“MY MOVIE, ‘W.E.’ is all about the cult of celebrity. We like to put people on a pedestal, give them one character trait, and if we step outside of that shrine-like area, then we punish them. Wallis Simpson became famous by default, by capturing the heart of a king. But it is obviously a subject I’m constantly on the inside of, and on the outside of.”
That’s Madonna herself in Harper’s Bazaar for November. She appears on the cover with one of the stars of “W.E.,” Andrea Riseborough, who portrays Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who shook the British Empire, enticed a king to abdicate his throne and became the wandering, bitter, Duchess of Windsor.
Madonna is profiled by writer Naomi Wolf. It’s a good piece. When Madonna lets her guard down and really talks, one always comes away with a fascinating article. I was amused, however, that Ms. Wolf was surprised to find the powerful, formidable Madonna, “open, even vulnerable.” I’ll say! But I’ve been telling the word for 20 years that M is a much softer, more tentative, more insecure and nicer person than she usually cares to let on.
Madonna talks here about her “conditioning” as a young Catholic girl, raised in Michigan — how she rebelled and how she was “tortured” for her refusal to be like other girls. She says, “Straight men did not find me attractive. I think they were scared of me because I was different. I’ve always asked ‘Why? Why do I have to do that? Why do I have to look this way? Why do I have to dress this way? Why do I have to behave this way?’”
For Madonna, asking questions and defying convention worked — she remains an iconic and provoking figure on the world stage. (She’s got millions, too.) Her four children, her work, her inevitable maturity, and her choice of male companions continue to provoke — and often anger — those who dislike her. And even those who admire her. Everybody always thinks “they” know what is best for Madonna. (I’ve given her advice myself, which I always laugh about. Poor thing can’t get on without wise words from Liz Smith!)
Because she remains so attractive and still enjoys showing what she’s got, the subject of sex is never far off. Madonna says: “I think that the world is not comfortable with female sexuality. It’s always coming from a male point of view, and a woman is being objectified by a man — and even women are comfortable with that. But when a woman does it, ironically, women are uncomfortable with it — conditioning!”
Of her current man of the last two years, dancer Brahim Zaibat, who is somewhat younger, Madonna insists: “Well, it can also be more than just sexual, um appendages. I don’t necessarily like to use the word ‘lover’ because it sounds like they just come over and have sex with you. I aspire for more than that. I need more than that.” It should be noted that for all her racy reputation, Madonna has only married twice, to actor Sean Penn and then to director Guy Ritchie. She could not have been more in love or more serious about these relationships. And she was crushed when they didn’t work out. The break from Guy was especially painful. They had a child, Rocco, and were married seven years. When she says “I do,” she means it. (And unlike today’s “stars” there was no orgy of wedding photos, sold to the highest bidder. No photo has ever been published of her wedding to Mr. Ritchie.)
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AN UNFINISHED version of a new Madonna song, “Give Me All Your Love,” was leaked — much to her fury — on the internet last week. It is from her coming, as-yet-untitled album. It’s fun and danceable. But, there are those who say Madonna, at 53, is simply “too old” to have fun and dance anymore. (Tell that to all those creaky male rockers and pop-stars, still grinding their hips on concert stages.) Madonna shrugs the subject: “I find whenever someone writes anything about me, my age is right after my name. It’s like they’re saying, ‘Here she is, but remember she’s this age, so she’s not that relevant anymore. Or, ‘Let’s punish her by reminding her and everyone else.’”
But her film, “W.E.” still remains a top priority, though she is recording again, will tour next year and has had remarkable success with the clothing line launched with her gorgeous daughter, Lourdes (better known as Lola.)
Madonna is fascinated by Wallis Simpson — her compulsions and her fate. “She wasn’t conventionally pretty, she had the body of a teenage boy, she was divorced twice — and by the time she married the king she couldn’t have children. What did she have to offer? She’s not pretty, fertile, or a virgin, so she’s useless. I was actually told once by a Japanese woman that there’s a phrase for women who are past the marrying age: ‘stale cake.’”
“W.E.” is now slated for a February release, and Madonna has a firm grip on her film. Indeed, she has final cut and will not relinquish that — ever. (I’ve seen “W.E.” She knows her stuff. She is a remarkably gifted director.)
But no matter the fate of “W.E.,” no matter how much dance music she makes — to the distress of those who want her to calm down and become a ballad-crooning, Dietrich-style chanteuse. And no matter who her man of choice is, Madonna will never ever be “stale cake.”
She’s still fresh and the icing remains delicious.