It is the day after the canceled performance, and yesterday’s bitter weather has given way to clear skies and a mild, warm wind. Madonna sits at the dining table in her hotel penthouse, wearing a tailored black suit with dark-gray stripes and munching steadily on some sort of greenish health nuts. She says she did not sleep much the night before – perhaps because 300 Japanese fans kept an all-night vigil outside the hotel, occasionally chanting her name – and in an hour, she is scheduled to leave for Korakuen Stadium to begin the sound check for this evening’s concert. For the moment, though, she sits picking through her health kernels and tries to account for her intense appeal to the Japanese.
“I think I stand for a lot of things in their minds,” she says. “You know, a lot of kinds of stereotypes, like the whole sex-goddess image and the blonde thing. But mainly I think they feel that most of my music is really, really positive, and I think that they appreciate that, particularly the women. I think I stand for everything that they’re really taught to not be, so maybe I provide them with a little bit of encouragement.”
Madonna runs her fingers through her blonde tufts and smiles. For a person who hasn’t slept much, she looks radiant. Indeed, the star quality that was so transfixing the night before at the restaurant is just as evident in casual circumstances. There’s nothing star conscious or affected in her manner. If anything, Madonna frequently seems indifferent to her own mystique, more bemused than imperious about it. Those who come in close contact with her not only have to adjust to the resonance of her beauty and fame – which can be considerable – but also to all those past images that her beauty echoes. There are moments when Madonna can recall Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich or Jean Harlow – blonde legends with whom she clearly shares a bit of aura and purpose.
In any event, to observe Madonna is clearly to consider a star of the times, a star, in fact, who seems to be growing bigger and bigger with every move. In four years, she’s had more than a dozen smash singles. And by the end of the Who’s That Girl Tour, she will have performed before nearly 2 million spectators on three continents, in what may be the most elaborately staged large-scale pop revue to date – and reportedly for more money per show (perhaps as much as $500,000) than any other entertainer in show-business history.
“I swore after my last tour I wasn’t going to do another,” she says. ” That whole living-out-of-a-suitcase business – I don’t know how Bruce Springsteen does it; I could never go on tour for a year. I told my manager the only way I would do the tour is if I could make it interesting for myself. Because that was the challenge: being able to make a show interesting in a stadium, where you’re not supposed to be interesting, where it’s like just this beg mega-show, real impersonal. I wanted to make it really personal, even though people would be sitting really far away from me. And I think that’s what we’ve managed to do.”
Besides the tour, Madonna is currently appearing in her third feature film, a neo-screwball romp titled (what else?) Who’s That Girl?. It borrows heavily from the spirit and plots of some of the singer’s favorite classic comedies, principally Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby and Preston Sturges’s The Lady Eve. The film may be a bit too modern-manic to live up to its sources, but as Nikki Finn – a streetwise woman wrongly convicted of murder and hell-bent on vindication – Madonna turns into a cunningly dizzy, often affecting portrayal that not only works as an homage to her favorite actress, Judy Holliday (“She could really come off as being dumb,” Madonna says, “but she knew exactly what was going on”), but also has inspired speculation in Hollywood that Madonna may become one of the most bankable new actresses of the decade.
“The project,” she says, “was brought to me by Jamie Foley, who directed it and who knew I’d wanted to do a comedy for a long time. The script needed some work, but there was just something about the character – the contrasts in her nature, how she was tough on one side and vulnerable on the other – that I thought I could take and make my own.”
Beyond Who’s That Girl, Madonna is set to star in an updated remake of the Marlene Dietrich film The Blue Angel (to be produced by Diane Keaton and directed by Alan Parker). Beyond that, she is currently considering producing several other movies, including an Alfred Hitchcock-style thriller and a film version of Lorrie Moore’s novel Anagrams. All this activity has led some observers to wonder how deeply committed Madonna is to her singing career. Madonna, though, sees a similarity in what she’s doing with her two careers.
“Acting is fun for me,” she says, “because, well…for most people, music is a very personal statement, but I’ve always liked to have different characters that I project. I feel that I projected a very specific character for Like A Virgin and that whole business and then created a much different character for my third album. The problem is, in the public’s mind, you are your image, your musical image, and I think that those characters are only extensions of me. There’s a little bit of you in every character that you do. I think I had something in common with Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, and I think I have a lot in common with Nikki Finn in Who’s That Girl, but it’s not me. Still, I wouldn’t have been attracted to her if we didn’t have something in common.”
What is it that she and Nikki Finn have in common?
“Nikki? Um, she’s courageous, and manipulative.” Madonna pauses and giggles. “And she’s funny, and sweet. That’s enough.” She laughs again, running her hand through her hair.
Isn’t Nikki also terribly misjudged?
“Yes,” says Madonna, with a nod and a smile. “Yes, she is, but she clears her name in the end, and that’s always good to do. Clear your name in the end. But I think I’m continuously doing that with the public.”
Has that ever been a hurtful process – for example, weathering all those unflattering characterizations around the time of “Like A Virgin”?
“At first it was,” she says. “I mean, I was surprised with how people reacted to “Like A Virgin,’ because when I did the song, to me, I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way – brand-new and fresh – and everyone else interpreted it as “I don’t want to be a virgin anymore. Fuck my brains out!’ That’s not what I sang at all.”