COVER

MADONNA!

THE WORLD'S HOTTEST STAR SPEAKS HER MIND

Brian D. Johnson May 13 1991
COVER

MADONNA!

THE WORLD'S HOTTEST STAR SPEAKS HER MIND

Brian D. Johnson May 13 1991

MADONNA!

COVER

THE WORLD'S HOTTEST STAR SPEAKS HER MIND

Madonna's house sits high above Los Angeles, at the dead end of a road that climbs above the traffic of Sunset Boulevard and twists into the enveloping calm of the Hollywood Hills. It is a white stucco bungalow guarded by rusted iron gates. A security camera and an intercom system check the visitor's identity. A female assistant answers the door. Then Madonna appears, without ceremony. She is surprisingly compact, and less glamorous than her image. Her bleached hair, showing dark roots, looks limp. Her lips, amplified by a signature slash of scarlet, are offset by the paleness of a not quite immaculate complexion. She is dramatically dressed: black boots, dark-red Gaultier slacks armored with black-leather patches ("fierce moto cross pants," she calls them), and a clinging white lace top that leaves her shoulders bare and her nipples visible. Stepping into the living room, she opens a sliding glass door to the afternoon air and slips on a plain black sweater. White throughout, the house is spacious, elegant and adorned with art. But by movie-star stan dards, it is small. "As you can see," says Madonna, "I don't live in a mansion."

That is one of many misconceptions that the world’s most famous—and infamous—female entertainer tried to dispel during a two-hour interview with Maclean ’s. Answering questions with levelheaded candor, Madonna clarified old controversies and kindled new ones. She talked about her motives for exposing herself so intimately in Madonna: Truth or Dare, a voyeuristic documentary about last year’s Blond Ambition tour that is being released in theatres across North America this week (page 50). She also discussed her relationship with ex-flame Warren Beatty, her reaction to Sean Penn’s new baby, her own aspirations to motherhood, her desire to give singer Michael Jackson a radical make-over—and her belief that “God is bisexual.”

The Material Girl also revealed a streak of idealism, coupled with a shrewd sense of her own influence. “It’s not as calculated as you think,” said the 32-year-old singer, actor and sexual provocateur, who rose from humble origins in a Detroit suburb. “I did not set out to be a controversial superstar. I did not say I’m going to sell a zillion records and be some sort of pioneer. It all happened very organically.” Added Madonna: “I suddenly realized at some point in my career that people really listen to what I said—and that I did have a certain amount of power being who I was, and could use that power as a platform to say certain things that I believe in.”

Madonna’s detractors can be as vociferous as her fans. And she is often criticized for having more success than she deserves. But she is clearly more than the sum of her talents. In Truth or Dare, Madonna acknowledges her limits. “I know I’m not the best singer,” she says, “and I know I’m not the best dancer. But I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons—in being political and provocative.” And in that, she has no rival. Said her manager, Freddy DeMann: “I think everybody loves to hate Madonna. But I think her frankness is very charming. She says things that people really want to say but are too inhibited to. That’s the secret of her success.”

Over the years, Madonna has demonstrated an infallible knack for attracting attention—and turning controversy to her advantage. In 1989, she earned $7 million and a heap of publicity when Pepsi hired her to make a commercial based on her hit Like a Prayer: the company cancelled the spot because of the furor over the video for the song, which showed her seducing a black male saint in a chapel. During her Blond Ambition tour, Toronto police only seemed to play into her hands by threatening her with arrest for simulating masturbation onstage—in the end, there were no charges. Last year, TV music channels banned her Justify My Love video, a soft-core portrayal of an omni-sexual interlude in a hotel room. But it found an audience on American network news and became a Christmas best-seller. More recently, at the Academy Awards, Madonna usurped Cher’s traditional scene-stealing role by showing up hand-in-glove with superstar Michael Jackson.

Tidbits: Almost everything Madonna does is of consuming interest, and not only to her fans. Now, with Truth or Dare, she has raised the stakes again. Well before the movie’s public release, the media have condensed its salacious tidbits into the most provocative chapter in the Madonna legend to date: Madonna flashes her breasts for the camera; Madonna announces “I’m getting a hardon” while watching two male dancers French-kiss; Madonna simulates oral sex by deep-throating an empty litre of mineral water; Madonna reminisces about having sex with childhood girlfriend Moira Messana. Then there is the celebrity gossip. Madonna calls Beatty a “pussy man.” And she mocks Kevin Costner’s awkward praise as soon as he has left her dressing room—“Anyone who calls my show ‘neat’ has got to go.”

