With the sexcapades, scandals and wild times behind her, pop’s former boy toy tackles the roles of adoring mother and mature woman in love – by Jim Jerome
This is Lola,” Madonna announces as Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon bounds into the sitting room of her mother’s four-story mansion, a reported $ 15,000-a-month rented home in Kensington, London, where the singer is currently recording her 13th album. “No,” the wide-eyed 3-year-old declares. “I’m an alien.” Madonna scoops up Lourdes (whom she always calls by her nickname, Lola) for a kiss and a hug and joyfully enters her world of make-believe. When Lourdes tells Madonna she’s wearing “alien gloves” with magic powers, Mom uses them to turn her daughter first into a princess, then a frog, then back into a princess. Madonna now wants her little girl to return the favor: “Can you turn me into something?” she asks.
By most accounts she already has. Lourdes, whose father is Madonna’s ex-lover Carlos Leon, has transformed Madonna into her most fulfilling role yet–adoring single mother — after 17 years of restless shape-shifting across the pop-culture landscape. At 41, her body–in a clingy, black Chloe T-shirt and teal-blue Maharishi cargo pants is supple and taut from Ashtanga yoga, and she radiates serene contentment. “She’s so much calmer, so much more centered than she used to be,” says talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, a friend of Madonna’s since the two starred in the 1992 comedy A League of Their Own. And while Lourdes is one reason for Madonna’s joyful reinvention, the other may be the singer’s boyfriend, British direct or Guy Ritchie. According to O’Donnell, the bonds with Lourdes and Ritchie are hardly unrelated. “Madonna fell in love with her daughter, and that taught her how to fall in love for real,” she says. “When you’re ready, it comes to you. She’s definitely ready. I’ve never seen her happier. Lola has helped her to become more grounded, to leave the star part behind.”
Perhaps, but Madonna still gets equal billing in her new film The Next Best Thing, a comedy costarring her real-life close friend Rupert Everett. The movie’s soundtrack includes her remake of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” currently a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. Meanwhile her 1999 single “Beautiful Stranger,” which she co-wrote for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, won for best song written for motion picture, television or other visual medium at last month’s Grammy Awards. Not surprisingly. Madonna is no beautiful stranger to A-list shindigs. Fashion magazine W ranks her a heady No. 3 among America’s most covered party guests — behind Bill and Melinda Gates and Prince William.
But there’s only so much vintage champagne and air kissing a material girl can take. “I’ve changed and I’ve grown up,” says Madonna. “Having a child has made me a lot more sensitive, more responsible, a lot more aware of my actions and my words. I’m probably a better girlfriend … I was much more selfish and self-involved before.” Nor, she claims, does she now feel the need to shock: “I’ve gone through all my sexual rebellion and don’t need to do it anymore. I worked it out of my system, it’s pretty safe to say.”
Still, The Next Best Thing will undoubtedly push buttons. Onscreen she plays a yoga instructor eager for a partner and a baby. After the instructor and her gay friend (Everett) tumble tipsily into bed one lovelorn night, she winds up pregnant. Assuming he’s the dad, they raise a son together until she falls for a straight man (played by Benjamin Bratt), with whom she wants to raise the child. “The movie,” says Madonna, “resonates with me because I do have a child and my daughter has an incredible relationship with her father–and I can’t imagine either of us not having access to her.”
Guy Ritchie, 31, has not yet assumed second-daddy status in Lourdes’s life, but he has won her mom’s heart. Ritchie, who met Madonna in England at a luncheon given by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, two years ago, directed the 1999 indie film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and his next film, Snatch’d, with Brad Pitt, is a jewel-heist thriller, due later this year. Asked if she is in love, Madonna pauses, then nods: “Yes. It’s excellent. It’s a serious relationship. I have an enormous amount of respect for him as a person, his work, his talent. He’s very bright.” Their romance sparked, faded, then resumed after her return to London last fall. It has been, she says, a slow dance. “It was not right away,” she says. “I like that. I’m into long courtships now.”
When pressed about possible nuptials, Madonna, who divorced Sean Penn in 1989 after four often stormy years, bristles. “I don’t know about that,” she says. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. If we get to it. Can’t go there.”