Though it started out romantic, the relationship has had its gritty moments. “It’s a roller coaster,” Madonna says of marriage, and Shanghai Surprise, the movie she and Sean made together, had to be a low point for the honeymooners. They had terrible press, partly because of Sean’s penchant for knocking down the photographers, partly because critics thought Shanghai Surprise was a lousy movie, and Madonna made a lousy missionary, and she and Sean had no more chemistry between them than two plates of mashed potatoes.
“A helish nightmare,” is the was Madonna describes the experience. “I thought it was a great script, and the idea of going to Shanghai was exciting to me, and the idea of working with my husband was exciting to me because he’s a great actor. But sometimes everything goes wrong. The director turned out not know what he was goind, we were on a ship without a captain, and we were so miserable while we were working that I’m sure it shows.”
“Some of the tensions were on the set, some were because of the paparazzi. Sean’s whole image was sort of blown up insto this impossible person out of control. And then when the movie finally got finished – if it was directed poorly, you can’t imagine how poorly it was edited. It was a great learning experience, that’s all I can say.”
One of the things she learned was never to let herself get into such a situation again. In the record world, she has lots to say about what she – and everyone else on a Madonna record – does, and from now on, she plans to work the same way in the movie business. She says she is not interested in being a tyrant, “collaborating is what I like,” but she admits she is a very demanding collaborator.
“The musicians yell at me because when they take a meal break, I’m looking at my watch the whole time. ‘Okay,thirty minutes is up, get back in the room.’ I hate taking breaks, people come back lethargic, the energy’s down. I mean, I bring my soy milk and my apple and my rice chips in the studio, and I just want to keep working straight trough.”
Having been rendered somewhat cautious by Shaghai Surprise, Madonna didn’t leap to say yes when James Foley (who had directed Sean in At Close Range) btought her the script that subsequently became the movie Who’s That Girl – a romantic comedy in which she plays a character much like the one in Desperately Seeking Susan. “I said, ‘I like it, but it needs a lot of work.’ We went through several writers and several revisions of the script, until it was just the way we wanted.”
Director Foley is convinced Madonna was born to be a movie star. “The form is big enough, she was made for widescreen Technicolor. And she is precociously talented. Every time I would say, ‘Action!’ what she would do made me giggle with excitement. She’s very instinctual, what comes out is unencumbered by analysis. Who’s That Girl was for me technically difficult, we shot a lot on the streets of New York and L.A., but she helped. Everyone on a crew observes the tone the star sets, and she emanated such a sense of ease and dignity it filtered clear down to caterer. She’s’ curious as hell to – about lights, scripts, people’s names.”
Carol Lees, Madonna’s sidekick at Siren Films – Madonna has had her own production company since last June – says her boss works “forty hours a day. She’s got her hands in everything. She’ll screen a movie by a director she might want to hire, and if she likes it, we’ll have a dinner with that director. She complains she has too much work, it’s interfering with her career. ‘I wish I could get my career going,’ she says.
“We have a bungalow – it’s all pink-and-purple leopard print – at Universal, where she has a development deal and we look for projects for her to act and for us to produce together. She’s in a special position, she has a little bit of a clout because of the success of her music.”
“She has an incredibly strong persona, like an old-fashioned movie star, Bette Davis, Katherene Hepburn. I don’t think she’s going to be like Meryl Street, German one week, Polish the next.”
But does Madonna look at Meryl Streep and say, “I could never do that,” or does she say, “I could do that better”?
“I look at Meryl Streep and say she’s a fine actress,” Madonna says, “And I’m different. I think I’m a good actress, and I’m going to get better.”
As dopey as she finds the Meryl Streep question, the Marilyn Monroe question irritates her even more. Asked if she thinks of herself as another Marilyn Monroe, she bristles. “If I didn’t have blond hai, I don’t know what people would do for comparisons.”
But Madonna, dear, didn’t you imitate Marilyn in your “Material Girl” video?
“She’s been imitated by a lot of people,” Madonna says, “Marilyn Monroe was a victim and I’m not. I know what I’m doing, and what I want. If I make mistakes, or fall into traps, they’re mine, not Marilyn Monroe’s.”