Madonna exclusively talks about her fascination with Wallis Simpson and reveals their many similarities
Looking relaxed and happy, Madonna was greeted with wild cheers from her fans as she arrived at the London premiere of her latest directorial offering, W.E..
But though she seemed composed and confident, the star later admitted that she had been nervous about the UK airing of her new film, which focuses on the affair between Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
“I have more butterflies in my stomach here than [I did] in Venice or Toronto,” she said to the audience at the London Film Festival premiere in Leicester Square’s Empire cinema.
“The idea for the film was born here. I was inspired to get to know English history and discovered the story of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson and their love affair.”
In her address, she said of her film: “I never set out to make the quintessential historical biopic. I thought it was important to give the story a point of view and show it through the eyes of a young woman who is searching for love and happiness.”
Madonna also talked of her difficulty in casting the part of Wallis — who, after marrying Edward, became the Duchess of Windsor — and of her joy in eventually finding British actress Andrea Riseborough. “When Andrea walked in the door, she was the Duchess — that combination of fragility and steeliness. I was thrilled,” she said.
The film has received mixed reviews so far, but it has earned praise for capturing Wallis’s legendary sense of style — one reviewer called W.E. “one of the best-dressed movies of the year” — but Madonna insisted that the story’s most enduring trait is its human heart.
“One important point — there is no such thing as perfect love,” said the former Mrs Guy Ritchie, possibly alluding to her own past relationships.
“If you think so, then you are in for a rude awakening. Love really requires compromise. Nothing is what it seems and there are always many sides of the story.”
GIRL ON FILM
The film is Madonna’s second directorial outing. Her first, 2008’s Filth & Wisdom, sank without trace and many believed it marked the end as well as the beginning of her career as a film director.
However, as Madonna explains in this exclusive interview with HELLO! before the London premiere, she was so captivated by Wallis that she decided to get behind the camera once more.
“I find Wallis fascinating,” she says. “She was a survivor. She started out with nothing, she survived an abusive first marriage and she found a way to create a whole new life for herself. She had a great sense of wit and humour, and I think that one of the reasons the King fell in love with her was that she had a fresh energy about her — she was able to be irreverent with him, which not many people were.
“He gave up everything for her. It was a huge sacrifice for both of them — she got hate mail basically for the rest of her life. And you think, ‘Wow, what must it be like to be loved like that only to find out that it was a terrible responsibility?'”
Moving on to talk about her own life, the 53-year-old gives her take on how she rose from an anonymous dancer to become one of the world’s best-selling singer-songwriters.
“I’ve always been adventurous, both in my life and in my creativity — I’ve always let myself be open to new things, experiences, opportunities, meeting people.”
“When I first moved to New York, I was a dancer and I never imagined for a minute that I’d ever be a singer and a songwriter. But when somebody said to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you try auditioning for this record producer?’ I didn’t say, ‘Oh, no, I’m a dancer, I can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ So I did and one thing led to another and here I am.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever tried to box me in. I think that some people have had opinions about what I should or shouldn’t do, but I’ve never had someone say to me, ‘You cannot do this.'”
It was that same can-do attitude that saw Madonna try her hand at film directing and screen-writing. Creating W.E.’s screenplay with her old friend Alek Keshishian wasn’t, she says, “that big a jump for me, because it encompasses everything I love”.
It’s been said that Madonna has identified with Wallis for years — after all, both women are American divorcees who moved to Britain and attracted serious media interest because of their relationships.
Madonna has been married twice — to actor Sean Penn, from 1985 to 1989, and to film-maker Guy Ritchie, from 2000 to 2008.
Though the marriages failed, Madonna has said that Sean and Guy both encouraged her creative ambitions and were very “supportive” of her latest venture.
Previous love interests include actor Warren Beatty, John Kennedy Jnr, comedienne Sandra Bernhard and Cuban-born personal trainer Carlos Leon, with whom she had her daughter, Lourdes, in 1996. She also has sons, Rocco, 11, and David, six, with Guy, and daughter, Mercy, five.
Madonna’s attempts to find everlasting love are not dissimilar to other people’s, she says. “We women still want what we’ve always wanted. So much has changed for us over the last few decades, in that we have the opportunity for better education, for many different kinds of jobs, for being independent in ourselves.”
“But we all still find ourselves wanting the same thing at the same time — to be swept off our feet by the perfect man. We all think that perfect love is going to change our lives immensely. And of course love does change your life. But what we also have to understand is that happiness lies in our own hands, not someone else’s.”
Madonna is now in a relationship with 24-year-old French dancer Brahim Zaibat, whom she met when he performed at the launch of her clothing range in New York last year. This time around, she’s trying a change of tack to keep the romance alive.
“The older I get, the more I understand about the nature of relationships and how to have a successful one,” she told the Daily Mail in an interview recently.
“I realise that it has to do with compromise and sacrifice, and that’s just the way it goes. Unless you want to be alone for the rest of your life, then you have to realise that.”
The 29-year age gap between Brahim and Madonna has created something of a stir, but the star deals with the comments the way she always has — by ignoring them.
“You can’t live vicariously through other people’s expectations or ideals of what you should be or who you should be with,” she says.
“As women, we’re always looking at other people’s relationships and saying, ‘This kind of man is the one my parents would want me to be with, or my friends would approve of.’
But even if they look good on paper, maybe they don’t actually turn out to be right for us and you have to keep your mind open.
“That’s what I’m trying to teach ms daughter [Lourdes) right now — that we have to make our own decisions in life, we can’t just live by society’s expectations.”
So, an American-born survivor and self-made woman who inspires intense emotions. Does that remind Madonna of anyone?
“No one’s ever given up their kingdom for me yet,” she quips. “And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t want them to. When a man gives up his kingdom for you, then it’s your job to make him feel like he’s still a king for the rest of his life. That’s a tall order.”
W.E. will be in British cinemas from 20 January 2012.