Wednesday, September 05, 2007
The Madonna Interview
When I'm traveling, and someone asks me about which celebrities I have interviewed, Madonna is one of the first names I mention. That's because EVERYBODY know who Madonna is. And they generally go "really?" or "no way" or "holy goddamned wow-wow-wow!"
So why not slap this unedited version of the Madonna piece I wrote - following the roundtable interview I partook of while she promoted The Next Best Thing. It wasn't too crowded, maybe a dozen of us at the table, and I got in several questions... She seemed forthcoming. And she really does have an aura, a presence. You felt her coming before she entered the room. It was amazing.
Bummer the movie sucked so darned hard. And she was doing that accent!
Madonna’s Next Thing
Madonna can vogue. She can also Shanti, geisha, pray, writhe, get unconscious, kiss and tell, keep it together… you know the drill, the looks, the fads often imitated by millions. But in The Next Best Thing, directed by John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy), she takes on her most laudable, politically-minded, mature, and socially conscious project yet. The story of a gay man and straight woman who have a baby and face parting when one gets involved with another man, Madonna both acts and spits out two new tunes, including the surprisingly tasty, danceable (!!), William Orbit-produced remake of Don Maclean’s “American Pie.” Whether the kids don what she wears in the film or try out her new, inexplicable “international” accent in casual conversation, however, isn’t the reason she did it, though… or anything else. “What goes through my mind is much more selfish,” she explained. “I always approach every project I do from at first, ‘what am I going to get out of it, learn from it, will it challenge me, is it going to take me to another place, am I going to grow from it?’ It always starts there. I don’t think you can begin being creative by thinking how it’s going to affect other people because that waters it down. Ultimately, the impulse has to come from a pure place.”
In The Next Best Thing, Madonna plays lovelorn Abbie, a yoga-instructing professional who can’t find a decent man. As it happens, she HAS found one – tall, dark, and handsome Robert (Rupert Everett) – but he’s a big ol’ fag. So the two are content to be best friends until, one night, a drunk frolic lands Abbie with a lump in her womb. What’s a fag and his knocked-up hag to do? Well, they decide to raise the wee one, Sam (Malcolm Stumpf), together, co-habitating, until one day the right man does arrive (Benjamin Bratt) and inevitably must break the family up. Unfortunately, that happens sooner than later when Abbie, threatened by Robert’s unwillingness to negotiate on custody issues, slinks away with their kid in tow, and an ugly legal battle transpires. Enter a few folks from the periphery – like Abbie’s loathsome ex-boyfriend Kevin (Michael Vartan) and Robert’s PWA buddy David (all-grown-up “Doogie Howser” Neil Patrick Harris) – and you’ve a roller coaster of drama, gay parental issues, and Mo’.
Obviously, The Next Best Thing is a project close to the heart of openly gay Everett, a driving force behind its production and promotion. For one thing, he nudged Madonna to cover “American Pie” (“There was a minute there where I thought it was too corny for words,” Madonna quips of her remake which Everett contributes backing vocals to, “but everybody else seemed to like it – I kind of went with the flow.”), pushed its issue of gay parenting, reshaped its story, and even arranged a commendable – and possibly one of the first – gay press junket in South Beach, Miami.
At that junket, held at the Uberdeco, super lush Delano Hotel, Everett told of The Next Best Thing’s jaw-droppingly ludicrous sounding initial incarnation, when it was the tale of a “flubbery” gay man obsessed with food, his child-hungry best female friend, and their mutual effort to sprout a wee one. In downright Vaudevillian attempts to get the gal pregnant (more crudely, the gay guy excited enough to slip it in and spill some seeds), the slapstick pair would dollop whipped cream and other confections on her body for him to slurp up and smoosh about in. Worse, the original story’s Abbie and Robert WERE set on spawning a child, so when it came time for Abbie to flee the nest for greener hetero pastures with their kid, she came across as a downright calculated villain, unlike the merely confused and desperate Abbie Madonna plays. So let’s give a hand to uncle Rupert!
“He’s always bossing me around,” smiled Madonna, looking absolutely gorgeous at her all-press New York junket. “He’s like a big bully. He is tall, he is stronger than me, he can wrestle me down to the ground.”
But would she “fall” for him like Abbie falls for Robert?
