An audience with Madonna
For a celebrity journalist, there are few occasions that get your nerves a-jangling like the prospect of interviewing Madonna. But nerves or not, when offered a rare chat with Ms Ciccone about her upcoming film project, there’s no way you can turn it down. We’re here to talk about W.E., a biopic that Madonna researched for three years. Dual narratives tell the story of the controversial relationship between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and that of ’90s New York housewife Wally, who becomes fixated with the Duchess of Windsor’s possessions as they go up for auction at Sotheby’s. Madonna admits the subject “fascinated” her and as we talk, she reveals how she identified with the Duchess, and how she tried — and failed — to get into Windsor Castle. Er, don’t they know who she is?
So Madonna, why did you want to make a film about Wallis Simpson?
The effect she had on English history and on the world was fascinating, and what drew me to the story was trying to understand the nature of Edward VIII and Wallis’s relationship, and why a man would give up such a powerful position for a woman. It seemed revolutionary — extremely romantic, not terribly rational, but it took me by surprise. Their story is a polemic subject — every time I mentioned the name at social gatherings, the table would erupt into argument about who they were and what they stood for.
What did you use as source material?
I’m sure I’ve read every book that was ever written about the Duchess of Windsor. And once people knew I was doing research and writing the script they wanted to sell me their letters. I didn’t purchase any, but I read them, noted the information and then said thanks, but no thanks. I watched every documentary ever made, and stayed at the house in the south of France that they lived in during the war — it’s now owned by Roman Abramovich. I tried to go to places that they were at and soak up their energy. Of course, I wasn’t allowed in Windsor Castle — how very dare they!
How did you want to portray Wallis and Edward’s relationship?
[I wanted to show] how Wallis made it clear to the King that life was going to be very tough. He felt incarcerated by the responsibilities of being King and she was clear that he was then going to incarcerate them in a different prison. She said, “I will be the most hated woman in the world,” and did try to run away from him. I thought it was important to tell her side of the story.
As an American who moved to the UK, could you relate to Wallis?
Definitely. When you move to a new country there’s an anonymity; you can start all over again. That was refreshing when I moved to England, but then there’s the feeling of being an outsider, of being lonely, of not having roots, of not quite being understood.