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Madonna News - September 2011

Inquirer Interview with Madonna

We left Toronto with a first-time experience – we finally got to interview Madonna. Dressed from head to toe in Yves Saint Laurent, her blonde hair a mass of curls, Madonna evoked Marilyn Monroe’s old Hollywood glamour.

She arrived at the Park Hyatt with an entourage that included a publicist, stylists and bodyguards. At the end of the interview, when she had to pose for additional photos, Madonna balked at standing by a window with drapes open. The publicist instinctively drew the drapes but Madonna, ever the style-conscious maven, opened the drapes a little bit for dramatic effect.

Visual style is also one of the strengths of Madonna’s second directorial work, “W.E.,” which some critics slammed at the recent Venice International Film Festival. In Toronto, we saw for ourselves the Material Girl’s film on a modern woman, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), whose unhappy marriage is intercut with her fantasies of the famous love story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy). The film is weak on the script but it’s not bad at all.

Madonna the filmmaker also deserves a lot of credit for drawing excellent performances from her cast, especially Abbie and Andrea. The latter is especially outstanding as the elegant American woman who inspired Edward to give up the throne.

Quick with a witty retort, Madonna made a passing quip about an incident in Venice in which a fan gave her hydrangeas. It turned out that the pop star “absolutely loathes hydrangeas,” a quote she made, unaware that her microphone was live. She coquettishly held a fan which she did not open throughout the interview. Below are excerpts:

King Edward III gave up the throne to be with Wallis Simpson. What have you given up in the name of love?

When you love someone, you always find yourself making some kind of a sacrifice. That’s the nature of love. I love my children very dearly. I have to make sacrifices for them on a regular basis.

What do you teach your daughter about the role of women and relationships?

As women, we look at relationships and we say, “Oh, this is the kind of man that your parents want you to be, your friends think you should be with, would approve of, etcetera.” Maybe they look good in paper but they don’t actually turn out to be right for you. So it’s an important message for my daughter, at her age, to understand that we have to make our own decisions. We have to make our own way in life and cast off society’s expectations of who you should be with.

I can imagine that a man would give up anything for you.

I wouldn’t count on that. While I was researching this story, I asked myself the same question. Wow, what must it feel like to be loved that much only to find out at the end of the story that it was a great weight of responsibility on her shoulders.

Does that mean you know how it feels to be loved like that?

I know how it feels to be loved a lot but no one has ever given up his kingdom for me.

How do you deal with the high expectations some people have of you as a director?

I am not sure what expectations people have of me as a director, as I only made one film previous to this. You have more expectations of people when you’ve seen their works before and then you expect their new work to be as good as their previous work. People are more critical of me than, say, an anonymous director because I’ve been successful in other areas in my life. I do feel the pressure, yeah.

How did you get the permission of Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owns the former home of Edward and Wallis in the Bois de Boulogne?

I just knew he was the owner of the estate and he had auctioned off a majority of the estate. But he still owned the Bois de Boulogne and I wanted to not only film there but also to use his likeness in the film. So I needed to get his permission. I also knew he was in possession of many of the letters between the Duke and the Duchess. So I had many reasons to want to meet him. He was extremely generous and forthcoming.

As soon as I came into his office, he opened up books and pages of letters to let me look at. He didn’t let me walk away with any of them. We had several meetings. He wanted to see the script. He wanted to know how he was portrayed so I had to give him the scenes that were written about him. And they met his approval (laughing). Then he gave me permission. I agreed to help him with the charity that his daughter was in charge of, a school for underprivileged and abused children in England. So it was a tradeoff. I helped him with his daughter’s charity and he let me film in his house. I think that was fair trade.

How challenging was it to depict the grandness of the 1930s and keep it intimate at the same time?

Extremely hard. You want to have the authenticity of the period. You want to have the grand sweeping elements of the period to show the life of luxury that these people lived. But at the same time, if you keep it grand and sweeping the whole time, you don’t get to know the characters, so you need to have intimacy with them as well. Having the combination of the two was important to me.

Did you consult Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie and showed them this film’s script?

I never showed the script to Sean. I only talked to him about making the film. He’s always been supportive of me as a creative person.

When I was writing, I did give the screenplay to Guy at a certain point. I also shared the concepts, stories and ideas with Guy because he was also interested in the story from a historical point of view. They never really gave me specific advice about telling this story but Guy would give me technical advice about cameras or using digital versus film or one cinematographer being better than another or one sound mixer being better than another.