“Eventually, yeah. I adore him. I love him. I’m sure if he was straight things would be different.”
Speaking of different, in many ways, Abbie is a more different, dangerous and difficult role than Evita or even that killer slag Madonna played in that forgettable Willem Dafoe flick from however many years ago. After all, Abbie’s NOT the most likeable character (at least to gay men rooting for Everett), and at the same time must come across as vulnerable, human, and wounded in her history with love and men. “Well, I do have some things in common with Abbie,” Madonna admitted. “I’ve made some mistakes definitely. I think I’ve passed some pretty incredible people by because I’m really selfish. Whatever. Live and learn, right? I’m still kicking myself.”
But what about commitment and marriage NOW?
“Possibly,” she volunteered with a pause. “Next question!”
Back to her character, regardless of her snatching Sam away and forcing Robert to pursue legal action, both Everett and Madonna see Abbie as sympathetic. Said the latter, “I think she’s a really nice person and did the very best thing she could do. I think she made mistakes, made some silly choices in the end, things that perhaps I wouldn’t have done, but in the end I have a lot of compassion for her and think she behaved in a very humane way. But the way she chose to have the baby and raise the baby, I probably wouldn’t have done those things – in fact I’m sure I wouldn’t have.”
And as for Everett, he sees his Robert as sympathetic, although he admitted not being ready to wear a parent’s shoes himself just yet.
“Well, I think a lot of gay men truly are interested in raising families and being parents,” Madonna opined on the subject of gay parenting. “I think people take that really seriously, so I hope it changes that misconception. I think that Rupert is a fantastic gay role model because he doesn’t really fit into middle Amercia’s pre-conceived notion… that kind of manly queeny gay personality. I think he kind of defies all of that – he’s actually quite butch and very hetero-seeming!”
By the same token, The Next Best Thing defies any predictable narrative path, weaving comic and cute adventures with Kramer Versus Kramer courtroom drama. Admittedly, this results in tonal and storytelling inconsistencies, but for Madonna this wasn’t a major point of concern. “Only that it flowed effortlessly and that the audience took the ride with you,” she explained. “I do think it is very reflective of life. It started out kind of happy… I wouldn’t say carefree but I don’t think Rupert’s or my character really thought things out further down the line. I think we were very much in the moment and I think what happened to them in the movie happens to a lot of people in real life – certainly with couples who fall in love, marry, and have children never thinking things may not work out down the line and what happens as a result of that?”
Of course, who Madonna is today has happened as a result of decisions made by her parents, most importantly, religion. After all, where would she be without the burning crosses of “Like a Prayer”? Or any other aspects of her art which an Italian Catholic upbringing wrought? Now that she’s a mother herself, one might ask how will she raise Lourdes in the spiritual sense? “That is a conundrum,” Madonna admitted. “I don’t know. I’m very conflicted about that. I talk about God with my daughter and we say prayers every night before she goes to bed, and she was baptized a Catholic. But I’m not really sure how I feel about the concept of organized religion. So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to introduce that into her life.”
Showbiz is another issue Madonna seems conflicted about regarding Lourdes, and stresses it will be Lourdes’ call when she’s old enough to decide on a career. “The climate of the entertainment business changes from decade to decade,” she explained, “so who knows what it’s gonna be like when she gets older. But I do think you have to be pretty thick skinned to survive in the business and understand it is about the big picture and not the small one…. And be prepared for the rejection and do it for the right reasons.”
As for her own future, Madonna expressed plans to pursue writing (“I don’t know what shape that would take… whether it would be a screenplay, but I think I’d like to do that more.”) and further film projects (“I’m really picky about stuff so nothing really specific yet.”), so long as nothing interferes with Lourdes seeing her father (Madonna has turned down world tours so Lourdes and daddy can be close). And while Madonna confesses “mixed feelings” for The Next Best Thing, she feels she’s come a long way since those days of Shanghai Surprise. “I feel a lot more comfortable with myself as an actress now, that’s for sure,” she admitted, “but I don’t really think about the audience. I think ‘do I love this part?,’ and ‘I’m gonna do the best job I can possibly do because that’s the only insurance I’m gonna have when it comes to an audience reaction.’”
That’s our lady with an attitude!