A Hollywood studio executive once said that Madonna is a movie star without a movie. Truth or Dare makes her the star of a home movie with the help of a novice director, 26-year-old Alek

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Keshishian. Shattering the invincibility of her image, Keshishian’s camera often portrays her in a starkly unflattering light, as a cold, bitchy, self-obsessed prima donna. Yet that seems only to make her more interesting. The director says that his subject gave him a free hand. “She really wanted to see how far I would go,” Keshishian told Maclean’s. “But the biggest myth about Madonna is that she just sits there and figures out what is the most controversial thing she can do. In an ideal world—the kind that Madonna is hoping to create—nothing that she does would shock people.”

Regardless of whether it is a measure of the world’s imperfection, Madonna’s shock value continues to rise. Aptly timed to coincide with the release of her movie, a two-part interview in The Advocate, a Los Angeles-based magazine about gay issues, generated more controversy. She told the publication that she is “aroused by the idea of a woman making love to me while either a man or another woman watches,” although she added: “Just because I’m presenting life in a certain way doesn’t mean I do all these things.” She also offered a gracious answer to a question about Beatty’s endowment (“a perfectly wonderful size”). And she said that he once told her that he regretted never having slept with a man.

Bisexuality: But beneath the gossipy surface of Madonna’s recent revelations is the political stance of a star who is changing the rules of celebrity conduct. Her promotion of bisexuality is unprecedented for an entertainer of her stature. Many artists start out by indulging a taste for social subversion. But as they acquire fame and fortune, they learn to play it safe. Madonna has done it the other way around. She has evolved from being an innocuous pop tart to a star who takes increasingly greater risks with her image. Still, no matter how far she goes, she keeps being accused of simply seeking attention to further her career.

As she sat down to talk with Maclean’s, Madonna seemed a little weary of revealing herself. “I’m going to spill my guts again and try not to bore myself in the process,” she said. She sat on a gold-brocade divan in a living room sparsely furnished with 18th-century Italian pieces. They struck a surprising harmony with the modern angles and gallery-white walls. The open-concept house was renovated by her brother Christopher Ciccone, who is also her set designer. A canvas originally painted for Versailles—featuring nude figures of Cupid, Endymion and Diana—hangs face down, Sistine-style, from the ceiling.

Legs crossed, her back as straight as a schoolgirl’s, Madonna talked with careful elocution about the joys and pressures of fame. “There’s an overwhelming sense of responsibility,” she said, “that you always have to be brilliant if everyone’s listening to you—that

you have to be clever and witty and wise. You always have to be standing on that pedestal. You have to be a rock. You can’t break.”

And any sign of weakness can be magnified in the public eye. At the Oscars, the camera showed Madonna’s hand trembling as she sang a torch song from the movie Dick Tracy, and her nervousness became instant news. “People were really interested in my trembling hand,” she recalled. “And I wonder why. I think they probably went, ‘Oh God, she’s a human being.’ ” Asked why she had stage fright, Madonna replied: “I want to do everything perfectly. I had four minutes to be perfect and three billion people were watching me on television. That’s a fairly daunting situation.” The audience, she

added, “was probably not particularly interested or respectful of me and what I do. And many things could have gone wrong. I had to climb up out of the floor. I had a dress that was so heavily beaded that to walk straight in it was a feat. And my head was like, ‘Oh God, if I can just hold this together.’ I was very nervous.”

But her Oscar-night date with Jackson almost eclipsed her performance onstage. It was his idea, she recalled. “He goes, ‘Are you going with somebody?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. I don’t have a date.’ He said,‘Well, I’ll be your date.’ ” Madonna describes Jackson as a man in need of a make-over. “This man is a genius in his own right, but only in terms of music,” she said. “He has lived his life with blinders on. And it’s

hard for me to conceive of anybody who’s an artist living that way. I know this sounds trite, but I wanted to get him to love himself.” Jackson has undergone extensive plastic surgery, but Madonna says that he needs to change himself “from the inside out.” She adds: “A person who does all these things to himself is obviously not happy with himself. I think Michael sees himself as a freak to a certain extent.

He’s lived a repressed life and knows it—he wants to change.”

She has tried to expand his horizons by getting him to read books and watch videos of foreign films. “I wanted him to see,” she said, “with my books and my point of view on life, that even if you are unusual, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out into the sunlight, or socialize, or drive without your sunglasses on and without a bodyguard.” She also suggested that he get a haircut. “That was my itching desire,” she said, “to take clippers and just buzz his hair off. I just wanted to open up his mind.”

But playing Pygmalion to the world’s most reclusive superstar promised to be such a demanding project that, although she considered recording a song with him, Madonna has decided to cut short their collaboration. Meanwhile, she rejects any suggestion of romantic involvement. “I think he’s very attractive in many ways,” she said, “but I’m trying to get out of my cycle of finding boys to mother. I’d rather just be his friend.”

Divorced since 1989 from actor Sean Penn, Madonna recently broke off her brief romance with 27-year-old model Tony Ward. She says that she is now unattached. “Can you imagine?” she giggled. “But there’s a really cute gardener over there,” she observed, glancing through the glass doors at a middle-aged Oriental man working by the pool—“Just kidding.”

