After the global self-publicity coup of her book Sex, Madonna still has one unrequested ambition – to be a bona fide A-list movie star. Her latest attempt is Body of Evidence, in which she drips hot wax over Willem Defoe’s genitals and does some nifty little tricks with a dildo. Michelle Pfeiffer won’t be losing sleep but whatever the outcome, Madonna is already two development deals ahead. Nash Peters talks to her in New York.
So the Madonna phenomenon marches on. Unflustered by the furore surround the publication of her book, she is back in the line of fire yet again for her steamy performance in Body of Evidence. And judging by the response of American audiences this won’t be the one to lift Miss Ciccone’s movie career out of the doldrums. Playing a sadomasochist with a penchant for geriatrics, Madonna’s character is tried for murder when one of her older men snuffs it on the job. Boasting almost as many sex scenes as her book, the court-and-bedroom drama (by all accounts one long romp with her trial attorney, Willem Dafoe) earned giggles and hoots from a specially invited audience at an early preview. Quick to defend other performance and the movie itself, Madonna is remaining characteristically cool in the face of this new barrage of criticism, though, apparently, nervous studio executives were secretly holding a spiced-up version of the already sexually supercharged film in the wings as box office insurance – deciding against releasing this racy cut despite reaction to the “tamer” version. Madonna has also been quick to sort out her own safety-net with a new movie project, Snake Eyes, already up and running. Written by super-hip Abel (Bad Lieutenant) Ferrara and co-starring Harvey Keitel, the movie is conveniently being funded by Madonna’s own new production company / record label Maverick. The first of a whole bunch of movies that the operation has in development, it looks like Madonna will never be short of films to star in. The question is: will she ever really make it?
Why Body of Evidence? Was it because it continues your exploration of sexual adventures, the theme of Sex?
Madonna: I’m afraid it wasn’t that calculated. I read the script about a year ago and I wasn’t really that interested in it. I thought it was predictable and that my character was really one note. But then when director Uli Edel and Willem Dafoe said that they were interested in working on it I got interested. In fact, I did the movie before I even worked on my book.
Your role in Body of Evidence seems to reinforce your image rather than stretch you as an actress. When are you going to play someone totally different from that image?
When someone offers it to me.
It’s not exactly the kind of film where people practise safe sex…
My character, Rebecca Carlson, was the kind of person who lived life dangerously, lived life on the age, and I don’t think that practising safe sex was something she even cared about. So for me it was a character choice, and in a way I guess I was attracted to her honesty and her straightforwardness, and the fact that she doesn’t apologize for her behavior.
Would you admit you’ve made some bad film choices?
Well, I just want to work more in films, and I want to have a chance to learn as much about movie-making as I have about music and performing. I don’t like to define where I am at this point in my life in terms of getting to a higher place or being a megastar; I think of it in terms of artistry and experience. And the more you do it the more you learn, the more you know. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes in terms of choices in film-making, but I did it when I didn’t know that much about movie-making – and I’ve certainly concentrated a lot more of my time in music, so it goes without saying that that’s where I have accomplished more. I chose to do scripts that weren’t that well written. I just wanted to make movies and I didn’t think.
Is there any particular movie that you see as a mistake?
[Sarcastically] Oh, you want me to name my mistakes? I’ll leave that up to you.
With your book and this film filled with bondage and handcuffs, is there anything you’re not prepared to do? Is there a limit?
My limits, once again, I define in terms of being an artist. My limits are: “Am I being true to myself? Is this what I want to say? Is this what I want to do?” And if it’s not and I can’t be proud of it then I don’t want to do it.
How does this movie fit into that? It’s already been roundly criticized.
Well, in my opinion, it’s the best film role that I’ve been offered, and it gave me a chance to really do more than I’ve been given the chance to do before as an actress.
How were the – by now notorious – sex scenes?
Um, actually, they were difficult. They’re difficult to do. I don’t think anyone will tell you that love scenes aren’t difficult to do, because it’s hard to pretend to make love to someone you don’t know that well. That’s all there is to it.
