“I’ve been on a few film sets in my day and I’ve been married to a few directors and I’ve been friends with a lot of directors. I’ve picked up a few tips and I’ve paid attention,” she smiles.
“I watched closely what both Sean and Guy did. With Sean, I saw the importance of rehearsal and preparing and doing as much work as you can ahead of being on set. Guy is a much more visual director and he takes a lot of chances and risks when it comes to camera moves and things like that. And I learned a lot from him in that respect”
She first became interested – some might say obsessed – with the Edward and Mrs Simpson story when she moved to England after marrying Ritchie in 2000. “I really didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know anybody, and I found myself in a strange world so I decided that I was going to educate myself and find out about the history and culture of this new world that I lived in.”
“So I started studying English history – I started reading about the monarchy, starting with Henry VIII and then I worked all the way up to the Windsor family. I’d heard about Edward VIII abdicating when I was in school. I knew that he had given up the throne for this American woman from Baltimore and that was it.”
“I researched it more and I was kind of transfixed by the idea that a man would give up such a powerful position for love. I felt that there was something kind of Shakespearean about it.”
“And so I started to investigate further – I started reading books about Wallis Simpson and I found a lot of them to be really negative and one-dimensional. She was accused of all sorts of things, from being a Nazi to being a witch or a sorceress with magic powers that put a spell on somebody.”
“I saw a pattern that we have in society – that when women have some kind of power, and we don’t understand them, we have to diminish them by turning them into heretics. When they are perceived to have too much power, we say ‘oh, that’s because she’s a sorceress..'”
“And, by the way, I don’t believe they were Nazis. In fact, I did as much research on that as possible – I was looking for that empirical proof and I couldn’t find it.”
There are, perhaps, elements of Wallis Simpson’s story that she can identify with, too. Mrs Simpson’s affair with the King scandalised a nation and from then on she lived her life in a blaze of headlines, often vilified.
Madonna, too, knows what it’s like to have your every move scrutinised an discussed and to live inside the goldfish bowl of fame. “I think I had an insight into her character that possibly other directors wouldn’t have because I know what it’s like to be reduced to a soundbite,” she says.
And she believes that we shouldn’t assume we know someone – and she’s obviously talking about herself here – simply because we see unguarded snaps of them in newspapers and magazines.
“We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities and it’s pretty easy to get famous pretty quickly now. I think people mistake seeing a photograph of somebody playing on the swings with their children as an insight; they assume that it’s some kind of intimacy. But you don’t really get to know a person that way because their lives have been intruded upon – it’s an illusion.”
She arrives for our interview, the morning after the Venice premiere of W.E. (Wallis and Edward) and associated late night, flanked by a posse of burly dark-suited Italian bodyguards all wearing regulation sunglasses.
In among all those heavies, she looks tiny and up close she looks smaller than you’d expect – she’s 5ft 4in – but then fame magnifies and exaggerates everything, especially Madonna.
Her slight frame is encased in a black, knee-length, lacy Dolce & Gabbana dress and she wears a silver Cartier bracelet with crosses around her wrist – a copy of the one that Edward gave to his bride.
“The real bracelet has seven crosses on it and this has four,” she says. “And Cartier gave it to me as a present at the end of the shoot.”