Madonna is explaining the better-known and more controversial of the two Frida Kahlos in her then not-yet-on-the-market home in the Hollywood Hills. “It depicts her birth and the relationship she had with her mother,” she says. “That’s the Virgin of Sorrows with her neck being pierced above the bed, and that’s the mother saying. I want nothing to do with you. And it’s got a scroll on the bottom, which a lot of Latin painters used when they painted on tin; but she never filled that in, which is kind of strange, like: No comment. And she paid attention to the detail. You know, she was a girl.”
Of course, Madonna, wearing a nice white sleeveless maternity dress and Prada pony-skin-print pumps, is herself a girl who pays attention to the details. “When we were recording the album for Evita.” Says her co-star Antonio Banderas, “she was quite ritual in the way she prepared the studio. She put candles there and flowers and little things like that; the light was very, very down. She tried to create an environment, and she did; it was good.”
Needless to say, the details Madonna is paying attention to (her life in the context of the birth, impending at the time we spoke, of her daughter, Lourdes Maria; her bicoastal relationship with beau and co-parent, the trainer and actor Carlos Leon; and the competition and release of her most ambitious movie project to date) and the details the world is paying attention to (posed naked! Wore a cone bra onstage! Likes sex! Likes success! Dyes her unmarried hair whatever color she feel like!) are not always exactly in sync.
In fact, if for some reason you were smack with total aphasia and had to relearn the fundamental truths of our social ways based solely on their representation in a Madonna-maniacal world press, you might well assume that liking sex and success was so aberrant that any woman admitting to it was pretty much divorced from the common bonds of human experience altogether. (“Talk about a good career move,” opined one article written shortly after Lourdes Maria’s birth, which I like to think even most hard-bitten cynics would concede to be, if not a blessed event, at least within the personal rather than the professional realm.)
With Evita – a risky project be even non-Madonnalogical standards, seeing as the movie musical as a form has only rarely found an audience since the days of West Side Story – Madonna, 37, is again venturing into the one professional realm where her liking for success has been the least gratified. Nevertheless, “that the level of celebrity would get in the way of people seeing her as an actress playing a role was my only negative,” says Evita director Alan Parker of the casting process. “Which no one would even worry about if it was Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeifer or whoever. But I always thought she would be able to do it; obviously, she could sing it better than either of those two women, for instance. And it’s her finest performance, there is no doubt. And it’s in a genre that plays for her strengths; she’s very comfortable singing and acting together.” And, in fact, early response to the soundtrack has been respectful and positive.
So don’t cry for Madonna, who on this point, anyway, is not crying for herself. “After years of seeing me get the s— kicked out of me, people might be starting… I don’t know, not feel sorry for me, because I don’t think they do, and I don’t want them to,” she says of the pendulum of public sentiment that tends to swing through the mass-culture commentary on her work without regard to it’s reception by the consumer. “I guess it’s like if you keep spraying Raid on a cockroach and it won’t die, after a while you just say, “Oh well, I’ll let you live; there’s your little space in the corner.” And I think also with Evita, you can’t ignore that it’s a great piece of work, not just that I’ve done, but of itself.”
“When we were in Argentina,” says Banderas, “half of the people were hating her and half of the people were loving her. It was really the story all over again of Eva Duarte. There is a famous saying of hers before she died, when she sais something like, “I’ll be back and I’ll be millions.” And here we go, she is now millions. It’s something magic, I think, especially for Madonna. I know how much heart she risked in this project, and I really, really wish for her to be beautiful and powerful on the big screen so that someday I can tell my little grandchildren: ‘Hey, I did the movie with Madonna, superstar.'”
How often does the press get you personally?
I suppose it depends on the subject. I pretty much can let most stuff off. One thing I read that really, really, really irked me, where I did have to take a couple of deep breaths, was a little blurb during the minute there when everybody was making a big deal about the Clintons and their maybe wanting to adopt a baby. It said something like: “Hillary wants to adopt a baby; Madonna has one available.” You know, implying that I was completely and utterly disconnected from my pregnancy and could care less about my baby. I really got upset.
Did you see the piece by Jonathan Alter in ‘Newsweek’?
No, but I heard about it. Was that where they were saying I was a bad role model for kinds, or something, because I wasn’t married? He must have been talking to Camille Paglia, who thinks that the reason I’m not married is that I can’t bond with a man.
Really? What happened to all that stuff you guys had in common? You didn’t used to be able to turn on “Charlie Rose” without seeing Camille Paglia explain that you and she were soul mates in every way.
I think I never paid her any mind, so she decided we didn’t have anything in common after all. But about the press, you do obviously get better and better at accepting it over the years.
It’d odd bow the cycle of bashing and building up works with you. Was the turning point the “Sex” book?
Probably in the couple of years after, where my skin grew at least 6 inches thicker. I do think that society tends to root for you to win or lose. It’s kind of tragic, in a way, because what goes up must come down. Anyone who attains an enormous popularity is about to see what the bottom of a boot looks like.