Antonio Banderas was in the same seat as you are on now. Your “Truth or Dare” was mentioned and in that documentary, you said…

That I was dying to meet him, yeah. I used to have a terrible crush on him. It’s true. I think he’s taken.

How good is your support system?

I have a good support system in general. I have a great crew of people that I work with. The creative team that I was making this movie with me was extremely supportive. My children were extremely supportive of me and forgiving me of all of my absences. My friends and family – yeah, everybody was encouraging.

Have people tried to box you in?

People have opinions about what they think I should and shouldn’t do but no, I’ve never felt someone say, “You cannot do this.” When I moved to New York, I was a dancer. I’ve always been adventurous in a creative way. I never imagined for a minute that I was going to be a singer and a song-writer but I left myself open to experiences, auditions and meeting people. One thing led to the next.

I was open to things even though I was trained as a dancer. When somebody said, “Hey, why don’t you try auditioning for this record producer or this musical?” I didn’t say, “Oh no. I’m a dancer. I can’t do that.” I just said, “Why not?” So for me, moving from all of these things to making a film isn’t really that big of a jump because it encompasses everything that I love.

You are also an actor. But now that you have directed your second film, do you think that you found your niche?

I prefer being a storyteller. As an actor, you are obviously an integral part of the film but it’s not really your point of view. It’s a mistake to think that I’m in control of everything even when I’m onstage and going on tour because, for instance, I can’t control the weather or whether one of the dancers injures himself. There are all sorts of things that happen that I can’t control.

One has to roll with the punches but it’s always good to be as prepared as possible. Being a director means you have to learn how to deal with disappointments gracefully because every day, you hear the word “No” a thousand times. No, that can’t happen. No, we don’t have time for that. No, that’s too expensive. So I’m trying to work with those kinds of restrictions. Being creative is a real challenge but I enjoy it.

The film shows Wally attending these high end auctions. When was the last time you were at an auction?

There was an auction of Tamara de Lempicka paintings about two years ago. I didn’t get anything because they were too expensive.

What drives you crazy?

What drives me crazy besides hydrangeas? People who aren’t prepared.

Can you talk about the filmmakers who inspired you, especially on this film?

I was inspired by various filmmakers for various reasons. I was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Persona” because it’s the story of two women who have this symbiotic relationship and, in many ways, they switch positions. By the end of the movie, you’re not sure who’s the crazy one and who isn’t. The nature of their relationship was interesting to me.

I’m also a really big fan of Alain Resnais and his film, “Last Year at Marienbad.” I loved his use of camera movement and filming in long tracking shots down hallways and mirrors. That film was cutting edge for its time. It broke a lot of rules about filmmaking. People really understand it. In fact, I watched a documentary about the film. All the actors would show up on the set every day. None of them even had a script but they were so in awe of the director that they were willing to just be there, wait and hear what he wanted them to do. I was fascinated by the fact that the actors were willing to take this risk and that he was willing to take that risk, too. He was a big inspiration.

Jeanne Beker: Madonna, the gracious hostess

There’s not much that would tear me away from the frenzy of New York fashion week, but an intimate dinner with the original Material Girl in Toronto on Monday night, hosted by the Bay, was just too glamorous an opportunity to pass up. So on Monday afternoon, I played hooky from my reporting duties in the Big Apple and boarded a plane back to Toronto for one of the most appetizing invitations I’d had in a while.

Of course, the daunting question of what to wear had been answered days before when I chose a simple-but-slinky black matte jersey Lida Baday dress and borrowed a cache of crystals from the Toronto International Film Festival’s Swarovski suite at the Four Seasons.

I went with understated chic because the last thing I wanted was to look victimized in the presence of la grande dame. The first time I interviewed Madonna — in 1993, just after the premiere of her film, Body of Evidence — I wore black velvet Anna Sui sweeping bell-bottoms, sashayed into the room and realized my subject was wearing the same fabulous pants. I was charmed, but she seemed miffed, so instead of celebrating the fact that our great fashion minds were thinking alike, I put my stylish tail between my velvet-clad legs and stopped gushing about our twin trousers.

So there I was Monday, feeling a tad intimidated and guilty about missing the Betsey Johnson runway show in New York. (I figured Betsey would understand. When I first interviewed the designer in 1985, she sang Madonna’s praises. “She’s my idea of a true-blue woman,” cooed Betsey. Of course, that’s the way most of us feel today.)

