This is a woman with more than one face.
The first time I meet Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone—in Warren Beatty’s trailer on the back lot of Universal studios, where they are filming Dick Treacy-she is a blond. An impatient, gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking blond chafing at the long delays the slow process of moviemaking entails. Hours will pass before she takes her turn in front of the cameras as the nightclub chanteuse Breathtess Mahoney, and Madonna is seeking amusement. When she enters the trailer, the barometric pressure changes: lt’s as if a small cyclone had sped by. You know you’re in the presence of a star by a subtle quickening in the atmosphere; this cyclone has needs, and tending to them becomes the first order of business.
This Madonna is not movie-star regal, nor is she going for glamour. Slinkily packed into a reddish brown. tie-dyed short dress, she gives off an aura of brassy street smarts. Impatience, she’s often said, is her worst character flaw, and she’s obviously in the grip of it now. Beatty — her director, costar, and, according to all the gossip columns of the moment, constant companion since the demise of her maniage to Sean Penn — rises to deal with Madonna’s mood. To her restless child, he plays the indulgent, avuncular adult, slightly abashed but definitely enchanted by the whirlwind it’s his job to placate. Well aware he’s being observed. Beatty rolls his eyes, amused, as if to say. “What am I going to do with her?” and leads her to the back of the trailer for a private. whispery tete-a-tete.
A few hours later, I am summoned back to the trailer by Madonna to help solve a pressing riddle. Surrounded by a few coworkers. she’s attempting to decode the latest enigmatic Spy list. Madonna keeps close tabs on her coverage in the media, and the wicked wits at Spy magazine have missed few opportunities to make sport with her name. “Did you see last month’s list?” she asks, referring to a roll call of famous women that included Diane Keaton, Joan Collins, Leslie Caron, Julie Christie, and Madonna herself. It’s the reader’s job to figure out the common thread that links the names, easy enough in this case – the link is Warren Beatty. But the current conundrum. which puts Sean Penn alongside such unlikely characters as Lemuel Gulliver, T. E. Lawrence, Snidely Whiplash, and O., is proving more diflicult to penetrate. What clever innuendo is being implied here? We are all, for the moment, slumped.
The Past year has been a breathless one for Madonna watchers. What other figure, save Mr. Gorbachev, had such a knack for igniting headline-grabbing events? In January 1989, amid a storm of tabloid dirt suggesting she’d been the victim of domestic violence, she filed divorce papers, bringing to an end her stormy three-and-a-half-year marriage to the mediaphobic Sean Penn. Soon after, her critical stock crested with the release of the new album, Like a Prayer, her most ambitious, personal – and pain-inflected-work. Then came the Pepsi scandal. After paying the superstar $5 million for her promotional video, Pepsi yanked its “Like a Prayer” ad when the other prayful video appeared — a provocative commingling of sex and religion in which the Naughty One seduces a black saint and exposes her dripping stigmata in church. Just about the only Madonna event not to make a splash was Ihe quick und quiet release of her movie Bloodhounds of Broadway, a reminder that the one uncaptured flag in the inexorable Madonna juggernaut is a victory over Fortress Hollywood.
The second time I meet Madonna, five months later, she is in her own Hollywood fortress in the hills, an airy, sparely furnished hideaway that commands a glorious view of the town she has set her mind on conquering. Dirk Tracy has finished filming, and the latest issue of the hip L.A. Weekly has plastered four silk-screened images of her on its cover, under the rubric “In the Age of Madonna” — further confirmation, if any were needed, that her reign, launched in 1983. as the world’s dominant female pop star and sex symbol, shows no sign of abating as the new decade rolls in.
But the Madonna who greets me now bears little resemblance to the funky, restless creature in the trailer. Ravenhaired, elegantly put together, she’s the picture of selfcomposure. Her sleeveless navy blue velvet turtleneck stops at midtorso, revealing the famous Madonna midriff but not the trademark belly button. Her black, semitransparent Romeo Gigli pants suggest a Spanish flavor, and her small, exquisitely toned body is alert, posture perfect, the product of rigorous workouts in the well-equipped exercise room of her bedroom. Even her speech seems different, her elocution more precise, her tonality softer. She is at once the gracious host of her vaguely neoclassic manor – Madonna’s Italianate furniture suggests the eighteenth century — a briskly efficient businesswoman-artist ready for the tasks at hand, and a veteran Hollywood star impeccably turned out to meet the press.
Do I broach the subject of the SPY list, which I have by now decoded? My motives, of course, are base: When I announce the link between her ex-husband, O. and Snidely Whiplash is an affinity for S and M and bondage, will her face betray some dark matrimonial secret? Silly me. Madonna is, as always, ahead of the game: She’s the one who blithely announces what the list was implying. Her reaction combines amused contempt for waggish potshots with the weary acceptance of a favorite target, “They nail me on a regular hasis.” she says.
Madonna is tough and seemingly shameless, two of the characteristics that have helped secure her phenomenal popularity. Her everevolvingg persona has always been tauntingly poised outside the flat landscape of conventional middle-class morality. Take me or leave me, she seems to say, whether she’s wearinga BOY TOY belt buckle in concert, appearing as a peep-show dancer in the video of “Open Your Heart,” or posing atop a bed with a manacle and chain around hcr neck in the steamy-satirical video “Express Yourself.” lf there’s no possibility you won’t admit to, you’re safely beyond embarassment – and exempt from scandal.