Madonna: The Unconventionalist
The elusive Madonna is forced to face the press, something she has avoided in the last few years, to promote her latest directorial venture W.E., a romantic exploration of the mysterious connection across decades between two women—Wally Winthrop and Wallis Simpson— confronting the consequences of desire.
Madonna looks very serene as she enters the room wearing a red blouse, a black pencil skirt and black heels, all designed by Yves Saint Laurent. The bracelet she sports on her wrist is one-of-a-kind, made exclusively for her by Cartier. She is carrying a black purse designed by Givenchy and on her wrist is a Jacob & Co. watch. Around her neck she displays a W.E. necklace designed by Neil Lane. The expensive outfit somehow looks understated on her. I guess we are more used to seeing her on stage and in videos in outrageous outfits.
She sits down, takes a sip of water and is ready for my questions.
With W.E., what interested you in a parallel plot in order to tell the story of the royal romance?
I needed to have a character in the film that had a point of view; I didn’t want to do a biopic because I find that one person’s life is so complex that it would be impossible to sum it all up in two hours. It made more sense for me to tell the story from another person’s point of view; in that way, I wasn’t required to tell every aspect of her life. I also think that truth is subjective depending on who you are and where you’re standing. For instance, you could read about a person and have a completely different point of view from another person. So I created the character of Wally, who lives vicariously through the story of the Duchess. This gave me more freedom to tell the story.
Let’s talk about your visual style; which films or filmmakers inspire you?
The film that inspired me was La Vie en Rose because I really admire that film and one of the things that I liked about it was the length of the tracking shots. The director used the Steadicam a lot and I timed two of his shots, they were both five minutes long with absolutely no cuts. They were so beautifully choreographed. I love the Steadicam, there’s a certain gracefulness to it.
How secure were you while deciding to direct this film?
It does seem like I made a big leap from being a singer, performer and entertainer to making a film, and it is. It’s a completely different discipline, but when I do my shows, I’m completely involved in the minutiae of every aspect of the show. I check the seams on a costume, the buttons, the hooks, the hair and the makeup of the dancers. I’m involved with the lights, the rear-screen projections and choreography, so a lot of that goes into filmmaking. I’m a detail-oriented person and I would like to think of myself as a visionary. So I feel secure enough to direct.
Here, you have a story about love and obsession; what is the difference between the two?
Love is to be in a state of giving and obsession is a state of taking; when you are obsessed with something, you want something from it. When you’re in a state of love, you want to give and that’s a very big difference.
Like the character in the film, you’ve had your heart broken several times. How do you mend it?
Time mends a broken heart.
Madonna is spotted wearing cuffs from theLouis Vuitton FW 11-12 show collection
Photo Courtesy: Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Louis Vuitton
Edward VIII gave up a throne for love, what has a man given up for you?
I cannot give you anything specific, but I think that when you are in love with someone, you will always find yourself making some kind of sacrifice. That’s the nature of love; everyone makes sacrifices for the people they love. For instance, I love my children dearly and I have to make sacrifices for them on a regular basis. But no one has given up a kingdom for me!
I hear that you are a Francophile; the recurring song that you used in the film is Tu Déjà Aimé from Les Chansons. Am I right?
You are. Isn’t it great?
How come you know that song? Are you familiar with all things French?
Well, my children go to the Lycée Français de New York. I collaborate with a lot of French artists, fashion designers, photographers, directors, dancers and choreographers. They and the music producers have worked their way into my life, so I guess you can say that I have a lot of French influences around me.
Speaking of being influenced by French designers, you had eye-catching costumes in this film. How do you relate to the fashion of that period?
I’m fascinated by the ’20s and the ’30s. I’m a big fan of that era, particularly the couture houses of the day—Christian Dior, Vionnet, Balenciaga, and [Elsa] Schiaparelli. I think that was the beginning of a lot of careers and they were doing really interesting, innovative designs. I am also a big fan of Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen.
What would one find if they looked into your jewellery box?
I have some nice pieces, like the bracelet I’m wearing, but I must tell you the nicest things that I have, I’ve given myself.
What does luxury mean to you?
Well, it means nothing if I’m not happy. So I feel privileged to have any kind of a luxurious life. I feel privileged to own a great work of art or a piece of couture or something like that, but it certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of my life.
Madonna is ever changing in her creative life—performer, actor, dancer and filmmaker. Has anyone tried to box you in?
People have opinions about what they think I should or shouldn’t do, but I’ve never had anyone stop me from doing something. When I moved to New York from Detroit, I was a dancer and adventurous in a creative way. I never imagined that I was going to be a singer and a songwriter, but I left myself open to experiences, auditions and meeting people. So one thing led to the next; I was open to things even though I was trained as a dancer. When somebody said, “Hey, why don’t you try auditioning for this record producer or this musical,” I didn’t say, “I’m a dancer, I cannot do that.” So for me, moving from all these things to making a film isn’t really a big jump because it encompasses everything that I love.
How has your musical background influenced your writing and directing?
I think of writing as music, and a lot of times, when I am shooting or rehearsing a scene, I close my eyes and just listen to the actors or eliminate words or bits of dialogue because it doesn’t sound musical enough to me. There needs to be a rhythm to the speech and conversation, and also, in terms of the camera movement. There’s a lot of movement in my film. I think music is a good analogy for filmmaking.
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