Material girl auteur

2012-01-14 08:40

Named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most powerful women of the 20th century, Madonna is in a league of her own.

Having sold more than 300 million records worldwide, she is also the undisputed Queen of Pop. But she is not only a global pop star, she is also a smart business woman.

Using her iconic popularity to her advantage, Madonna has written children’s books, brought out fashion lines, and starred in movies.

However, she has never been taken seriously as an actress, and people tend to forget that in 1996 she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in Evita.

This year Madonna reaches a new milestone in her film career, directing W.E. The impressively fit and stunningly beautiful 53-year-old also managed to get her latest celluloid effort into three A-list festivals in a row: Venice, Toronto, and London.

The film is a take on the infamous love story of King Edward VIII of England who abdicated to be with the love of his life – a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.

In the months leading up to this interview, it became apparent how tough it would be to get an appointment with Madonna – a bit like getting an audience with the queen.

She has a well-oiled team matching her every step that performs a background check prior to every meeting she gets asked to do.

With an entourage of more than 15 it almost feels like a royal household is following the queen wherever she goes.

But as soon as Madonna enters the suite of Toronto’s luxurious Hyatt Regency Hotel for our interview, her reputation as a control freak with a tendency for extravagant demands vanishes in seconds.

Madonna is funny, incredibly charming, and astonishingly open.

The obvious first question is, why this story?

“The story of the abdication is a pretty insane one. That a man would give up the throne for the woman he loves? Can you think of another time in history when that happened? I think that’s what initially drew me to the story. I love that time period in general, the 20s and the 30s, and I’ve always been interested in pre-war England.”

Madonna goes on to say that her fascination with Edward and Simpson began when she married Guy Ritchie and moved to the island state.

“I didn’t know anybody, and I found myself in a strange world, so I decided I was going to educate myself and find out about the history and culture of this world. So I started studying English history. I started reading about the monarchy, starting with Henry VIII and I worked myself all the way up to the Windsor family.”

She says before she started her self-taught history lessons, her knowledge of the affair was little more than a sound bite, but when she got to that story, she says, she became transfixed by it. “I felt that there was something kind of Shakespearean about it.”

Asked if she herself would sacrifice her position at the top of pop’s pile for love, the Material Girl gets philosophical.

“I think it’s important to understand that in a relationship, or with love in general, you’re going to have to give up something and you’re going to have to make compromises. I think I do make sacrifices for love. I think when you have children you make a lot of sacrifices for them and I’ve given up many things for them in my life now that I couldn’t conceive of having done in the past.

 I gave up my time with my children for the love of my film. I give up lots of things for love. But we live in a different time than Edward and Wallis, so we have the luxury and the ability to be able to do different things – have careers, families, and love – but it’s a juggling act. He was a man who walked away from that for love, so for a romantic like me, I would say ‘Wow, to be loved like that’.”

One of the film’s noteable differences from many others about the affair is that Simpson is portrayed in a far more positive light, which Madonna says she did consciously.

“She was accused of all sorts of things – from being a Nazi to being a witch or sorceress with magic powers who could put a spell on somebody – and I suddenly saw a pattern that we have in society. When women have some kind of power and we don’t understand them, we have to diminish them by turning them into heretics and burning them at the stake, so to speak.”

As a powerful woman herself, Madonna is in a unique position to understand how people react to it and to understand the way history and social opinion are unkind to women in authority. “I think that people often misunderstand my power and are intimidated by it. So rather than investigate or research or try and understand me . . . I think we all do it.”

Part of the burden is being thrust into the role of mentor. “I am aware that everything I say and do is judged with a different measuring stick than most people and that I’m under the magnifying glass more than most people. I can also use that for the greater good. I know that I can influence people.”

As far as making her own films goes, Madonna had two very good filmmakers to learn from – her ex-husbands, Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie.

“I watched closely what both of them did, with Sean as an actor and a director and with Guy as a director. With Sean I saw the importance of rehearsal and preparation – doing as much work as you can before you get to the set.

“Guy is a much more visual director and he takes a lot of chances and risks when it comes to camera moves a
nd things like that. He breaks the rules. I learned a lot from him in that aspect.”

Though nervous about how people might react to her film, which has garnered two Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Soundtrack and Best Original Song, she says it was a challenge she was game for and that she made for an audience she hopes it finds. “Let’s be honest, one doesn’t put all this hard work and effort into something and then say, ‘I don’t care if people see it or not. I don’t care if people like it or not.’ I hope it finds its audience.”

The film, which opens in South Africa in April, explores the theme of perfection and how looking beneath the surface is the only way to know someone.

Madonna says living her life in the spotlight gives her a unique insight into Simpson’s character.

“I think I possibly had an insight into her character that other directors wouldn’t have, because I know what it’s like to be reduced to a sound bite.

“I think there is an obsession with celebrity and I think people mistake seeing a photograph of somebody in their backyard playing on the swings with their children as some kind of actual intimacy. You don’t really get to know a person that way, because their lives have been intruded upon. It’s an illusion.

“I think the royal family in the 30s and 40s were the stars of their day. Edward liked to dress in a certain way and his father was always screaming at him about wearing bright colored socks and clad suits. He would ride horses too fast and drive too fast and have affairs with married women and drink Benzedrine cocktails. But even now there is a crazy obsession with the royals.”

However, Madonna says that while she has loved the experience of making W.E. she won’t be hanging up her microphone anytime soon.

“I have already started making my next record and I’m very excited about it. I love writing music and I love making music. I’d like to do both music and filmmaking, just not at the same time.”

» The Golden Globes are on MM1 on DStv at 3am tomorrow and on M-Net at 8pm 

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