This is Madonna – The introduction seems a trifle unnecessary. She is probably the most famous woman on the planet and you are, after all, standing in the middle of her living room.
Up above you, as you shake hands, is a beautiful Langlois ceiling painting of the naked Hermes flanked by similarly unclad women. All around the walls are works of art from Mexico, England and France, and original black-and-white photos – mostly female nudes – by Edward Weston, Man Ray, André Kertész and Herb Ritts.
To your right in this low, white 10-room home, perched atop Hollywood Hills, is a spacious office area, complete with chattering fax machine and sleek filing cabinets. Across the lounge, which is dominated by the somber presence of a huge grand piano, you can just see into the bedroom, where a sleeveless black dress is hanging on a wardrobe door.
Off the bedroom is a small bathroom, which, judging from the minimasterpieces on display, could qualify for the world’s most compact art gallery. In keeping with the arty ambience, there’ is a copy of The Andy Warhol Diaries beside the lavatory.
Madonna’s Los Angeles home has the strange atmosphere of a lived-in modern-art museum: stark and sophisticated, but somehow comfortable, even homey.
But look out through the full-length windows, past the pool, and there lies the reason why this residence is just so desirable: a genuinely breathtakinng view that seems to take in all of Los Angeles.
Isn’t it beautiful? asks a rough-edged and slightly nasal voice from behind you. Madonna is standing close enough for you to smell [the pleasingly uncomplicated aroma of warm, clean skin] and to notice the flesh-toned cover-up on two small pimples on her left cheek. It immediately makes her seem human.
She is a small woman, maybe five feet four, with large hands and a lean, almost sinewy body. Today she is wearing a loose-woven thigh-length green cardigan [beneath which, it is plain to even the untrained eye, she is sporting a black bra], loose-fitting black trousers cropped above the ankle and threadbare green espadrilles. Her bleached hair is tied back in a bun, exposing her dark roots, and she is fully made up. Her legendary beauty spot is reassuringly present.
Uncommonly beautiful is the phrase that springs to mind as she walks with an almost regal grace across the room and composes herself on an 18th-century European chair. She has agreed to this interview to promote her new movie, Truth Or Dare. The controversial film has prompted the New York Post to declare What a Tramp! and has raised the highbrow eyebrows of critics and censors the world over.
As you are probably aware by now, Truth Or Dare chronicles the behind-the-scenes fireworks during the superstar’s 1990 Blond Ambition Tour and focuses unflinchingly on her relationships, professional and otherwise, with her colorful entourage, which includes a fleet of catty dancers, a long-suffering road-crew and Warren Beatty.
It is Madonna’s attempt to give us mortals a glimpse into her complex life. It is a touching, vulgar, erotic and revealing documentary that – like most things given the Madonna touch – will be the subject of much heated moral debate for some time to come.
Do You think Truth Or Dare will change people’s perceptions of you?
First of all [a quaver in her voice betraying a slight nervousness] everyone overreacts to everything I do. They overreact to really simple, mundane things I do. So I can just imagine the overreactions to this. People are primed to overreact to everything I do, and this isn’t a threeminute video dealing with some touchy issues. This is a two-hour movie and it’s real life. But I don’t think it’s my real life, as such. I think it’s life in general.
It’s a very emotional film.
Well, I’m a very emotional person. Then, being on the road is a really emotinal thing anyway. The insanity of the life I lead is very emotional also. So, to me, it was a very emotion-packed time.
Presumably your life outside of your work isn’t as emotionally hectic as that?
I’m afraid to say, it is! [she says laughing] Yes, it is. It truly is. Because I’m very maternal with people. Like with the dancers in the movie: I mother them all during the movie and I still do. Still! I’m still very close to them and completely embroiled in their lives and trying to help them. In addition to that, I have my own, very large family, who are all emotional cripples in one way or another. So, I’m the matriarch of all these little families. I can’t keep my hand out of the fire. I just keep getting pulled into everyone’s lives and try to help them out of their messes. Meanwhile, I’m neglecting all of my own. So… my life remains completely insane. Don’t let this calm facade fool you.
The impression one takes away from Truth Or Dare is of someone who wants desperately to be in charge but also wants to be looked after.
Is that the only impression you came away with? [she asks briskly] I think the impression of me will be twofold. I think people will think, ‘Oh, she isn’t just a cold, dominating person’. I think that’s the world’s perception of me, that I’m power-hungry and manipulating. I think a great deal of the movie shows a gentler side of me.
