“Madonna is a movie star without a movie,” says Barry Diller, the chairman and C.E.O. of Fox and another Hollywood mogul smitten by her talent and charm, “She’s such a movie star, in fact, that I’d say she’s got a good ten years to find the right movie to prove it.
You want to know why she’s such a movie star? Because she’s incapable of doing anything that’s not interesting. If she’s in a photograph, it’s interesting. If she sings a song, it’s interesting. Her videos — all interesting.”
“I think I’ve always behaved as if I were a star,” Madonna says. “Since I was a child I have behaved as if somebody owed me something. And I don’t think it was a trait many people appreciated. Rightly so. I think I was incredibly precocious and a pain in the ass and loud. I guess it’s easier to get away with all those things when you’ve achieved something.”
If Dick Tracy is the film that expands her stardom to the constellation of films, it may trap her into being a musical-movie star — which she would probably find too confining. (She was initially talked about for two different roles in Coppola’s Godfather III, longs to work with Scorsese, and predicts that she will play a character named Lola in a David Lynch film.) Yet there is a musical void to be filled. Streisand, our last great musical star, has forsaken the form in recent years. Madonna would have been brilliant, for example, in the title role of Evita. In fact, she was offered the part before Meryl Streep ever had the chance to back out of it.
“I didn’t audition. I was asked to do it,” she says. “I met with [director] Oliver Stone. Obviously I had reservations about it because the music needs updating. It would be a very difficult movie to make. I basically was totally kept in the dark as to what direction it was going to take — was it going to be an operetta, a musical with dialogue, a straight drama?
Because there were so many questions unanswered for me and there were too many cooks in the kitchen between Oliver Stone and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Robert Stigwood — who are all fabulous misogynists, I might add — I decided against it.
They were all butting heads. Then I came in, I said to Olivet once that I was interested in working with Andrew and writing some new songs, and he was appalled that I would even suggest such a thing. I think in the end Oliver just thought I was going to be a huge pain in the butt. Ultimately he wanted me to sign a contract saying, Yes, I will do this, before I ever saw a script or really knew what was going to happen. And I said I just can’t do that. I’ve made too many mistakes in the movie business”
“She’s smart, too,” says Diller.
But can she act?
“I don’t think she’s a great actress,” says casting director Billy Hopkins, who worked on Desperately Seeking Susan and her Broadway try, David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, “But she has something that has enabled her to stay in the forefront of people’s minds for six, seven years. I was at a dinner party the other night and Cyndi Lauper’s name came up.
Now, Cyndi Lauper is probably a very nice girl, but she seems like a has-been to me. Not Madonna. She just has something that nobody else has, and is smart enough to recognize it and utilize it. She’s got street smarts.”
“It is not her habit to lie,” says Gregory Mosher, who directed her in Speed-the-Plow. “Her habit is to be truthful. And that is the essence of being an actor — to tell the truth in imaginary circumstances. She tells the truth in her life. In her dancing. In her lyrics. And she never apologizes. I love her straightforwardness. lt’s like breaking the tension in church.”
She’s certainly straightforward about her experience on Broadway. “It was a real mind—fuck of a script. Brilliant, but confusing. My part ended up being a plot manipulation. But at first I saw her as an angel of mercy who was coming down to save everybody. Little did I know that David Mamet and Greg Mosher and everybody else involved saw me as a vixen, a dark, evil spirit. That didn’t dawn on me till halfway through rehearsals, when David kept changing my lines to make me more and more a bitch, a ruthless, conniving little witch. So in the middle of this process I was devastated that my idea of the character wasn’t what she was at all. That was a really upsetting experience. It was like getting trampled on every night.
Mamet is a stubborn man – he is not interested in collaborating… I think he’s interested in fascism. ”
“A Mussolini with a sense of meter?”
“But he’s a charming man.”
Not everyone is enamored of Madonna’s own charm
“I know she understands talented people, but she has trouble accepting most people as simply people,” says someone who was once a part of her support system. “She sucks what she needs out of somebody, then moves on to the next set of victims. She surrounds herself with people who can support her, then stomps on them. A lot of people turn out to be her casualties. She’s a tough egg. Now she’s surrounded herself with Sandra Bernhard and Warren Beatty and that bunch. She – must be sharpening those teeth down to a – nice set of fangs.”
Her friend Karole Armitage was the latest casualty to feel the bite of those fangs. Though those around Armitage were upset that the choreographer was rather undiplomatically dismissed from Madonna’s upcoming tour, Armitage herself is quite the diplomat about it all. “Our parting was amicable. It’s disappointing, but Madonna’s vision is so strong there was no room for me.”
“I’m a brat, for sure,” Madonna gladly admits. “But I don’t travel in a pack.”
“Yeah, since Sean was already associated with the Brat Pack moniker out here in L.A. for his boy bunch, we had to come up with another one for her and Sandra and all those girls they hang with,” says the insider. “We’ve come up with one: The Snatch Batch.”
Much of Madonna’s “bad” behavior is simply what some would consider vulgar, and can be traced to her exploits with Bernhard. Whether staging belching contests at restaurants or coyly going into Beatty’s bedroom at his Fourth of July party and donning his underwear before going for a dip in his pool in front of all the other guests, the two of them love to push the boundaries of polite etiquette.