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 acress.'”
“I had a few scenes where I was really shittin’ 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.”
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 Groovr” 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 kniw 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.”