Could you explain the film’s ending where you inexplicibly appear in bed with a bunch of naked men?
That’s there because it’s me bidding farewell to everyone. You’ll notice throughout the montage, I’m saying, ‘I love you. I hate you. I love you’ It’s my need to be loved and my need to dominate. So, to me, it’s like a witty presentation of the whole thing. In two minutes it underlines what you’ve just seen in two hours. It’s my need to be in charge.
Parts of the film could almost be described as too revealing.
Yes, but if you’re going to reveal yourself, reveal yourself. I mean, what do I do, say I’m only going to reveal myself up to a point?
Most people would.
I’m not most people. And if I’m going to make a documentary and tell the director that I want to reveal truths, then I’m not going to say, ‘But this is where I draw the line’. If you take all those parts out, what would you have? Life is about the highs and the lows, and if you just present the mids, then what’s the point? I chose to show that part of myself because I know that other people feel the same way. The only difference between this and other movies is that I don’t have the safety net of saying ‘This is fictional’. These issues are dealt with in drama all the time, but I think the hard thing for people to take will be that there isn’t someone playing the part of my life in a movie 50 years from now on when I’m dead. I’m doing it myself. No one has ever done this before.
Can we discuss some more specific incidents in the film? You appear very nervous when your father turns up in the dressing room after your show.
Oh God, yeah! [she laughs] I always do these supposedly immoral things , and then after I’ve finished, I go, My God, what if my father sees this? I still think like that. Like the Vanity Fair issue that just came out, I was laying in bed last night and I just heard that my father was in town and I was thinking, My God, what if he gets on the airplane and, God, someone hands him the magazine and, oh my God, he’ll see me without a shirt on and, Oh God! What I keep trying to impress upon my father is that he mustn’t take what I do personally.
You worry about this and, yet, later in the film, you fellate a bottle.
Yeah [she shrugs], but my father wasn’t in the room.
But he’ll see the film. Won’t he find that shocking? Is that shocking?
Is what shocking? [she asks, stiffening] My giving head to a bottle? Why? You see people doing it in movies all the time. It’s a joke. What’s shocking? Why don’t you know if it’s shocking or not? Don’t you know your own feeling? It’s a joke! The idea of Truth Or Dare is a joke. It’s like all those childhood games: ‘I dare you to do this.’ It’s all a game. If everybody put on film what they did in those games when they were children, or what they did in their fraternity games, I mean, mmy God, they’d all be arrested.
Why did you start playing Truth Or Dare?
The dancers used to play it all the time in the beginning. I was never really part of it. The point of it is to relieve boredom, f… with people. It’s great for releaving tensions and animosities. Or if someone has a crush on somebody and the other person wants to find out. In the guise of the game, you can find these things out. Sometimes it would turn into these heavy sessions where it was all truths and no dares. Did you really do this? Were you sleeping with so-and-so? Everyone gets their feelings out and then, after you’ve played the game, everyone is closer. That’s the theory. It’s like group therapy.
Isn’t it dangerous?
It is, yeah. But every time we played it and went all the way and got into it, it was realy intense. Like, ‘I think you are behaving very stupidly.’ Or, ‘You did heroin the other night and we all know.’ Everybody looks at each other differently the next day because the truth brings people closer together.
The game seems to start with a lot of sexual stuff. You dare a dancer to expose his penis.
That’s right. [she says, chuckling] The sexuality is always at the beginning and everyone goes through these primal curiosities about… things.The exhibitionistic tendencies come out: ‘You show me this, I’ll show you this.’ Then you get down to the nitty-gritty. This has happened with me when I’ve been playing the game with friends since my tour’s been over with, and the same thing always happens: Everyone gets past the sex things, then you get into the real s… about people.
You seem to have a strange relationship with your brother Martin. In the movie, you expose him as an alcoholic.
Martin is a very hard person to get along with. He’s an elusive, enigmatic character. He’s very charming, but, yes, he’s an alcoholic. He’s very tortured, and I speak to him, but it’s hard for me because I find myself being very judgemental. What I always do is start saying. ‘You’ve got to stop doing that, you must do this.’
The mother then again. In Alcoholics Anonymous it’s called a codependent. You get into this dealing with their drinking by harping on it.
I’ve had to get him out of the habit of calling me whenever he needed something from me. I have to feel that he loves me for just me and not for my money. We have a strained relationship. I know he loves me and I love him, but it’s difficult.
