You seem to have a strange relationship with your brother Martin. Is he an alcoholic?
“Martin is a very hard person to get along with. He’s an elusive, enigmatic character. He’s very charming but, yes, he is an alcoholic. I adore him, he’s really wonderful and everything but it’s hard to be close to anybody in that situation because you never know what’s real and what isn’t. He’s very tortured and I speak to him but it’s very hard for me, because I find myself being very judgmental. What I always do is start saying, You’ve got to stop doing this, you must do this. The mother thing again. In Alcoholics Anonymous it’s called a co-dependent. You get into this thing of dealing with their drinking by harping on about it all the time. I’ve had to get him out of the habit of calling me whenever he needs something from me. I have to feel that he loves me for just me and not for my money.
Families are funny things. You don’t choose them…
“You certainly don’t!” she smiles. “All of my brothers and sisters are individually … unique. I have completely different relationships with all of them. Emotionally we’re all pretty needy in some way because of my mother. I became an overachiever to get approval from the world. It’s unconscious but it’s always there.”
The most moving part of the film is where you visit your mother’s grave.
“I still cry when I watch that,” she says, blinking rapidly. “It was the single most … the greatest event in my life, my mother dying. What happened when I was six years old, changed forever how I am. I can’t describe in words the effect it had. That’s when the die was cast. I know if I’d had a mother I would be very different. It gave me a lot of what are traditonally looked upon as masculine traits in terms of my ambitiousness and my aggressiveness. Mothers, I think, teach you manners and gentleness and a certain kind of … what’s the word? I don’t want to say subservience but a patience. Which I’ve never had. Then, when my mother died, all of a sudden I was going to become the best student, get the best grades. I was going to become the best singer, the best dancer, the most famous person in the world, everybody was going to love me. I’ve been to analysis and I understand that about myself. My brother, on the other hand, decided he was going to set fire to everything.”
Being cynical, the visit to the grave could have been contrived, choreographed for the camera.
“It wasn’t choreographed in the least,” she says with a withering glare. “I hadn’t been to the grave in many years. Actually, it took us 45 minutes to find it. It was very sad in a way; we just could not find the gravestone. Then … we found it.”
When, in the film, you visit a throat specialist and the doctor asks you whether you want the consultation filmed. Warren Beatty says, “She doesn’t want to live off camera, much less talk.” Is there a grain of truth in that?
“I think what Warren’s trying to say,” she laughs, “is that he is very shy and private and he doesn’t understand my lack of inhibition because he’s the opposite of me. What’s so intimate about my throat? I mean, my God, everyone knows when I’m having an abortion, when I’m getting married, when I’m getting divorced, who I’m breaking up with. My throat is now itimate? Anyway, the cameras didn’t follow me around 24 hours a day. They weren’t in the room when I was fucking.”
That’s an almost surprising omission.
“But the point of that scene is that it serves to show how different Warren and I are,” she continues patiently. “He lives a very isolated life. I maintain that as much as I’ve revealed about myself, I haven’t given up my complete deck of cards and been totally emotionally raped.”
Were you upset that the Vatican objected to your stage show?
“The Italians, typically, overreacted,” she says, rolling her eyes. “They said all the religious imagery and symbolism was really sacriligious, that there were men in bras and I was masturbating on stage. So they put all this propaganda in the Italian newspapers to try and put kids off coming. It really hurt me because I’m Italian, you know? It was like a slap in the face. I felt incredibly unwelcome there. And misunderstood.”
Did it make you reappraise your Catholic beliefs?
“No,” she sniffs dismissively. “I’ve always known that Catholicism is a completely sexist, repressed, sin-and-punishment-based religion. I’ve already fallen out of love with Catholicism.”
When was the last time you went to Mass?
“I go to church once in a while,” she says cautiously. “I love the rituals, particularly of Catholicism, and the architecture of grand, beautiful churches and the mysteriousness of it all, especially if they say the Mass in Latin, which they hardly ever do now; and the incense and the classical organ music. It’s a beautiful ritual but often the messages are not so beautiful.”
Did you think your stage show was shocking? How would you feel if you went to see George Michael and he pretended to masturbate on stage? Would that upset you?
“It would depend on the context,” she says, attempting to imagine the unsavoury spectacle. “It’s hard to say, isn’t it? I don’t do any of those things without humour. It’s a bit difficult for me to see someone like Michael Jackson grabbing his crotch and humping the ground simply because I feel that he’s a very androgynous person. I don’t believe him. So it would depend how it’s used.”
The song in your show that attracted most controversy was Like A Virgin. You’ve always claimed that was about a newness, a freshness, but obviously you were aware of the song’s ambiguity.
“Weeeell,” she laughs, “there’s many meanings to it. That’s what I like about everything. I like innuendo, I like irony, I like the way things can be taken on different levels. But yes. Like A Virgin was always absolutely ambiguous.”
At one point during your live performance of Like A Virgin – where you romp on a harem-styled bed – the simulated masturbation suddenly changed into something that didn’t seem quite so simulated.
“Did it?” she asks with mock innocence. “Yeah, I guess it did. The idea was to make it funny and serious. Passion and sexuality and religion all bleed into each other for me. I think that you can be a very sexual person and also a very religious and spiritual person. I think I’m religious in the broadest sense of the word and I am very sexual in that I’m very aware of my sexuality and other peopie’s and very interested in it. Not in the sense that I want to go out and fuck everything that moves. So I’m a very sexual, very spiritual person. What’s the problem? People’s sexuality and the way they relate to the world is very important.”