Vince: I suspected that.
Madonna: He has a very specific aesthetic. But because I worked with him for so long, I felt like I needed to get away from it.
Vince: Let’s talk a little but about him, because I’m very curious about him and yur relationship with him. It did seem like you two formed one of those bonds that a subject and a photographer can form.
Vince: Yeah. And that you brought out very interesting things in each other.
Madonna: Yeah, well, first of all I have to feel like I’m friends with a photographer and that we enjoy the same things, like the same movies, have the same sick sensibility. And I felt that with Steven, which is why we just kept working together and working together and finally the idea of doing a book together came up. You really have to feel like someone’s part of your family to work on a book like that, where you’re just like hanging out. And not only did we photograph everything, we also filmed everything on a Super-8 camera – everything that we did.
Vince: Really? What’s happened to all that stuff?
Madonna: Oh, it’s around. It’s in the archives. It’ll be unearthed after I die. It’ll be playing at the Film Forum.
Vince: What drew you to Meisel in the first place, and what clicked between you?
Madonna: Well, first of all, he just really, really appreciates beauty, and he knows how to photograph a strong female. He’s a diva himself. And he, like me, is sort of a scavenger who picks stuff out of things, whether it’s old movies, old Warhol films. He’s interested in street fashion., He picks up stuff from all over the place and puts it in his work and so do I. And he likes a lot of the same things I like. I don’t know – we just clicked. He’s one of those people who will call you and go, You’ve gotta see this movie or rent this movie. It’s always movies you have to go and rent or buy somewhere; it’s nothing that’s out, nothing modern.
Vince: He fascinates me because there’s always what’s there on the surface and then there’s all this stuff behind it. I know he has this incredibly broad range of things that he pulls from, and they’re never what I’m expecting next.
Madonna: No, and that’s the great thing about Steven. He’ll take you down a road and then he’ll completely throw a curve ball. I wish he’d do more outside of Vogue magazine. I suppose he can’t. Because that’s certainly working within a serious restriction, and unfortunaely Vogue has turned into a Speigel catalogue.
Vince: I hardly pay attention to his work in American Vogue, because –
Madonna: It’s all about Italian Vogue.
Vince: That’s so great, and it does seem that he can get away with just about anything there. But I am curious about the Sex book and how that came about. A lot of the visual influences there seem to be Man Ray and experimental European work.
Madonna: Man Ray and every movie that Visconti ever made starring Helmut Berger and – did you see “The Damned”? – Ingrid Thulin. I mean I was Ingrid Thulin for several of those photographs. And the book was inspired by all those kind of things; those old Warhol films, where people did nothing and just sat there and peeled bananas and stuff, to all the Visconti stuff, especially the stuff we shot at the Gaiety when I’m dressed in an evening gown and I’ve got all the men on leashes and I think Udo Kier is even in the photographs. We had to bring Udo Kier back – he’s incredible.
Vince: Was the book something you concocted together or something you decided you should do and then you pulled Meisel into it?
Madonna: We were always fooling around and doing stuff anyway – stuff that never made it into any magazines – because we were always working together on so many things. I guess it was my idea and then I pulled him into it. I mean, we had talked about doing a book together, we just weren’t sure where we wanted to go with it and what kind of book, because I love taking on different personas and becoming and transforming and the whole chameleon thing with a twist on Cindy Sherman – something a bit more aggressive than that. I’m a big fan of hers, by the way. So originally it was going to be this thing of different guises, and then we used to go to the Gaiety all the time and we got onto the subject of sex and gender confusion and role playing and men playing females and women playing men and that’s how the Sex book came about. Steven, like me, likes to f*ck with people, so that was a big part of it, too.
Vince: With the public, you mean, or with the people who are his subjects?
Madonna: Everyone, everything, at every level. It was about celebrating the ultimate taboo and just having fun doing what you’re not supposed to do. I mean, a pop star’s not supposed to do those things. I’m telling you, I had the time of my life while I was doing it. Of course, I got the shit kicked out of me for it, so it’s a good thing I had a good time doing it. And I had fun. I don’t regret it. The whole thing was like performance art while it was happening and it was a real throw-caution-to-the-wind, devil-may-care time of my life.
Vince: Can you imagine doing something like that again?
Madonna: I don’t know…