Families are funny things. You don’t choose them…
You certainly don’t! All of my brothers and sisters are individually… unique. I have completely different relationships with all of them. Emotionally we’re all pretty needy in some way, because of my mother. I became an over-achiever to get approval from the world. It’s unconscious, but it’s always there.
The most moving part of the film is where you visit your mother’s grave.
I still cry when I watch that [she says, apparently on the verge of tears] It was the single most… the greatest event in my life, my mother dying. What happened when I was 6 years old changed forever how I am. I can’t describe in words the effect it had. That’s when the die was cast. I know if I’d had a mother I would be very different. It gave me a lot of what are traditionally looked upon as masculine traits in terms of my ambitiousness and my aggressiveness. Mothers, I think, teach you maners and gentleness and a certain kind of, what’s the word? I don’t want to say subservience, but a patience, which I’ve never had. Then, when my mother died, all of a sudden I was going to become the best student, get the best grades. I was going to become the best singer, the most famous person in the world, everybody was going to love me. I’ve been to analysis and I understand that about myself. My brother, on the other hand, decided he was going to set fire to everything.
There are cynics who might perceive the visit to your mother’s grave as contrived or choreographed.
It wasn’t choregraphed in the least [she says, scowling] I hadn’t been to the grave in many years. Actually, it took us 45 minutes to find it. It was very sad in a way; we just could not find the gravestone. Then – we found it.
When, in the film, you visit a throat specialist and he asks you wether you want the consulation filmed, Warren Beatty says, “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk!” Is there a grain of truth in that?
I think what Warren was trying to say is that he is very shy and private and he doesn’t understand my lack of inhibition because he’s the opposite of me. What’s so intimate about my throat? I mean, my God, everyone knows when I’m having an abortion, when I’m getting married, when I’m getting divorced, who I’m breaking up with. My throat is now intimate? Anyway, the cameras didn’t follow me around 24 hours a day. They weren’t in the room when I was f…ing.
That’s an almost surprising omission.
But the point of that scene is to show how different Warren and I are. He lives a very isolated life. I maintain that as much as I’ve revealed about myself, I haven’t given up my complete deck of cards and been totaly emotionally raped.
Were you upset that the Vatican objected to your stage show?
The Italians, typically, overreacted. They said all the religious imagery and symblism was really sacrilegious, that there were men in bras and I was masturbating onstage. So they put all this propaganda in the Italian newspapers to try and put kids off coming. It really hurt me because I’m Italian, you know? It was like a slap in the face. I felt incredibly unwelcome. And misunderstood.
Did it make you reappraise from your Catholic beliefs?
No. I’ve always known that Catholicism is a completely sexist, repressed, sin and punishment-based religion. I’ve already fallen out of love with Catholicism.
When was the last time you went to a mass?
I go to church once in a while [she says, treading lightly] I love the rituals, particularly of Catholicism, and the architecture of grand, beautiful churches, and the mysteriousness of it all, especially if they say the mass in Latin, and the incense and the classical organ music. It’s a beautiful ritual, but often the messages are not so beautiful.
Did you think your stage show was shocking? How would you feel if you went to see George Michael and he pretended to masturbate onstage? Would that upset you?
It would depend on the context. It’s hard to say, isn’t it? I don’t do any of those things without humour. It’s a bit diffiicult for me to see someone like Michael Jackson grabbing his crotch and humping the ground simply because I feel he’s a very androgynous person. I don’t believe him. So it would depend how it’s used.
The song in your show that attracted the most controversy was Like A Virgin. You’ve always claimed it was about a newness, a freshness, but obviously you were aware of the song’s ambiguity.
Weeeell, [she teases] there’s many meanings to it. That’s what I like about everything. I like innuendo. I like irony. I like the way things can be taken on different levels. But, yes, Like A Virgin was always absolutely ambigious.
At one point during your live performance of Like A Virgin – where you romp on a harem-style bed – the simulated masturbation suddenly changed into something that didn’t seem quite so simulated.
Did it? [she asks with feigned naiveté] Yeah, I guess it did. The idea was to make it funny and serious. Passion and sexuality and religion all bleed into each other for me. I think that you can be a very sexual person and also a very religious and spiritual person. I think I’m religious in the broadest sense of the word, and I am very sexual in that I’m very aware of my sexuality and other people’s, and am very interested in it. Not in the sense that I want to go out and f… everything that moves. So I’m a very sexual, very spiritual person. What’s the problem? People’s sexuality and the way they relate to the world is very important.
It transcends just the trousers.
