, 11 (with Ritchie), as well as an adopted son, six-year-old David, and daughter, five-year-old Mercy, both born in Malawi.
She’s acted, with mixed results, in numerous films, including Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy and A League of Their Own (all good), Evita (not so good) and Swept Away, directed by husband number two and regarded as a turkey. She’s written a series of bestselling children’s books and posed for some very risque photographs for a coffee table tome called Sex, which was definitely not for children.
Raised a Roman Catholic, she is now a follower of the Kabbalah faith, an offshoot of the Jewish religion. She’s also opened fitness centres (Hard Candy gyms) in Mexico and Russia, launched clothing lines (Material Girl, of course) and raised funds for an acadamy in Malawi. She’s not easy to pin down and clearly doesn’t see herself hemmed in by boundaries. So why not try her hand at directing a movie, too?