Ingrid: Really? So he knows what to do with seeds.
Madonna: Yeah. His name is Nathan Rissmah, He’s a brilliant, lovely guy–one of those guys who came into my life and did every job. He was a runner, an intern, a gardener. He took care of my kids. He did everything, and he did it with humility. And everyone just grew to love him. And then he started doing these little movies of my children and sending them to me, and making films out of photographs and just being really creative. So one day I said, “I need somebody to document this,” and then I looked at him and I said, “And I think that person is you!” And he really stepped up to the plate. Another one of his many gifts is that everyone loves him, and he’s very good at winning people’s trust. He cares deeply about everybody in the film, and he’s spent a lot of time in Malawi, literally sleeping on the floors of people’s huts and waking up with chickens on his head. He really lived it and approached it with an open heart and so much gratitude. And I think that really comes through in the movie as well–the way he films people.
Ingrid: Especially the kids.
Madonna: Yes, and he gets their stories. People opened their hearts to him. I couldn’t have done that. I don’t have his simple approach. He did an amazing job.
Ingrid: I also love the aesthetics of it–it’s almost like William Eggleston’s photographs of the American South, in terms of the lush palette.
Madonna: Yeah, the way he captured the exterior, with the rolling hills and the trees-
Ingrid: You can really smell Africa looking at it. And you’ve got some big shots in there, too–President Clinton, Desmond Tutu.
Madonna: Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Farmer. They’re all amazing. I’m so lucky to have them in the movie.
Ingrid: How did you do that? Did you just phone ’em up?
Madonna: I phoned them. I wrote copious letters. I met with them. I showed them the footage.
Ingrid: You always were a letter writer.
Madonna: Yes. Some people said “yes” more quickly than others. Some took a lot more coaxing and several dinners and-
Ingrid: Did you have to do any benefits?
Madonna: [laughs] No. No sexual favors either. [both laugh] But I had to be a producer and to convince people because they are like giants to me. They’re all really busy and everybody comes to them and asks them to say something in their documentary, so why should they do it for me? But I feel very blessed that they all agreed to it. And I think they all say something important. They all have a big part of their lives invested in Africa.
Ingrid: Let’s talk about your youngest child, David. He is Malawian and–
Madonna: Yes, and I promise you, he wouldn’t have lived if I hadn’t taken him. It’s not even a possibility.
Ingrid: Your other two children have had the opportunity to be children, and as you were making this film, I’m sure you saw so many kids who never have had that chance– in the film you talk about kids being raped, kidnapped, beaten, kids having to function as parents for their little brothers and sisters because their mothers and fathers are dead. David’s reality began so differently from that of Lourdes and Rocco [Madonna’s other children]. How does it affect them that their little brother comes from this place where kids don’t get to have a childhood?
Madonna: I think it’s essential that they understand it and know it. The last time I went there, my daughter came with me. She spent several weeks working in the orphanages, particularly one with newborn children, and most of them were HIV-positive. She so came into her own and was so responsible and stayed for eight hours every day and worked tirelessly. I thought, Why am I babying her so much? She’s capable of so much more. We don’t let kids do anything. We think, Oh, they’re kids–they can’t take care of other kids; they can’t do this; they can’t do that. And after you go to Africa, you drop all that silliness.
Ingrid: So many kids are the parents there.
Madonna: Absolutely. It made me see how tough and resilient kids are and how little credit we give them for that. And it made me understand the importance of my children seeing and experiencing that on a regular basis, so that they understand they breathe rarified air, and that it’s their job to share what they have with other people.
Liz Rosenberg: [Madonna’s publicist [shouting from the background] Okay, five minutes, ladies.
Ingrid: No! She’s joking.
Madonna: [to Liz] She said, “No, you’re joking.”