Most celebrities draw a strict line between their private and public selves. But Madonna has made her private life part of her act, which suggests that nothing is too personal for public consumption. In Truth or Dare, she confesses that Penn remains the love of her life. Asked by Maclean ’s how she felt about the recent birth of a child to Penn and his girlfriend, actress Robin Wright, she seemed momentarily taken aback.

“You are asking the dirt,” she said.

But she offered a thoughtful reply.

“I’ve had nine months to adjust to the idea that he’s having a child with somebody,” she said. “So obviously, I got over my initial state of shock. I can only hope for the best for him.” Then she added: “Obviously, there are those thoughts—‘Oh God, I was married to him and he wanted to have a baby with me.’ But I’m not married to him anymore, so I have to be realis-

tic.” Madonna says that she wants to have children in the near future—“But I have to stop dating them,” she quipped.

Single: Meanwhile, she says that she is perfectly happy being single. “I have tons of friends, so it’s not like I’m sitting at home all night saying there’s nothing to do,” she says. Those friends include Beatty, although their romance is over. According to Madonna, their decision to split up was mutual. “You’re just with someone for a certain amount of time,” she said, “and then you move on. While Sean was competing with me in the career department, I think Warren felt that

my image as a sex symbol was the competitive thing. Not that he was competing with me. But I felt that maybe he met his match.” She concluded: “We mutually didn’t trust each other. That was the bottom line.” Beatty, 22 years older than Madonna, is notoriously shy with the media and clearly mistrusts Madonna’s appetite for self-revelation. “He comes from a different school of thought,” she said, “that if you reveal too much of yourself, no one is going to find you interesting anymore. I think that’s bullshit.” Reluctantly, Beatty allowed himself to be filmed for Truth or Dare. But recordings of his private phone conversations with Madonna were cut from the movie. “I knew Warren was upset about any of the footage being used,” she said, “so I thought there was no way he could deal with the fact that we taped a conversation and he didn’t know about it.”

Madonna says that for her, exposing her life to the camera was “a very therapeutic process,” although she added: “I don’t feel I’ve revealed everything about myself or been emotionally raped.” The documentary shows her prostrating herself on her mother’s grave, kneeling onstage in homage to her father on his birthday and serving as den mother to her male dancers and female singers. The troupe, she says, became a surrogate family that “allowed me to exorcise my maternal feelings, to be the mother I didn’t have.”

The history of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone is already well documented—the third of six children, she grew up in a crowded bungalow in Pontiac, Mich.; she was named after her mother, who died of cancer when Madonna was 5; she felt betrayed when her father, automobile engineer Tony Ciccone, married his former housekeeper, Joan. And the chronicle of Madonna’s rise to stardom is the stuff of legend—from her discovering art and culture at 15, under the influence of a homosexual ballet teacher, to her being discovered dancing by a discjockey on a Manhattan dance floor at 21. The singer’s first two albums, Madonna (1983) and Like a Virgin (1984), sold nine million copies. According to Forbes magazine, she earned $44.5 million last year alone.

But while she is super-rich and super-famous, it seems that the artist in her is still struggling to be discovered. “In the beginning,” she said, “I was dealing with pop music and themes that were, you know, fairly artificial— just escapist entertainment. Since I’ve decided to face my own torment, it’s coming out that way in my work: my mother’s death, my father’s alienation of me, my stepmother.”

On last year’s tour, she confronted her father’s squeamishness over the

graphic nature of her show, and tried to make peace with her alcoholic older brother, Martin. “He’s a con artist, like a character out of a Jim Thompson novel,” she said. “He thrives in the under-life. Martin says my fame doesn’t bother him, but it really does.” She understands, however, that being the sibling of a star is not easy. “When people find out, the expectations suddenly rise, and it can be infuriating—I wouldn’t want to be one of my brothers or sisters.” Madonna seems closest to Christopher, whose homosexuality she revealed in print for the first time in The Advocate.

Coy: But she remains coy about the extent of her own bisexual experience. She refuses to confirm whether she slept with comedian Sandra Bernhard, but is delighted if people think she did. Meanwhile, Madonna, who declared in The Advocate that “every straight guy should have a man’s tongue in his mouth at least once,” told Maclean’s:. “I always ask every man I go out with, ‘Have you slept with a man? No? Would you ever sleep with a man?’ I’m completely fascinated by people’s sexuality.”

She expresses strong affection for homosexuals and is an ardent supporter of AlDS-awareness campaigns. “When I’m around gay men,” Madonna said, “I look at them and go, ‘God, they’re just not afraid to feel and be who they are.’ And they’re just a f--k of a lot more sensitive than most of the straight men I know. They’re more fun to be around. They’re freer. I also feel that they’re persecuted, and I can relate to that.”