You seem very serene about it.
I think it’s probably the hormones.
Oh, I thought they were supposed to work the other way.
They do. They work both ways. They give you an incredible sense of calmness and serenity and the ability to wait peacefully, because you have no other choice, and then the tiniest things can set you off. It’s the most unbelievable thing to go through. I went to a concert the other night and this stranger came up to me and said, um, please let me touch your stomach, I know you’re Madonna and everything, but I really believe that it will bring me good luck, and I’m going to racetrack tomorrow. And he just looked really sincere, so I let him.
The thing being that with you, what whole story could have happened even without pregnancy.
Yes. Though I’m not sure it’s my stomach they want to touch.
Were you trying to get pregnant?
No. I certainly entertained the idea, but I was offered the movie and it kept going from being six months away to seven months away to seven and a half months away, but never a feasible time; and when I actually did get pregnant, I wasn’t trying.
You did it the old-fashioned way?
By mistake? Basically, yeah.
Well, way to go!
Well, you know, it wasn’t something I was trying to do; but after I got over the shock of knowing it, I felt that it was kind of poetic that it happened while I was trying to give birth to another sort of baby. And it just seemed like the right moment, though there were days. Really, it felt like we couldn’t acknowledge too much that I was pregnant, because then you start worrying about everything: about the temperature, and how long I was on my feet, and all the dancing. I think we all went around, or I went around, in and out of pretending that I wasn’t pregnant, because it was really difficult to focus on the character and worry about whether I was getting the right kind of rest. So, I don’t know, I think, I thought about it as if it were some sort of a gift, and I thought if it’s happening in this way, then nothing will get in the way of it – this baby’s coming no matter how many hours I stand on my feet.
What are your feelings about Dennis Rodman’s book? I guess it’s unlikely that you’ve dreamed since girlhood of being characterized sexually not as an acrobat but not a dead fish, either.
Well, I somehow think he had some help with the writing, because to tell you the truth, I don’t think even he would say that. But you never know.
You do never know. I like to watch him in interviews and I wonder what it is he thinks he’s saying. What he’s actually saying makes so delightfully little sense.
Well… It’s hard for me to play him any compliments because I thought what he did was really low, but there is some truth about people who don’t fit into categories or are rebellious or defy convention or whatever, though not at the expense of hurting people. I do think that is one of the things I found interesting about him. I also fantasized somehow that there was a great mind behind all that rebellion, and I think there’s actually just a scrambled brain; so it was sort of disappointing.
How did the material in “Evita” change from the stage version?
A lot of lyrics changed that were too abstract, because some of the rhyming that [Evita lyricist] Tim Rice did had a little bit of a crossword-puzzle thing going on – it sounded good, but it didn’t make any sense. Alan [Parker] went through everything and made sure that the songs were telling a story. And they expanded certain musical themes; the one song that was written is a love song between [Juan] Peron and Eva, so that adds a dimension of their love versus just two people who are using each other.
I ask because, to me, the original version is kind of misogynist.
It’s beyond misogynist. The funny thing is when I was cast in the movie, I was psyched to play the part; then, the more research I did, the more I hated the point of view. I thought, this is unfair, it’s so sexist, this is so awful. And I came to realize that it was the typical reaction that all the aristocrats and most men had toward her; they were completely frightened by the kind of power that she had. And it’s always easy, it’s the most obvious and predictable way out, to call a woman a whore and imply that she has no morals and no integrity and no talent. And God knows, I can relate to that. It’s the oldest trick in the book. And Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice fell for it, and… well, it was extremely popular, that story. But it was popular because it was anti-fascist as well. [The Perons] were considered to be fasists, and you know, there was a time when we were against all that.
So how do you fell you changed the character?
I just tried to make her a human being. I certainly don’t see her as a saint. But what I tried to do was flesh her out and show her humanity and her sadness and pain, and give it some connection, you know? She came from a big family; she was an illegitimate child; she came from extreme poverty. And I think this really disturbed her. I think that her whole life was that, really. But who knows? I could say the same thing about myself. Why did I emerge from my family and say, I’m getting the f— out of here, I’m going to New York? I think it would be fooling to paint her one way or the other, and I think that a person who attained the kind of power she attained and accomplished what she accomplished could not be stupid or just opportunistic. You know? You’ve got to have something going on up there.
What are your happiest expectations about motherhood?
I think it will be a very healing experience because I didn’t grow up with a mother and I envision hugging and tactile pleasure and the happiness of that. And I think how amazing to have someone in my life who’s a part of me in a way that no one else can be, no matter how much you love them. There’s also the feeling of responsibility that’s different from any other love. People would always say, “If you have a baby, you’d better pray that it’s a boy,” because they think that a daughter would be some sort of competition. But it doesn’t feel that way.
And with a girl you get to play dress up.
Oh, my God, yes. That gets me through my worst moments.