Madonna is explaining the better-known and more controversial of the two Frida Kahlos in her then not-yet-on-the-market home in the Hollywood Hills. “It depicts her birth and the relationship she had with her mother,” she says. “That’s the Virgin of Sorrows with her neck being pierced above the bed, and that’s the mother saying. I want nothing to do with you. And it’s got a scroll on the bottom, which a lot of Latin painters used when they painted on tin; but she never filled that in, which is kind of strange, like: No comment. And she paid attention to the detail. You know, she was a girl.”
Of course, Madonna, wearing a nice white sleeveless maternity dress and Prada pony-skin-print pumps, is herself a girl who pays attention to the details. “When we were recording the album for Evita.” Says her co-star Antonio Banderas, “she was quite ritual in the way she prepared the studio. She put candles there and flowers and little things like that; the light was very, very down. She tried to create an environment, and she did; it was good.”
Needless to say, the details Madonna is paying attention to (her life in the context of the birth, impending at the time we spoke, of her daughter, Lourdes Maria; her bicoastal relationship with beau and co-parent, the trainer and actor Carlos Leon; and the competition and release of her most ambitious movie project to date) and the details the world is paying attention to (posed naked! Wore a cone bra onstage! Likes sex! Likes success! Dyes her unmarried hair whatever color she feel like!) are not always exactly in sync.
In fact, if for some reason you were smack with total aphasia and had to relearn the fundamental truths of our social ways based solely on their representation in a Madonna-maniacal world press, you might well assume that liking sex and success was so aberrant that any woman admitting to it was pretty much divorced from the common bonds of human experience altogether. (“Talk about a good career move,” opined one article written shortly after Lourdes Maria’s birth, which I like to think even most hard-bitten cynics would concede to be, if not a blessed event, at least within the personal rather than the professional realm.)
With Evita – a risky project be even non-Madonnalogical standards, seeing as the movie musical as a form has only rarely found an audience since the days of West Side Story – Madonna, 37, is again venturing into the one professional realm where her liking for success has been the least gratified. Nevertheless, “that the level of celebrity would get in the way of people seeing her as an actress playing a role was my only negative,” says Evita director Alan Parker of the casting process. “Which no one would even worry about if it was Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeifer or whoever. But I always thought she would be able to do it; obviously, she could sing it better than either of those two women, for instance. And it’s her finest performance, there is no doubt. And it’s in a genre that plays for her strengths; she’s very comfortable singing and acting together.” And, in fact, early response to the soundtrack has been respectful and positive.
So don’t cry for Madonna, who on this point, anyway, is not crying for herself. “After years of seeing me get the s— kicked out of me, people might be starting… I don’t know, not feel sorry for me, because I don’t think they do, and I don’t want them to,” she says of the pendulum of public sentiment that tends to swing through the mass-culture commentary on her work without regard to it’s reception by the consumer. “I guess it’s like if you keep spraying Raid on a cockroach and it won’t die, after a while you just say, “Oh well, I’ll let you live; there’s your little space in the corner.” And I think also with Evita, you can’t ignore that it’s a great piece of work, not just that I’ve done, but of itself.”
“When we were in Argentina,” says Banderas, “half of the people were hating her and half of the people were loving her. It was really the story all over again of Eva Duarte. There is a famous saying of hers before she died, when she sais something like, “I’ll be back and I’ll be millions.” And here we go, she is now millions. It’s something magic, I think, especially for Madonna. I know how much heart she risked in this project, and I really, really wish for her to be beautiful and powerful on the big screen so that someday I can tell my little grandchildren: ‘Hey, I did the movie with Madonna, superstar.'”