Let history record that exactly 33 hours before the end of civilization, Madonna remains firmly in charge.
It is three P.M. on December 30, 1999, an unseasonably cool day in South Beach, the unreasonably cool section of Miami Beach. All day long, news trucks have been negotiating the crowded streets, trolling for signs of impending doom, and policemen, wearing tight smiles, have been arranging barricades and assuring German tourists that everything is under control,’ a television in an open-air restaurant is tuned to CNN, which flashes regular Y2K updates, and one fellow has been Rollerblading up and down the neighborhood’s main drag, Ocean Drive, with a holiday message smeared across his shaved chest in yellow body paint: WE’RE ALL FUCKED.
At the quiet southern end of Ocean Drive sits Joia, a charming restaurant whose hostess spends the afternoon telling callers that she can happily ofter them a dinner reservation at “6 or 12:30.” Madonna, who has a large home in nearby Coconut Grove, is a regular here. So is her dear friend Rupert Everett, the retro-dashing Englishman who stole the show in the 1997 comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding. Everett, who co-stars with Madonna in the new comedy The Next Best Thing, eats lunch at Joia several times a week. He lives just a few blocks away, and that makes sense. If South Beach is the new Riviera, then Joia is the Hotel du Cap.
Everett arrives first, trailed as always by his ll-year-old black Lab, Mo, who, panting and rheumy-eyed, quickly disappears beneath the table. An impressive figure, Everett-a muscular six feet four, hair perfectly windblown, untucked shirt open to reveal rosary beads dangling mid-chest. Within seconds, he is explicating his taste in films. “Well,” he says in a perfect English upper-class accent, “I really like documentary, and when I first … ”
His eyes widen, and he stiffens noticeably at the sight of Madonna. (Watch Madonna enter a room and you see a lot of this.) “Hel-loooo,” he says, flashing a broad, slightly puzzled smile. “You’re early.”
Madonna is standing a few feet away, near the entrance to the restaurant’s empty back room. She is wearing a gray overcoat; her hair is long, curly, and reddish-blond-the Pre-Raphaelite style she has worn since her well-publicized foray into motherhood, Jewish mysticism, and yoga.
“No, I’m not,” she says mock-dramatically. “You’re early.” Like Everett, she often speaks in italics. “God … God.”
The waiter freezes. For a moment, it’s a Mexican standoff. As always, though, Madonna proves victorious. (And not without some justification: thanks to a scheduling mix-up, Everett has arrived late, and Madonna has actually arrived one minute early. She is nothing if not precise.) “Want me to wait out there?” she offers playfully, gesturing toward the diners in the main dining room, but Everett is having none of it. “Are you hot in the coat?” he asks. “Are you hungry?”
“A bit,” she replies, picking up on Everett’s accent.
“They are. at first glance, an odd pair. By Everett’s own admission, he’s lazy and unpunctual; by Madonna’s own admission, she’s hopelessly meticulous and tends to arrive and leave early. He is the picture of casual bonhomie: charming, inquisitive, so seemingly at ease with himself that when he lies across the banquette and eats with his fingers, silverware suddenly seems primitive and vulgar. He tries to put you at ease. “Whenever I interview someone,” says Everett, who has occasionally written for this magazine, “I find it very off-putting actually doing the interview. Because you know what you’re going to say, really, and people sometimes complicate issues rather than clarify.”
Madonna, who has also written for this magazine, is all business. She sits bolt upright, arms folded. When a busboy asks to take a picture, she firmly asks him to wait till later. When an air-conditioning vent is blowing too hard, she firmly asks that it be shut off right now. Even when she is talking to someone else, she fixes her gaze on Everett, whom she clearly adores. (“We’re both minorities,” she says, referring to her gender and Everett’s homosexuality. “And we both love to shop.”) She makes it clear that she doesn’t suffer fools. More than once she rolls her eyes, smiles, and says something like “Oh, that’s a horrible question-ask something else.” She’s Madonna. She’s intimidating.
“Not intimidating,” Everett says by way of correction. “Right,” Madonna says.
“Yes-intimidating in a way,” Everett says, referring to his first Madonna experience. “You were very intimidating.”