Heroine to the gay movement and sex goddess to the straight world, Madonna seems to have all the angles covered. But despite her enormous popularity, she still appears to be insecure about being accepted. “I always think no one’s going to buy this record, this video,” she said. “I always think my audience is getting narrower and narrower—and hope that there will be a handful of people who will understand what I’m trying to say.”

Renegade American philosopher Camille Paglia has called Madonna “the future of feminism.” Madonna says that she finds that flattering. “In the beginning, a lot of feminists were ganging up on me, saying I was setting the women’s movement back 50 years,” she said. “I thought, ‘They’re just not getting it. They’re offended by my sexuality.’ ”

Spank: Criticizing her critics for taking her too literally, Madonna suggests that all her teasing last year about enjoying a good spanking may have been misunderstood. “I’m just being ironic,” she said. “If anyone comes near me and tries to spank me, I’ll smack the shit out of them. That’s the joke of it all. It’s a luring device, like the whole boy-toy thing. It’s playing into people’s ideas of what’s humiliating to women.” Added Madonna: “I don’t think anyone could really envision me being taken advantage of.”

Her attempts to reincarnate Marilyn Monroe seem to be part of the same image-juggling game. Monroe, said Madonna, “was this mysterious, ethereal, fragile human being who was very talented but very destructive. What I’m doing is taking this image and throwing it back at the public, saying, ‘I can have the external

trappings of a sex symbol. I can have blond hair. I can wear tight dresses. But I don’t feel fragile.’ I’m trying to defy the image people have of the blond bimbo.”

Unlike Monroe, Madonna has yet to really make her mark on the movies. Her sheer force of personality shone through in both Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) and Dick Tracy (1990), but Shanghai Surprise (1986) and

Who’s That Girl? (1987) were dismal failures. She says that she now plans to devote more energy to film-making than to music—“It’s a more powerful medium.” Earlier this year, she played a trapeze artist in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, due for release this fall. Denying rumors that her part was edited out, Madonna acknowledged that she felt anxious when filming began. “I was a bit put off because I thought, ‘God, he doesn’t say anything.’ I thought, ‘He hired you for a reason. Just be yourself and don’t get uptight about it.’ ”

Madonna still hopes to star in the longdelayed movie version of the Broadway musical Evita. And she is planning to co-star with Demi Moore in Leda and Swan, a violent action picture about two female cops. Meanwhile, she is considering a role in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which director Gus Van Zandt is adapting from the 1976 Tom Robbins novel about a women’s dude ranch. Madonna also intends to

portray Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in a movie that she is now developing. As well, she wants to direct. And she is trying to set up her own company of actors, directors and artists. “It’s not like a vanity project,” she says. “I see this as something fulfilling me for many, many, many years—as a director, as a songwriter, as a producer. Everything.”

But, for the woman who wants everything, the world does not move fast enough. Madonna considers impatience her greatest weakness. She hates waiting—“waiting for people to

grow up, waiting for a studio to green-light a movie, waiting for the popcorn to pop.”

Or for the interview to end.

When it finally did, she stretched back, extending her body like a flying buttress and exposing a few inches of famous midriff.

Nude: She agreed to conduct a tour of the house, which was also a tour of her art collection. She lingered over an exquisite self-portrait by the exotic-looking Frida Kahlo, but barely slowed as she passed a nude by Kahlo’s celebrated husband, Diego Rivera. “An inferior painter,” she sniffed.

She pointed out several large canvases by her brother Christopher, austere maps of Catholic symbolism. And she showed off her black-andwhite nudes by American surrealist Man Ray, including her most recent prize, a photograph of slouching buttocks superimposed with the outline of the cross turned upside down—a suitable image for Madonna’s own inversions of religion and sex. “I think I’ll use that for my next album cover,” she said.

Passing through the high-tech kitchen, where her assistant was working, she entered the “bathroom-slash-workout-room,” equipped with weights, exercise machines and an open shower. Then, the surprisingly modest bedroom: a television, a painting by Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, a white bed with a

black rag-doll cat nestled on the pillow. “It’s a good throw cat,” she said, flinging the stuffed animal onto the floor.

Madonna stepped outside into the sunshine. She pointed to the house next door, whose owner used legal action to force her to trim her hedges. “That’s my evil neighbor,” she said. “He’s probably a Peeping Tom. He calls the police on me all the time—complains about me playing music, even when it’s not loud.”

The garden, like the house, is small. The

swimming pool is not really big enough for lengths. But the view from her backyard is breathtaking. All of Los Angeles lies spread out below, an urban infinity fading into a horizon blurred with smog. “It’s beautiful at night,” said Madonna. She stopped for a moment to breathe the air. Then, with the world securely at her feet, she returned to the endless job of keeping it there.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON