Looking very much the young married couple, Madonna and her husband, the English filmmaker Guy Ritchie, sat on a sofa in their central London home one recent afternoon to talk about Mr. Ritchie’s new movie, “Swept Away,” which stars his wife.
In this remake of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 Italian-language sex-and-sand movie, “Swept Away . . . by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August,” Mr. Ritchie has cast Madonna as Amber, a rich, arrogant American shipwrecked on a deserted Mediterranean island with a resentful Italian sailor, Giuseppe. They begin by hating each other and end up lovers, with much rolling in the sand to prove it. Adriano Giannini, who plays Giuseppe, is the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who played the role opposite Mariangela Melato in the earlier version.
For Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie: Madonna says she now likes to be called Mrs. Ritchie, finding it more intimate than her given name: “Swept Away” proved to be something of a test. Mr. Ritchie, 33, made his name in 1998 with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”; he followed that with “Snatch” in 2000. Madonna, 44, has a longer movie record, including “Desperately Seeking Susan” in 1985 and “Evita” in 1996, as well as the 1991 documentary “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” But “Swept Away,” which opens Oct. 11, was the couple’s first feature film together.
Mr. Ritchie, in a T-shirt and slacks, and Madonna, wearing an orange sweatsuit, teased each other with affection. Madonna, about to end a 10-week run in David Williamson’s play “Up for Grabs,” was the chattier of the two. Occasionally a shout from their 2-year-old son, Rocco, reached the sitting room. (Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes, 5, also lives with them.) Several guitars leaned against a wall. Nearby was Madonna’s favorite painting, “My Birth,” by Frida Kahlo. Here are excerpts from their conversation with Alan Riding, the European cultural correspondent of The New York Times.
Alan Riding: So whose idea was it to do a remake of “Swept Away”?
Guy Ritchie: Initially, it was mine.
Madonna: You liar.
Ritchie: It was mine.
Madonna: It wasn’t his. That’s a total lie.
Ritchie: Darling, not so. It was my idea. You brought the film, you put the film on. I watched the film with you and then I said, “Someone should remake that film.”
Madonna: Actually, it was suggested to both of us. Don’t you remember?
Ritchie: Oh, yeah, yeah, I do.
Madonna: I always loved it, I always loved the movie. And then I was like, “Oh, God, I haven’t heard that film mentioned in a long time.”
Riding: And what made you think it was worth doing a remake? I mean, remakes normally have the kiss of death, don’t they?
Madonna: Yeah, well.
Ritchie: Not necessarily, actually. I thought the “Thomas Crown Affair” remake was very good. I mean, give me examples of films that were a disaster when they were remade.
Riding: There are lots of French films that get remade in the States and disappear without trace. One or two make it. But why remake a film that exists?
Ritchie: Because I liked the film and I knew no one was going to watch it who wasn’t Italian. And it was made in 1974, and I’d never heard of it. So I liked it, I thought it had some pertinent points in it: rather politically incorrect, but nevertheless pertinent. I just thought it was an interesting film and very fresh, comparatively.
Riding: And how did you end up casting Adriano Giannini in the role created by his father?
Ritchie: We wanted to do it in Italy, and we got all sorts of contemporary Italian actors. We had photographs of them down on the floor, and we had a look at them. And his was the first one we picked out.
Madonna: He didn’t know it was Giancarlo’s son. He watched the tape with a casting person, and they narrowed it down to a few. Then they said, “Come in and take a look.” And everybody liked him the best. But no one knew who he was, because we weren’t really reading the names.
When we found out, everybody’s like, “Oh, that’s too weird. But let’s just see how he is anyway.” So he came over, and we did some scenes. And everybody still really liked him, but it kept coming up: “Well, we can’t do it because that’s his father and it’s just too weird.” But nobody was better. So then we just thought, “Well, it’s a stupid reason not to do it if he’s the best one.”
Riding: Did you audition with anybody else?
Madonna: No, I didn’t. But the casting person met with lots of others.
Riding: And did you play a role in picking Adriano?
Madonna: Yeah. I mean, obviously Guy had the final say, but we just all happened to like him.
Riding: So you had some say in who you would be rolling in the sand with?
Madonna: Sure. I’m sure if I would have said, “Eeeewww, no way, he’s gross,” I’m pretty sure my husband wouldn’t have cast him.
Riding: What appealed to you in the role of Amber? She’s a pretty dreadful woman.
Madonna: I like the challenge of playing somebody who’s so unsympathetic: hopefully she is sympathetic by the time you get to the end of the film. I like the idea that there’s some kind of transformation, that she starts out clueless about what matters in life, completely self-obsessed and spoiled and unhappy. And by the end, she has figured it out. Or at least she starts to get a feeling for what is important. So I liked the journey that she went on.
Riding: Do you imagine this really has changed her life?
Madonna: Well, I would like to think that her life would never be the same.
Riding: You’d like to think that because you’re a romantic.
Madonna: Yes, I am indeed. This is the difference between my husband and I.
Riding: (To Mr. Ritchie) So you’re less romantic?
Ritchie: Well, not that I’m less romantic. But Amber fell for her old man in the first place. That’s where her priority lay. And six weeks with some hunky fisherman isn’t going to change…
Madonna: Well, it wasn’t a day on the beach, no pun intended. It was a rough six weeks.
Ritchie: Sure, and a significant six weeks. But the trouble is, people get into ruts, they can’t get out of them. It’s the traps, the traps of society.
Madonna: Well, yes, but we’re all working on getting out of our ruts. So if you take that bleak look, then we’ll never get out of our ruts.
Ritchie: Yeah, but it’s going to be harder for Amber, because there’s no one trying to get her out of her rut.
Madonna: You never know who she might meet when she goes back to New York.
Ritchie: That’s true. But from where I’m sitting, the trajectory of her future is not a happy one.
Madonna: Well, that’s the difference between my husband and I, once again. I’m seeing the glass half full and he’s seeing it half empty.
Riding: How did Adriano handle all of this?
Madonna: With aplomb. He may have been nervous, but he never acted it. He was really gracious and had a good sense of humor about it all.
Riding: Mrs. Ritchie, I was wondering whether, when you saw the original film again, you saw an echo of your own relationship with Mr. Ritchie? You once called your husband a great macho…
Madonna: I expected this question and…
Riding: You trained for it.
Madonna: I rehearsed, yes. There are elements in the movie that I would say are reflective of the politics in our relationship. [She speaks to Mr. Ritchie, who is putting on Madonna’s reading glasses.] Don’t stretch out my glasses, Guy, you have a very big head.
Ritchie: That’s all right, they’re already stretched.
Madonna: No, they’re not. Take them off.
Ritchie: All right. Come on, concentrate on the…
Madonna: Anyway, yes, Guy’s a real macho and I’m a real hardnose, too. And sometimes we come to blows: not physically, but mentally and emotionally. And there is an element, a tiny little element of that in there. I’m attracted to men who are going to stand up to me.
Madonna: Yes, men. Now I’m only attracted to this man. But before I met Guy, my idea of the perfect man would be someone intelligent and clever enough, but also kind and compassionate enough to stand up to me: to stand up to me with compassion. And I think that’s ultimately why Amber falls in love with Giuseppe: because he stands up to her and her husband doesn’t.
Riding: [To Mr. Ritchie] So did you find it sort of interesting, the idea of also taming her in her movie role?
Ritchie: Um, yeah. See, I thought the audience could accept: see Madonna, after all, when she was called Madonna, before being Mrs. Ritchie…
Madonna: Be careful what you say, Mr. Ritchie. [She laughs.]
Ritchie: …is an iconic figure. And there is a bridge to cross with seeing Madonna as an iconic figure, and seeing her on the screen. And I thought it was acceptable to buy her as an icon, which is broken down before she can live again.
Riding: Have you felt that her being who she is, her fame, gets in the way when she’s in a movie?
Ritchie: Yes. This is something that her and I disagree on, but I think it does. And I think that in order to accept who she is, there needs to be some form of segue to make it acceptable to a lot of people.
Madonna: “Evita” worked so well for me because she was an extraordinary woman to begin with. It’s easier for people to accept me in those kind of parts. For me to play the girl next door is a big leap for people. A perfect example is the play I’m doing right now. The first act seems so closely written to who I am that people accept me in the role. By the time you get to the second act, you don’t think it’s me anymore. There’s an evolution that occurs. And I think film roles need to do that as well, for it to work.
Riding: So you sort of agree with Guy on that?
Madonna: Yeah, I don’t think it’s impossible. I just think I have to be clever about picking the right parts.
Ritchie: [Reading from a list of Madonna’s movies] “The Tulse Luper Suitcases.” Remember that?
Madonna: No. But Guy, are you going to read that or do the interview?
Riding: [To Madonna] Here you can demonstrate your powers of getting him to cooperate.
Ritchie: Yes, darling.
Riding: We were going to talk about how the two of you work together, and I’m seeing an example of it.
Madonna: Yeah, well, this is an example of it. I try to exert my power and it doesn’t work.
Riding: Well, you did work together before you made “Swept Away,” didn’t you?
Madonna: The first thing we did together was a video for “What It Feels Like for a Girl.”
Riding: So that was, in a sense, the test to see if you could work together. Were you concerned about that?
Ritchie: Everyone else had a concern. We never found a concern.
Madonna: Well, we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop or for some big explosion, because everyone had kept saying…
Ritchie: Don’t do it, don’t do it.
Madonna: How it was going to destroy our marriage, whatever. But I think it would have been much harder for me to hang around on the set with two kids, doing nothing, while he directed a film.
Riding: Did you work on the script together?
Madonna: He would run scenes by me and ask me what I thought. He would read them out loud after he would work on them.
Riding: And you’d suggest changes?
Madonna: Yeah, sure. I mean, every actor wants to get their two cents in about a scene at the end of the day.
Riding: How did it work once you were on the set? Did you work out a set of rules beforehand?
Riding: For example, let’s try not to intimidate everybody else. It’s difficult for everybody else, isn’t it?
Madonna: No, no, no, we didn’t have to have that conversation. Guy’s the director. He has the final say. I accept that and I did have to accept that, full stop. So there was never, never a question. And it was always about respect. I’m never going to be disrespectful and get into an argument with any of my directors. If I have a big problem, I’d rather just do it in the privacy of my trailer.
Ritchie: We had no trailer meetings.
Madonna: We had no trailer meetings. I think sometimes things got a little bit difficult when I had really emotional scenes to do and I was feeling emotionally vulnerable. But that happens in everything that I do. If I have to be vulnerable, I just feel vulnerable.
Riding: And was it easier to have the reassurance of your husband there in that moment? Or is it just a difficult moment anyway?
Madonna: I think it is difficult, was difficult. Also I think, because people were expecting Guy and I to fight, I had to even be more of a warrior and have a stiff upper lip and be the first one there and the last one to leave and always on my best behavior to, in a way, prove everyone wrong. And there are probably times, if Guy hadn’t been my husband, where I might have started sobbing or fallen apart. But I couldn’t in this situation.
Riding: Guy, how did you feel, dealing with an actress in a role at the same time you’re dealing with all the emotions that you know are there? Did it cramp you at all?
Ritchie: No, to the contrary, because I knew her very well. We had a shorthand so we could officially get down to business.
Madonna: Yeah, in other words, he would just say, “O.K., wife, over there.” There was no like, “O.K., now we’re going to do this scene and you’re going to have to cry and it’s going to be really tough and tell me if you need anything.” It was just, “Get on with it.”
Riding: [To Mr. Ritchie] This may be a real non-movie-person’s question: This was the first time you directed your wife in love scenes, and watched her making out with somebody else. Is it an issue, or is it just a dumb layman’s question?
Ritchie: No, it’s not. It is an issue.
Madonna: You don’t really see it as making out and watching it.
Ritchie: No, you don’t. It only appeared as though you see a lot of making out. There actually isn’t much of that.
Madonna: That was the only tension.
Ritchie: It was a bit of rolling around in the sand.
Madonna: We saved the physical stuff to the very end of the shooting. And I think everyone expected, like, bombs to go off. The whole crew was waiting for Guy’s head to explode off of his body.
Ritchie: I directed the whole scene from about three feet away, with a very sharp stick.
Madonna: He did, yes, a very sharp stick [laughs].
Riding: And was Adriano intimidated?
Madonna: Yes, he was. We were all intimidated. We were all terrified.
Ritchie: Including me.
Madonna: Truth be told, yes, they were all difficult. The whole thing was weird, because, after all, he’s my husband and he’s the only person I make love to. But you know what? I’m a professional, and I got through it.
Riding: But you’ve done so-called sex scenes…
Madonna: I wasn’t married, though.
Riding: And you didn’t have a husband or a partner breathing…
Madonna: This is true. But those scenes are always very awkward and not any fun. It’s strange to suddenly find yourself in intimate situations with someone you don’t know.
Riding: Did you and Mr. Ritchie find yourselves trying to please each other, or to prove to each other that you could actually work together?
Madonna: I can only speak for myself. I wanted him to know that I was a professional, and I wanted him to think I was a good actress. So in that sense I was interested in pleasing him, sure. But I mean, when he comes to see my play, he’s the only person that makes me nervous, because I want to please him. I want him to be impressed. I don’t know, maybe that’s what happens when you’re in love with someone. Or maybe that’s what happens when you’re just immature, which is what I probably am. I’m not sure.
Riding: Guy, you haven’t made a lot of films and you’re young. Were you trying to prove something?
Ritchie: Not particularly, no. I mean, the truth is, I hope I know what I’m doing.
Madonna: Yes, but one always sets out with wanting to do a good job.
Ritchie: Yeah, but I’m confident. And that’s all you can be. And if somebody’s got a better idea than me, I listen to it. But we made up our minds that that’s what we’re going to do. I try not to let insecurity get in the way. And I appreciate I might get out of my depth sometimes.
Madonna: He’s sort of removed from all those things, in the moment. In the moment, I’m much more aware of that sort of thing, because I have had the pressure of the public eye for almost 20 years. I’m aware of people’s judgment much more than he is. So maybe we have very different personalities in that way. I’m in the moment and he’s a delayed-response kind of person.
Riding: Obviously the experience has been good enough for you to want to…
Madonna: We’re still speaking to each other.
Riding: You would do it again if the occasion arose?
Riding: And are there any particular lessons you’ve learned from it?
Madonna: Oh, God, thousands. Thousands. Lessons about life in general. I learned a lot about humility and patience, keeping my mouth shut.
Riding: Just because you were working with him, or because of the role?
Madonna: It wasn’t just when we were working, because there was a time when the day is wrapped and we went home. And when we were having our husband-and-wife time or our time with our family, there were times I wanted to talk about the film. Then I thought, Better not to do it. I had to figure out what was a good time, when to keep my mouth shut. And there would be times when I was angry with him about stuff in our personal life, and I had to let it go when we were on the set. So I learned about restriction and patience, and not just getting my way and having it out when I wanted to do it, which is the kind of person I am.
Riding: If there isn’t a husband or some other restriction around, do you usually behave like a diva?
Madonna: No, I don’t. Absolutely not.
Ritchie: Yes, contrary to what people’s perception is of her. She’s not a diva at all to work with. Having been around her in environments other than the ones I was in charge of, I’ve never thought of her as a diva in any respect.
Madonna: No, I like to be a team player. All the projects I do are collaborations. And I want to solicit the opinions and help of other people. I’m not interested in being the one in charge.
Riding: Guy, how have you adjusted to marrying this icon who sets off mass hysteria wherever she appears? You had to become a recluse like her to be able to be together.
Ritchie: It suits me perfectly well. I’m happy about it, really, on the whole. Strangely enough, I’m not quite sure how it’s affected us. Because we make it our business…
Madonna: To be low key anyway.
Ritchie: …to be low key anyway. And we make it our business to buy the right houses, that are inaccessible. So no photographers hang around, because they know there’s no pictures. Consequently, we can live a pretty normal life. And I get around on my own. I take my bicycle pretty much everywhere.
It’s curious, though. I mean, she’s obviously extremely famous. But she’s over that, and I think she got over that probably about 19 years ago. And I probably got over that…
Madonna: — 19 minutes ago. No, I’m just kidding. I’m incredibly grateful that I have an audience, and that people are interested and excited about what I do. But I don’t get life off of it. And I can almost step back and view it…
Madonna: As a third person. You know, look out and go, “Wow, this isn’t me.”
Ritchie: You can, you can. She’s in a privileged position of being so famous that she can almost see the: forgive me for saying so, darling: but the absurdity of fame in general.
Madonna: Oh, yeah.
Ritchie: The absurdity of fame and how disproportionate it is.
Madonna: It’s not about almost. I do. It’s a strange thing. And I’m not bitter about it or anything. It’s just a peculiar, interesting phenomenon. And I’m not the only famous person, and I see that people behave that way with other people, and I find it all very interesting, very interesting. It’s all strange.
Riding: Was it a big concession for you to come to England to live with Guy?
Madonna: Yes and no. I mean, I hemmed and hawed about it for a bit. The thing is, I like London. I’ve grown to like it a lot more. But it is a long way away from where I’m from and my friends and my family.
Riding: Who are in Los Angeles?
Madonna: Mostly. New York, L.A., and my father lives in Michigan. But that’s just something that I’ve accepted. Sometimes you make sacrifices and you make compromises, and I’m sure there’ll be chunks of time where we live in America. We still have a house in L.A., and I’m sure we’ll take turns and go back and forth. But right now I feel comfortable here. I can live anywhere, to tell you the truth.
Riding: [To Mr. Ritchie] You didn’t feel ready to move to the United States: is that when this all arose?
Madonna: Well, he’s just not as generous as I am, let’s face it [laughs].
Ritchie: You know, I don’t know.
Riding: Obviously your career is at a different stage. If your career progresses, at a certain point you’ll make…
Ritchie: Not necessarily. It doesn’t work like that any longer. It used to be that if you wanted to get ahead you would go and live in L.A. But it doesn’t work like that anymore.
Madonna: In fact, his films are made everywhere now.
Ritchie: Some of them you make here.
Madonna: Most of them are made digitally postproduction-wise. I mean, very much of it is not even done on location anymore. You could do it anywhere.
Riding: So I don’t hear too much of a sort of getting ready yet to…
Madonna: …move to America? As it stands we’re going to America in a week for a couple of months.
Riding: Does that excite you?
Madonna: Yes, very much. Because the other thing is, I don’t know how to drive on the wrong side of the road yet, and I like taking my life into my own hands. In America I can drive and go walk by myself and do things. And I can’t do that here. I don’t know how to get around yet, and I can’t drive on that side of the car yet. So it makes me feel a bit trapped in that respect. I feel like a real grown-up when I go back to L.A. and I jump in the car and drive myself. And I’m completely alone. At the end of the day, it’s what you know, it’s what you’re familiar with. Maybe America seems like a warmer place to me because I know it better.
Riding: Guy, is it true that you are a genuinely modern man who can cook?
Madonna: Yes. He can cook. And I can’t. But we just got a cook, because we have two children and we realized that they couldn’t keep eating hot dogs. But Guy likes to cook when he has free time and he enjoys…
Ritchie: When was the last time I cooked? Last time I cooked was about six months ago.
Madonna: That’s not true. Guy, you like to cook, and don’t fib. People aren’t going to think you’re less macho.
Ritchie: That’s fine, I do like to cook.
There’s no problem with cooking, but I never cook.
Madonna: Before we got the cook, for instance, when I was pregnant, he cooked all the time. But now that we have a cook he hardly cooks. But sometimes he says, “Send the cook home so I can cook.” We can have privacy and he can just fry fish in the kitchen.
Ritchie: Otherwise the meals are too perfect. I like having some imperfect meals: just mustard-up what’s in the fridge, you know?
Riding: Well, there is obviously an intimacy and informality. And it gives you yet another reason to admire him.
Madonna: Yeah, as if there’s any room…
Ritchie: I’m not sure how admirable my cooking is.
Madonna: …if there’s any room for another reason to admire him [laughs].
© New York Times