You could argue that Body of Evidence can be seen as misogynistic because your character, who is both sexually active and extremely independent, gets punished in the end…
We’re living in a misogynistic society, so what are you asking me?
Are you concerned that the film might further misogynistic stereotypes?
Well, I have two answers to that question. She was a murderess, so aside from the fact that she enjoyed having sex, she did kill someone. I don’t think it’s right to kill someone. Secondly, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a script that wasn’t fairly misogynistic, so that to me is reflection of society.
Is it true that you were going to shave your head to play a concentration camp prisoner opposite Willem Dafoe in triumph of the Spirit?
Yup, that’s true. But then I got offered Dick Tracy and the rest is history. [Laughs]
This movie struggled to get past the censor. Do you think that there should be a ratings system?
Yeah, I do. But I think that for the most part there’s a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to ratings in the States, and it’s kind of silly that children are allowed to watch people be killed and blown into little bits, but watching someone make love is considered to be an evil, horrible thing.
The director of Body of Evidence, Uli Edel, said that you said, “no matter how far you go, I’ll be ready to go one step further”. Do you have a sense that that’s now almost required of you?
First of all I want to talk about what Uli said. I never said “I’ll go one step further than you go”. Uli has a big imagination and I’ve told him so. Uli asked Willem and I in the very beginning with the love scenes – with the sex scenes, whatever you want to call them – if we had a problem with them, and I said: “Absolutely, not.” I think they were concerned that when we go into shooting we were going to back down or back away or say we didn’t want to do it. And I said: “No, I’m committing to this movie and I’ll do it.” Do you still want the answer to the question?
Well, that’s in keeping with the perception that you’re willing to expose your body without any problem.
As far as this specific project goes, I felt that the sex scenes and the love scenes were an organic part of the drama and important in the storytelling. I agreed to do it and did it. That’s got nothing to do with my lack of inhibitions.
Was Willem Dafoe more or less inhibited than you?
Strange as it may seem, yes, he was less inhibited. (Giggles) He was really, really, really laid back and comfortable about being on the set with all those people. I think I felt much shyer than he did, but the fact that he felt so at ease probably helped me to relax.
How do you hope you’ll be viewed as a result of this film?
As an actress. That’s it. I hope that they think of me as an actress.
How much do you identify with the statements your character makes about sexuality?
There’s one thing that she says in the course of the movie that I felt could have come out of my mouth, and that’s when she’s in the car with Willem and he says, “people in this town have more conventional views on sex”, something like that. And I say: “That’s not true, they just don’t talk about it.” That’s something that I would say. Everything else is her, not me.
Did you have any influence on the script?
Willem, Uli and I spent a lot of time reworking the script, but I can’t think of any specific lines that I wrote myself. I’m sure everyone thinks I wrote things like “Men lie” and “That’s what I do, I f*ck”, but those were already there… [Grins] I’m sorry to say.
What research did you do?
I watched a lot of courtroom dramas. I also watched Hitchcock movies, and Witness for the Prosecution and film noir of the 40s.
As a very public supporter of gay rights, did the scene in the film where one of the main characters shows he’s ashamed of being gay bother your?
Yeah, that annoyed me. I had a conversation with Uli about that, but he’s the director.
How crucial so you feel the reception of this film is to your acting career?
How crucial? You mean if everybody says that it’s horrible, what will I do? I’ll slit my wrists.
When your book was released the hype provoked a lot of opinions in the press about “good Madonna” versus “bad Madonna” – now there seems to be a media-led Madonna backlash, Do you think this has any real effect on most people’s interest in you?
I think it absolutely does influence public opinion. I think that the people who are threatened by someone being forthcoming about sexuality and, um, reaching sexual liberation, will be swayed if they read articles written by writers who are threatened by it. I’ve found that a lot of people were judging the book before they’ve even read it, before they looked at it, before they got anywhere near it. It would be nice if everybody could listen to my music and watch the movies and read the books, or whatever, without anyone telling them how they should think, or feel, or accept it or not accept it, and then judge for themselves.
If you had to choose between your acting career and your music career, which would you rather stick with?
That’s like asking: “Which child do you like better?” I can’t say. I love them both. I can’t decide.
Isn’t it confusing to remember which hat you’re meant to have on?
You mean switching gears in the working? Well, it’s hard. For instance, I’ve been rehearsing for my new movie, Snake Eyes, directed by Abel Ferrara, for some time, and I went into the studio the other day to rehearse for my appearance on Saturday Night Live, and I was sort of paralyzed for about an hour. There were all these musicians looking at me and I thought, “Oh God, now I have to switch gears and tell them what I want”. It is hard, because acting is so much about surrendering yourself to the director’s vision, and the character that you play while performing is so much about gathering all your strength and being larger than life and being more than what you actually are.
What is Snake Eyes about?
It’s a movie written by Abel Ferrara. Harvey Keitel is in it. It’s a psychological drama. If you want me to give you a brief synopsis of it, it’s kind of like, if you’re familiar with Truffaut’s Day for Night, a movie within a movie.
Do you feel that your ambition to be a pop and cultural icon stands in the way of your ever being fully accepted as an actress?
It is. But I think that I will overcome that. I hope that I do.
Does your success put men off when it comes to serious relationships? Can any man deal with it?
You’re a man. Could you?
I think I could.
There is your answer.
There’s a headline in a women’s magazine this month that says HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN FROM MADONNA. When you see something like that does it delight you or enrage you?
It didn’t do either. At this point I feel that people write articles about me with those kind of sensational headline catch-phrases because it sells magazines. I’ve sort of grown to expect it.
There are plenty of misconceptions swirling around about you. What’s the biggest?
You’re in the media. I think you can ask yourself where the misconceptions come from. I think it’s impossible for anybody to say they know me or write as if they know me unless they actually do. If you’re going to judge my work, then judge my work. A lot of people do psychological profiles of me as if they know who I am, and I guess everybody believes them. When you’re a celebrity or an icon you’re usually allowed to have one personality trait – which is ridiculous because a person is made up of so many things. I’m strong and I’m vulnerable and I’m a million things in between, like everyone.
You’re talked about being raised without your mother. Would you be willing to raise your child without a father?
Well, I didn’t say that I know that it was gonna turn out that way. I think that it’s important to have both parents around.
So you’re looking for the an first and the child will come later?
Yeah, I’m looking for the chicken before the egg; no pun intended.
Are you still planning on making a film about Frida Kahlo?
I must admit that when everybody else jumped on the Frida Kahlo bandwagon I lost interest in it, just because it seems so trendy now to be interested in her work. I’m still a huge fan of hers. I just don’t know if I’m ever going to do it.
As you get older do you think you’ll continue to be so sexually explicit?
Absolutely. Yes. i don’t think age has anything to do with feeling rebellious and wanting to challenge society, questioning social mores. I don’ think because you reach middle age you all of a sudden become acquiescent and give up. Unfortunately, I think that’s the way society thinks, and I think that’s wrong.
Do you regard your body as a weapon, like your character does in the film?
I think anybody’s body has the potential to be a weapon, yeah. But ultimately, it’s your mind that tells your body what to do, so it’s your mind that’s the weapon.
What’s the status of your production company and record label, Maverick?
Well, we are just getting started at ground level. Along with my manager, Freddy DeMann, we have pretty much got the company together. We’ve put together our creative team and we’ve signed three acts to the label: Proper Grounds – I think their album is coming out this moth; a girl named Michelle, who’s in the studio right now writing, and a group from Seattle called Candlebox. So we’re just getting started with that. Snake Eyes is a Maverick project. We’ve got a lot of other movies in development: some of the scripts haven’t been written. We’re trying to package them and find directors for them and stuff like that. Everything’s still at the beginning stages, but I’m excited about it.
Don’t you ever worry about becoming overexposed?
Well, I don’t ask everybody to write all these articles that they write – it’s not really something I’m in control of. I guess that when everyone’s sick of me, then they’ll stop writing about me.
© Sky Magazine