The second I walked into the green room at Roy Thomson Hall and saw Madonna on the big flat-screen, chatting with the media outside on the red carpet, I was smitten. She looked gorgeous in a chic black dress with sky-high black ankle-strap stilettos. Her hair was very Veronica Lake and she seemed to be enjoying herself. A handful of guests sipped champagne as we waited for the petite star to arrive: There was Flare editor Lisa Tant, Suzanne Rogers, Fashion Magazine editor Bernadette Morra and the Toronto Star’s Derick Chetty, along with Bonnie Brooks, president and CEO of the Bay, and Richard Baker, owner of Hudson’s Bay Company, who flew Madonna to Toronto on a private jet.

Madonna finally made her entrance. A small group had their photos taken with Madonna by celebrity shooter George Pimentel, and then it was into the theatre for the TIFF premiere of her epic W.E., the story of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, intertwined with the tale of a modern-day young woman who’s obsessed with her.

Madonna watched the film from the balcony with her stars, Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish. The movie was a feast of superb costumes, divine classical music and sumptuous sets, and the audience leapt to their feet to give Madonna a standing ovation.

After the screening, a group headed over to 11 Duncan St., where the U.K.’s Soho House has set up a pop-up for the festival. There were about 40 of us, and we occupied several big wooden tables. I was assigned to Madonna’s table. Just before I took my seat, I told her how amazing I thought the costumes were and commended her on choosing longtime personal stylist Arianne Phillips for the W.E. wardrobe.

Madonna then gave a couple of sample spritzes of her upcoming Truth or Dare perfume, which smells of gardenias. I didn’t get a chance to say much to her — she was busy chatting with a couple of girlfriends and, later, the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, who wandered in and sat next to her.

Then there was some musical chairs, and Madonna was talking with people down at the other end of the table, while I engaged with her famed hairdresser, Garren, who’d made the trip with her from New York City.

I ordered the salmon and eggplant and sampled the antipasti — but the whole time, I couldn’t help being conscious that one of the world’s most iconic superstars was sitting nearby. I tweeted several updates, and felt incredibly privileged to be in the eye of this particular storm. It was surreal.

Shortly after dessert trays arrived, the party opened up and other people started streaming in.

Madonna politely said her goodbyes, shook our hands and disappeared into the night, heading back immediately to New York in the private jet. It seemed anticlimactic, really. Maybe it had been a little silly to have made the trek all the way back to Toronto for these few fleeting hours. The fantasy had actually been better than the reality.

But when I looked at my BlackBerry to check all the tweets that had come in, dozens of people had sent messages, telling me how thrilled they were to be reading along, how they were living vicariously through me, how they would have given anything to meet Madonna, how lucky I was. It was overwhelming.

And suddenly, I felt very blessed to have been able to soak up a little of the stardust that is Madonna, knowing that the journey is always better than the destination.

Madonna with Jeanne Beker

The Star

Rumour: Madonna Fragrance in the Works?

from WWD: “Meanwhile, Madonna — the Great White Whale of celebrities without a major fragrance deal — also is said to be in serious discussions with Coty. While no deal has been signed, a Madonna license would give Coty an alluring trifecta of star power — along with Lady Gaga, whose scent is due next year, and Beyoncé, who has done two pillar scents and a flanker (no word on whether she’s planning another fragrance around her other new arrival, a baby said to be due in late February).”

Indiewire Interview with Madonna

Whatever audiences may make of Madonna’s “W.E.,” she says she’s satisfied with her work.

“I know that I did the best that I could do,” Madonna told indieWIRE of directing and co-writing “W.E.,” which had its North American premiere last night at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I pay attention to reviews where I know people are reviewing my work. When they’re letting me—the person, the human being—get in the way, then I don’t really give it much credence. At the end of the day, I made the film to be judged as a film. Not for people to compare it to me.”

The film made its first appearance just over a week ago at the Venice Film Festival, where critics were quick to pounce on Madonna’s second directorial effort (after 2008’s “Filth and Wisdom”). The reception in Toronto seemed to be much more in line with Madonna’s ideals, as the general reaction among Toronto audiences suggested criticisms may have been somewhat blown out of proportion.