Exactly! It’s beyond trousers! It’s so much more than just fornication. Your sexual identity is so important. The more you pay attention to it, the more you realize that just about everything in the world is centered around sexual attraction and sexual power. You also become aware of people who are not in touch with their own, or have the wrong idea about it or abuse it.
Do people often misunderstand the humor in your work?
Yes. That’s the death of anybody. I find all artsits who take themselves seriously boring. I hate it when singers go, ‘I don’t want to be a pop star, I want to be taken seriously,’ blah, blah, blah. Or when actors talk about their method and all that stuff. It’s such a f…ing bore. If I took my show seriously, I would hate it, do you know what I mean? But you can only have to have half a brain in your head to see that I’m quite often making fun of myself. I mean, how obvious can I be?
Your sense of humor can be quite coarse.
That’s your opinion [she says, her smile dropping] Coarse? It’s aggressive, if that’s what you mean.
You resort to vulgarity very quickly.
Uh-huh, I s’pose [she says dismissively] Maybe that’s from not having a mother.
You can’t attribute everything on that.
Like I said [she reiterates as if explaining to a slow child] I have a lot of boyish traits about me. Thast’s probably one of them.
Are you aware that you aren’t treated like other people?
Yes, I am. Very. I’m always aware of that. I’ve developed mechanisms, I guess. It’s funny, like the way my father seems to be unaware of my fame and fortune and place in the world, I sometimes am too. I have to keep telling myself I’m not like everyone else, I have to go around looking for the ulterior motive all the time.
Does it make it difficult to find new friends?
Oh [she pauses] I guess. I haven’t really thought about that much. I tend to go to social occasions and hang around people who are celebrities as well. Celebrities kind of flock together. It’s like, I’m okay, what can they get from me?
Do you discuss being famous?
No! We don’t. God, what a boring thing to talk about.
Do you feel guilty about being rich?
Yes I do. It’s because of my upbringing. I was raised by a working-class father and he never had money. I continue to feel guilty about it, like I don’t deserve to have it, or something, even though I work really hard. I can’t help it. No one in my family has had money and they continue to not have any money and I feel guilty about it. That’s just my upbringing. I feel sometimes that someone will come and take it all away from me. That makes me work really hard, all the time.
Do you think men are afraid of you on a one-to-one basis?
There’s two different fears. there’s the superficial fear that they would have just because they’d read all these things about me.
And if they had the bad fortune to believe everything, then they would have a lot of preconceptions about me and probably be afraid and be very guarded. Then there is the fear that they would have once they’d gotten to know me, which is that I am very much in charge of my life and a dominating and demending person and a very independent person. A lot of men aren’t ready to deal with that.
Are they not daunted by this image of the Olympian sexual athlete? They might imagine that it would be terrifying to sleep with you.
I think that’s something a lot of men feel about me. They’re shocked when they find out I’m not. Everybody has their image that precedes them. My sexual image is looming out there in front of me. Everyone probably thinks I’m a raving nymphomaniac, that I have an insatiable sexual appetite, when the truth is I’d rather read a book.
Do you lecture boyfriends about condoms?
I will if they refuse to wear them.
Would you prefer an alternative contraceptive to condoms?
If there was one, hell yeah! [she says, raising her voice in excitement] They’re a drag. Such a drag. They interrupt everything. It’s like, ‘Wait a second, wait a second. Do you have a rubber? I think I’ve left them in my coat! Aaargh!’ Then, the worst thing, they say no! And it’s, ‘Oh God! Well, now what!’ And then it’s, ‘Well, sorry.’ You know the best people of them all are the ones who just have them, that are thinking and aware enough to have them. They’re not great but they make sense. They’ve saved my life.
What are you like when you’re in love?
What am I like? Well, I’m… happy.
Do you find it difficult to fall in love with people who aren’t famous or powerful?
Well, power is attracted to power and power threatens power. And certainly people in a similar position to me understand better wat I have to do. So I think that’s probably a benefit. And anyway, I have, I’ve fallen in love with people who arent famous. The question is, can you maintain it?
What is the attraction of power?
Well, power is a great aphrodisiac… and I’m a very powerful person!
Do you ever suffocate people?
No, [she laughs] I’ve never been accused of that. If anything, it’s the opposite. I give people a lot of room. Sometimes I give people far too much room and they’re just begging me to come into the room.
You seem to have pinballed through quite a few relationships since your marriage.
Not many more than most people know.
Are you difficult to have a love-relationship with?
