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Madonna Interview : Vanity Fair

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1991

And yet the controversies have resulted in huge exposure and even huger profits. “Madonna can turn catastrophes into triumphs,” says Seymour Stein, president of Sire, her record company. “When I saw the ‘Justify My Love’ video, I went, ‘Ohhhhhh.’ I knew there would be problems. But it’s turned out to he the biggest-selling video of its type.”

Which is what usually happens with Madonna. In 1990, Forbes estimated her pre-tax income at $39 million (and her earnings since 1991 at $125 million); her Blond Ambition tour sold out in twenty – seven cities; her concert on HBO was the highest-rated nonsports event ever on that network; and her albums went double-platinum. “But at what cost?” asks Christopher Ciccone, who was also the art director of the Blond Ambition tour. “People who don’t think the controversies and the press affect her are wrong. She doesn’t work up a strategy for all this attention. It’s just who she is and what she does. And there is definitely a cost.”

Which isn’t to say that Madonna has any real regrets. Or, to he exact, “I have so many,” she says, “and I have none. I wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, but, on the other hand, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here.” She pauses. “But, then again, nobody works the way I work.”

It’s that discipline, matched with talent, drive and ambition, that propels her “I have an iron will,” she says, eating her Caesar. “And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody. I still have to prove that Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”

That struggle has a great deal to do with maintaining control, control being Madonna’s primary desire. And these days she’s feeling somewhat out of control. The “Justify My Love” ruckus went much further than she had anticipated, and for most of 1991 she will be making movies, a medium that has been risky for her in the past. Since the beginning of her career, Madonna has longed for movie stardom. It’s a land she has yet to conquer, and there have been some rather stunning missteps along the way — Shanghat Surprise and Who’s That Girl?, for instance. It isn’t clear whether she can successfully play a character other than herself. She is surprisingly self-conscious in movies, although later this year she will star in Evita, directed by Glenn Gordon Caron (who created the TV show Moonlighting), which would seem like perfect casting. In Woody Allen’s latest movie she plays an acrobat, which is a notion that both flatters and frustrates her.

“To me, the whole process of being a brushstroke in someone else’s painting is a little difficult,” Madonna says. “I’m used to being in charge of everything. So on this movie it’s hard for me to shut up and do my job and, well, O.K., I have this stupid little part and I have to sit around on the set and wait all day and then say a few lines and blah. blah, blah… I can feel all the grips and electricians looking at me — I’m painfully aware of it. They don’t see me as an actress, they see me as an icon, and it makes me extremely exhausted.”

Madonna pauses a moment. “Just looking back at the last couple weeks, where I’ve felt completely suicidal and totally unable to sleep. I think I may have teamed some things.” Like patience? “No. I’ll never learn patience. But I’ve learned, watching Woody, how a real artist works. Woody is a master of getting things out of people in a really gentle way. He’s not a tyrant, and that’s good for me to learn because I can be something of a tyrant. In a working situation.” Madonna smiles. “Well,” she says, “in a living situation, too.”

She laughs. She knows that her self-discipline drives people mad, but she also believes that it’s the key to her sanity. And her success. “I’m hardest on myself,” she says with great conviction. And there is a very definite and imposed order in the Madonna universe. For instance, her workouts. “If I have a 7 o’clock call for Woody’s movie, I’ll get up at 4:30 to exercise,” she says. “If I don’t. I’ll never forgive myselt. A lot of people say it’s really sick and an obsession. Warren used to say I exercised to avoid depression. And he thought I should just go ahead and stop exercising and allow myself to be depressed. And I’d say. ‘Warren, I’ll just he depressed about not exercising!’ ”

Madonna takes a sip of white wine. “My whole life is in a constant state of disarray, and the one thing that doesn’t change is the workout. If I had nothing to do. I would stay in the gym forever. It’s a great place to work out aggression, or, if you’re feeling depressed about something, you get on the Lifecycle and you forget it. If you’ve failed in every way in your day, you’ve accomplished one thing — you’ve gotten through your workout and you’re not a total piece of shit.”

And then there are the lists. When she can’t sleep, Madonna makes lists of whom to call, what to do, mapped out in half-hour segments that include slots for personal phone calls — “two hours on the phone every morning or I wouldn’t have any friends” — as well as the business calls to her lawyer, manager, publicist. It’s a ritual that borders on the obsessive. “I never take any time off if I can help it,” says Madonna. “I’ve taken three vacations in the last ten years. All of them lasted about a week, and they were all in some tropical place. My boyfriend or husband at the time would want to go, and I’d agree. Actually, I’d finally give in.”

But even on vacation Madonna is a fiend for order. “I have to schedule everything,” she says. “And that drives everyone I’m with insane. Everyone. They go, ‘Can’t you just wake up in the morning and not plan your day? Can’t you just he spontaneous?’ And I just can’t.”

Madonna laughs and takes a few more bites of salad. A man at a nearby table looks over, stares at her a second, then realizes it’s not Madonna after all. “I need to have an organized life,” she is saying. “And I do. I probably pay a price for that, but this is what I wanted.”

Madonna - Vanity Fair / April 1991

Madonna is perplexed. “Damn it!” she says after a moment’s reflection. “Why can’t I think of my most recent happiest moment?” She stares a second. “0.K. — I know. It could be right after the maid has left for the day. That’s my favorite time in the world. Everything’s perfect — no one’s allowed on the bed, no one’s allowed to drink out of a glass. I don’t want anyone to come over, and I just stand around and look. And I think I’m in a church, that I’m surrounded by holiness. And then it’s destroyed.” Madonna laughs. “So I guess that’s not my happiest moment.”

She thinks some more. “O.K. — my most happiest moment recently was when I went home to visit my family for Christmas. And I was sitting on my father’s lap and a lot of my brothers and sisters were there. And just hanging out and sitting on his lap and feeling like a little girl again. And knowing that I was making my father happy. That was my last happiest moment.”