“I understand that that’s going to happen,” she said. “I knew going into this that people were going to sometimes get their opinion of me mixed up and muddled in with my work. So of course I always appreciate it when people really review my film and stick to the film.”

The film explores Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), who became the Duchess of Windsor when she married King Edward VIII; and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a modern-day, fictional mirror of Simpson who is searching for her own fairytale romance. Weaving their narratives, the film examines how each woman overcomes obstacles in their quests to be who they are.

For Madonna, it’s a story of female empowerment that fits quite nicely into her near 30-year career as an iconic entertainer.

“It’s knowing that you’re in charge of your destiny and knowing that you don’t have to live your life according to other people’s plans or expectations of you,” she said of the film. “I mean, that’s always been a been a big message in my work. The freedom to express yourself and be who you are and not limit yourself. And that’s a big message in the film: You’re in charge of your destiny. You don’t have to live the life that everyone else expects you to live.”

Madonna said that she was initially drawn to the project simply out of a fascination with Simpson as a historical figure.

“I thought that the choice that Edward VIII made to give up the throne for this woman posed a lot of questions in my brain,” she said. “One was the idea of whether he did it for love. Was it the greatest romance of the 20th century?”

Another question was trying to understand her as character and what she had to offer.

“As I investigated and did research into her, I realized she had been treated very unfairly in the history books and didn’t turn out to be any of the things that were first presented to me,” Madonna said. “So then that made me think about the whole idea of the cult of celebrity and our idea and our obsession with famous people and how unfairly they usually treat them because we don’t allow them to become human beings. We paint them as either black or white and there’s no nuance or subtlety. The idea of duality doesn’t exist.”

Clearly, Madonna knows a thing or two about those ideas. And she teamed up with her longtime collaborator and friend Alek Keshishian (director of Madonna doc “Truth or Dare”) to write the screenplay.

“I had written ‘Filth and Widsom’ with Dan Cadan, an English writer who is actually quite funny and he lent himself very well to that subject matter,” she said. “But when I started doing research on the story of the Duke and Duchess, at first I thought about writing with Dan again but then I thought I needed to write with someone who, like me, had spent a lot of time in England but is an American. I think a lot of times when you’re an outsider and you come into a place you see things in a way than someone that’s from that place can’t see. That gives you an interesting and sometimes more objective point of view.”

Once the script was set and shooting began, Madonna made clear she got quite the kick out of exploring various cinematic techniques.

“I really love camera movement,” she said. “I love tracking shots and I love steady cam. I love the way the camera has a real human feeling to it when it’s not locked off. That camera becomes an animal or a creature or a character in the film as well. It adds a sense of intimacy to the story and a sense of lyricism. And then there’s a kind of dance that occurs. That was really important to me.”

She said that one of the films that she used as an inspiration for the camera work was “La Vie En Rose.”

“I love long takes with no cuts and there’s two shots in that movie that were five minutes long,” she said. “They had absolutely no edits and they were just so beautiful in the way they moved around the apartment. You never got bored and it was so beautiful. I wanted to do that. So I did it!”

What Madonna also did was continue to delve into what is perhaps the most male-dominated of all her many professions.

“I think directing is perceived as a man’s job,” she said. “And every once in a while, I would say to myself, ‘This is a man’s job.’ Because, you know, there is no time for grooming. You know, I could only shave my legs once every two weeks. Forget about showing up to work being able to think about what I’m wearing or combing my hair. Most of the time I felt like a truck ran me over. So it’s not a terribly feminine feeling to show up on the set making a film.

“On the other hand, being a woman really came in handy when it came to nurturing the actors and spending time with the girls and dressing them. And the boys! I loved dressing everybody. I loved putting the finishing touches on everyone. From the handkerchief in the pocket of Edward’s suit to the cufflinks… The jewelry, the hair, the final pin in the hair… Everything. I loved doing that stuff. I don’t want to categorize people, but I’m not sure how many men would be interested in that part of the job. Well, some.”

The Weinstein Company will release “W.E.” in December, at which point audiences across North America can judge her most ambitious foray into filmmaking. By that point, Madonna says she will be busy with her other job.

“I’d like to make more films,” she said. “But what’s next for me is I’m going to make a record. I’ve already started writing music and it’s a nice change because I’ve been working on this movie for three years. And you know, songwriting is a much more visceral exercise than making films. I love them both, but when you’re a filmmaker you really live in your head and it’s nice to play the guitar and, you know, move around.”