Yeah, I’m difficult on a lot of levels. Just my situation alone is pretty daunting and probably keeps a fair share of men away from me. You have to be prepared for your private life to be spilled to the world, because the minute you start going out with me, that’s what happens. So they have to find that out and understand that their past is now public domain. I try to warn them, but you can never warn people completely. Some people take it very well, and others are destroyed by it. It does affect my relationships.
In Truth Or Dare you answer a question someone ask you by saying “Sean”. What was the question?
Who is the love of your life?
You must miss him.
I do [she whispers] I still love Sean and I understand very clearly, now that time has passed, why things didn’t work out between us. I miss certain things about our relationship because I really consider Sean to be my equal – that’s why I married him. I don’t suppose I’ve found that yet with anybody else.
There seemed to be something good between the two of you. You were more like buddies than husband and wife.
Really? [she asks, looking like she's about to cry again] We did make a really good couple, didn’t we? But we had our problems. I hate to keep talking about it. It’s all over. But… there’s something to be said about people being the love of your life. Even if it doesn’t work, there’s always that person that you love. I did have a real connection with Sean and I still do. I feel close to him even though we’re not physically close. Going through what we went through made us very close. There was a lot of pressure. I mean, it really is amazing we didn’t kill each other. But I don’t feel like it was a waste of time. I still love him.
Are you a happy person?
I’m a very tormented person [she sighs] I have a lot of demons I’m wrestling with. But I want to be happy. I have moments of happiness. I can’t say I’m never happy. I’m working towards knowing myself and I’m assuming that will bring me happiness. I’m slowly getting rid of the demons. You see, I don’t think you can truly be loved until you know and love yourself. Then, you can be truly loved and that’s what I want.
By the end of the tour they called her symply Ma. It might have meant Mother. Then again, maybe it was just short for Madonna.
Madonna as mother. It makes sense, in a perverse sort of way, and as Truth Or Dare keeps reminding us, here is yet another role that Her Blondeness reveals in. With her seven male dancers, Madonna had to be Mother to these frivilous and, at times, downright disobedient children. But were they kids or simply Madonna’s posse?
In her advertisment for the dancer’s audition, Madonna expressly asked for fierce male dancers… whimps and wannabes need not apply! Attitude she wanted and attitude she got. Once you walked into the audition, dancer Luis Camacho, 21, recalls of his first meeting with the superstar, you knew who was the boss. She just radiates power.
When one of the dancers’ homophobia threatened some of the others, Madonna showed who was boss. The tour has just started, the dancers recall her telling them, I can have you all replaced. Oliver Sidney Crumes, 21, a heterosexual, felt taunted by some of the gay dancers, especially Camacho, whom Madonna described as being someone born to play a male courtisan.
He was Mr. Macho Man, Camacho says of Crumes. According to another dancer, Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, 22, Oliver was a toy for Madonna. He was dumped and he gagged, and we laughed because we knew it would happen. They started up at the end of rehearsal. What they actually started up is something Truth Or Dare leaves open to speculation. But all hell broke loose in Madonna’s posse when a tabloid reported that Crumes had replaced Warren Beatty as the man in her bed.
I was carrying on an Oedipal relationship, a mother and a son, Madonna waxes on about Crumes. It wasn’t fully realized. He played ‘Little Boy’ to my ‘Mother’. I took him under my wing and wanted to eduacate him. I’d give him books. He got attached.
On tour, the affections between mother and children ran every which way and loose. Kevin Stea, 21, another Blond Ambition dancer, claims that at the last performance, Madonna revealed a secret. Madonna told me she had a crush on me when we first started, he says. And I thought she hated me because she treated me in a very businesslike manner. Madonna remembers it differently.
Dream on! she lashes back. He can say anything he wants. I kept my distance because he didn’t bathe!
And how do the other boys feel about Madonna today? Let’s just say they make her sound like the only serious challenge to sainthood for Mother Theresa. And why not? For the duration of the four-month world tour, they were paid top dollar and stayed in deluxe hotels, each getting his own room when they played Los Angeles. Any 21-year-old could get addicted to that kind of a lifestyle, and some did. I did a Linda Blair, Camacho says of his withdrawal from life on tour. Getting of the plane, I didn’t get into a Mercedes Limo, I got into my father’s Ford Reliance. When I got up [in the morning], I reached over and gagged because there was no phone for room service.
And of course, there was no Madonna. She was a very maternal figure, says Stea. She was always worried about us. There were always condoms in our per diem.
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