Last year you took nine months to do the David Mamet play ‘Speed-the-Plow’ on Broadway. Yet, if we’re to believe your crack on the David Letterman show last July, you hated the experience.
Oh, but I love it, too. I hated to love it, and I loved to hate it. It was just grueling, having to do the same thing every night, playing a character who is so unlike me. I didn’t have a glamorous or flamboyant part; I was the scapegoat. That’s one of the things that attracted me to it. Still, night after night, that character failed in the context of the play. [Madonna essayed the role of a manipulative, possibly altruistic and ultimately beaten Hollywood secretary on the make.] To continue to fail each night and to walk off that stage crying, with my heart wrenched … It just got to me after a while. I was becoming as miserable as the character I played. So when I did the David Letterman show, it was very much toward the end of the run, and I really was marking off days on the calendar!
Your character withstood epic verbal abuse from the Ron Silver and Joe Mantegna characters. Had you been playing yourself, wouldn’t you have just punched their lights out?
Absolutely, I would have. So many times I wanted to smack Ron Silver. I wouldn’t have taken their shit after two minutes in the office. I wouldn’t have had a job, if it was me up there.
What kind of material do you find yourself drawn to? Weren’t you interested in acquiring film rights to a novel called ‘Velocity’?
Oh, yeah! It’s a great story. The girl who wrote the book, Kristin McCloy, told me that when she wrote it, the two pictures she had on the wall by her desk were of the Dalai Lama and of me. She wrote it with me in mind. I couldn’t put the book down. It really moved me. The story is about a woman whose mother dies, and she goes back home to try to develop a relationship with her father that she’d never had. It’s very strained – and I can relate to that. And in the midst of this, she falls in love with someone who is all wrong for her – and I can relate to that. She doesn’t get the guy in the end. But she becomes very close with her father. It’s very touching.
How’re you getting along with your father these days? Do you understand each other?
Yes, we get along very well right now. I mean, it’s been up and down. You know, my father is not an incredibly verbal man, and that’s been my frustration. He doesn’t really express himself. And more than anything, I want my father’s approval, whether I want to admit it or not. But he’s always been very affectionate with me. I have a million different feelings about my father, but mostly I love him to death. What’s difficult for my father is the idea that I don’t need him. But I do need him.
Has he been able to comfort you lately?
Yes, absolutely. I can confide in my father. It wasn’t that I couldn’t before, but I didn’t want to. For years, I resented him. You see, when my mother died, I attached myself to my father. He was my only parent. So I felt in many ways that my stepmother stole him from me. I felt deserted. All my life I harbored that resentment. For five years after I left home, in fact, I barely spoke to him. But we’ve made our way back into each other’s lives. Whenever I need him, he’s there for me.
Do you think about death much?
Yes, but in spurts. Sometimes I just assume I’m going to live forever. I don’t want to die. It’s the ultimate unknown. I don’t want to go to the dark beyond. I want to stay where I know where everything is.
Had she not died, what kind of role do you think your mother would have in your life right now?
If she were alive, I would be someone else. I would be a completely different person. I have to be careful sometimes. When someone dies and the years go by, you tend to make them into something they’re not.
The song “Promise to Try” on the new album is about letting go of that. It’s about a yearning to have her in my life but also about trying to accept the fact she’s not. As in the lyric “Don’t let memory play games with your mind/She’s a faded smile frozen in time.” Yes, I wish, but it’s not going to be. I do talk to her often. I mean. I always have. I don’t know if she can hear me or not, but I tell her things that a girl can only say to her mother. Private things.
What kind of mother do you think you’ll be?
Very affectionate, but probably domineering – maybe too domineering. And I’ll have to acquire patience, but I think when you go through the nine months of pregnancy, you learn to be patient. I would love to have a child. But you’ve got to have a family first… Can’t do it by yourself. But it’s definitely up high on the list of things to do.
Maybe you noticed this already, but a number of songs on the new album have sort of anti-male themes.
[Surprised] Well, gee, I never thought of that. This album definitely does have a very strong feminine point of view. Hmmm. I’ve had some painful experiences with men in my life, just as I’ve had some incredible experiences. Maybe I’m representing more of the former than the latter. I certainly don’t hate men. No, no, no! Couldn’t live without them!
Are you a good women’s friend?
Yes. I used to think I had more men friends than women friends, but over the last few years – especially since I got married – I’ve nurtured a lot more female relationships. My mother’s death was the catalyst in this, because I didn’t have any strong female role models as I was growing up I was the oldest girl and kind of took care of everyone. So I thought I really didn’t need women. I didn’t really look for it.
Your Letterman appearance with your friend Sandra Bernhard was history-making television. I understand it was your ideas that you two dress identically that night.
To dress alike? Definitely. Whenever we would meet up for dinner or whatever, we were constantly showing up in the same or very similar clothes. So then, when we decided that I’d go on the show with her, I just thought we should follow through with that. In retrospect, it was all a little mysterious to me why that was so interesting to everyone. We were just having fun, which is what I always do with Sandra. She’s a gas. I felt totally comfortable out there.