Revealing talk about her private regrets, her search for romance, and her old-fashioned take on motherhood. by Liz Smith
Boy toy. Pop tart. Diva. Cultural icon. Sexual revolutionary. Living legend. Good girl. Bad girl.
A lot of labels have attached themselves to Madonna, but none has sparked more curiosity than her latest: Mom. When Madonna gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, on October 14, 1996, the news generated international headlines. Had any other woman ever produced a child? It seemed not if one looked at the media coverage. (I had scooped her pregnancy by personal trainer Carlos Leon months earlier. Though I knew the story was big, I had no idea how big until I found myself chained to my desk for days, talking only about Madonna’s new baby.)
The press shows no sign of letting up should Madonna decide to add to her family. Shortly after this interview, the media had a field day speculating that Madonna was pregnant again. Although Madonna did reveal her family plans to me when we talked, she remained mum about a possible pregnancy. And wearing a belly-baring shirt and long-slung pants, she certainly wasn’t hiding anything. Still, the dramatic transformation she’s undergone since Lourdes’s arrival makes me feel that more children are in her future.
With the birth of her daughter came an “enlightened” Madonna, who explored her spirituality with the same fervor that she once explored — and flaunted — her sexuality. Some dismissed this latter-day serenity as a pose. But Madonna had long since become inured to charges that she cynically reinvented herself, using calculation rather than talent to keep her career afloat. Instead of striking hack, she expressed her feelings through her music, rethinking the rewards of fame, reassessing her life as a public figure, taking a closer look at religion, and celebrating motherhood. In 1998, she produced the album Ray Of Light, a contemplative work that brought her a shelf hill of Grammy awards.
Now, after a long cinematic hiatus, Madonna is starring in her first film since Evita. Her new movie, The New Best Thing a romantic drama costarring Rupert Everett and Benjamin Bratt, reflects the concerns of a woman in her 40s like Madonna: issues of children. family, and personal responsibility.
Recently, I spent hours watching the star at a London studio as she shot the video for the song “American Pie”; a remake of the Don McLean hit, it’s featured on the movie’s soundtrack. Most interesting was the chance to see Madonna close-up with Lola (that’s her nickname for Lourdes). The two laughed, sang, played games, and exchanged whispers and hugs.
The next night, still in London, I visited with Madonna and child. Madonna embraced me warmly; Lola was crying. She did not want Mommy to do an interview. Patient negotiating ensued, and at one point, Madonna even invited Lola to “sit quietly next to me while I talk to Liz.” It was with some relief on Madonna’s part that Lola turned up her nose at this and marched downstairs to her playroom.
Madonna offered me tea, and ran downstairs to fetch it. But this was less about being a good hostess than about wanting to check in with her daughter. When she came back, Madonna smiled ruefully and said, “Oh, am I going to get it. I have a business meeting later, but Lola is going to punish me if I don’t go down there and play before I go. She’s at that age. She doesn’t want me out of her sight.”
And so it was with one motherly ear on the hallway that Madonna began to open up about her life.
Liz Smith: In The Next Best Thing, you play a single woman who desperately wants a child and decides to have one with a gay man, who’s her best friend. I suspect there’s going to be some comment on your character — on how unglamorous and sensitive she is.
Madonna: She’s not a larger-than-life character — she’s just a woman of our time, with a lot of the problems women have. Bad luck with men. Finding the right relationship. Raising a child.
Do you think being a mother helped you get inside the character?
Absolutely. I was like the voice of reason in terms of what she would do in a certain situation. Rupert Everett, who plays her partner, and John Schlesinger, the director, don’t have children; when they weren’t sure what she should do, I would say, “No, there’s no way a parent would do that with her toddler in the room.” So it was really helpful that I have a child. Otherwise, instead of drawing on my own experiences, I would’ve called my sister up every five minutes and asked her how a mother would behave.
Women, in particular, are going to find this story very moving — women who may have avoided your other films because of your racy image or whatever. (Laughs.) I think the idea of you as naughty and unfeeling is wrong. I’ve always seen you as vulnerable.