Madonna has been living in London, off and on, for the last three years now, the biggest imported star the city has seen since Wallis Simpson. She shares a £5.7 million Marble Arch house with her English film-director husband, Guy Ritchie, 34. He is the father of Rocco, who at two is the younger of Madonna’s two children. Her daughter, Lourdes, fathered by Madonna’s former consort Carlos Leon, is six.
London still enchants Madonna. “I love the architecture, I love the gardens — fantastic,” she sap. “I love the way the city looks, minus all the council estates [public housing projects] randomly and profusely built up everywhere.”
Though she now enjoys the benefits of en suite plumbing, London life is not without its privations. If you believe the newspaper reports, the is sporadically at odds with London’s building trades over some renovation matter or another. “You could bribe them, offer all kinds of bonuses,” she says. “But it doesn’t matter what you say: they’re not coming in on the weekend. It’s infuriating if you’re the person who wants the work done quick, but it’s sometimes refreshing that you can’t buy people.”
Post-show small talk turns to the World Cup grudge match between England and Argentina, starting at 7:30 local time the next morning. Since Guy Ritchie is known for laddish enthusiasms, their household will surely be awakening bright and early for the big game. Won’t this be a problem for someone working late nights in the theater?
“I get up early every morning,” Madonna states flatly. “I have a six-year-old child.”
Just as she vacates her dressing room, her Up for Grabs co-star Michael Lerner comes down the stairs, looking for all the world like a cigar-chomping, polo-shirt-wearing American tourist. Madonna hails Lerner, the burly character actor best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Barton Fink’s brash studio chief.
“Michael?” says Madonna to the colleague with whom she built up the “Judi Fucking Dench” in-joke. “Michael — I have to apologize. I’m sorry for dropping a fine out there tonight.” Before Lerner can acknowledge this minor mea culpa. Madonna is upon him. “But listen, Michael. Would you please stop clearing your throat during my speeches? It really throws me off…”
As the stage doors are flung open, exposing the two actors to flashbulb glare and autograph thrust, Madonna continues to make her point, not letting it drop, demonstrating her long-held reputation for perfectionism even amid the public’s clamor. Lerner now looks slightly less comfortable than he did onstage after Madonna’s character buggered him with a jumbo-size dildo.
A couple of weeks after the close of Up for Grabs, limited run, Madonna is holed up in her Beverly Hills home, adjusting to a gentler routine. There were no contractor problems at this address, renovated by Diane Keaton and sold to Madonna two years ago for $6.5 million. Like Madonna’s previous place in the Hollywood Hills, this two-story Spanish-colonial structure was built in the 1920s by Wallace Neff, an architect beloved by Hollywood royalty from Pickford and Fairbanks down through Pitt and Aniston.
Sitting in one of the house’s twin living rooms, beneath oak beams and amid solid, dark-brown furniture, one is imbued with the kind of well-being that only serious cash can bestow. Because of construction work next door, the French doors that let out onto the small, well-manicured front lawn are shut, trapping inside an old-wood aroma that properly evokes the house’s 1926 vintage. The this hint of modernity is a jungle gym that nestles in one corner of the garden, hidden by a stout hedge from the tour-bus gawpers who pass by with disturbing frequency.
Near the entrance to this room, beside a vintage grand piano, stand five acoustic guitars on metal stands. If you didn’t already know that this was Madonna’s house, would you guess? Coffee-table books on Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nan Goldin, and Marlene Dietrich offer good clues, but the tacky Complete Guitar Player Songbook might throw you off. Then again, the art on the walls — a Picasso drawing, a dominant Diego Rivera figure — will put you back on track. The small Frida Kahlo painting My Birth is propped on a shelf. Every Madonna fan knows that she could never be friends with anyone who didn’t like this sanguineous image.
“Ah, my Frida Kahlo,” says Madonna, sweeping into the room. “I carry it with me everywhere in bubble wrap, in a Sainsbury’s [supermarket) plastic bag. Just so no one thinks Its carrying anything valuable.”