By Gus Van Sant
Photography Marcus Piggott, Mert Alas
GUS VAN SANT: Hey, Madonna.
MADONNA: Gus, is that you?
VAN SANT: Yes. I'm at my house in L.A., just reading the paper.
MADONNA: Are you living in L.A. now?
VAN SANT: I still live in Portland [Oregon], but I have a place in L.A., and I'm starting to work on this film down here.
MADONNA: You're always working on a film.
VAN SANT: Usually.
MADONNA: But that's what you do.
VAN SANT: It's my habit. [laughs] I heard you're going to Africa.
MADONNA: Yeah. I go to Malawi twice a year. It's where two of my children were adopted from, and I have a lot of projects there that I go and check up on and children who I look after. It's sort of a commitment that I've made to this country and the hundreds of thousands of children there who have been orphaned by AIDS. I made a documentary about it [I Am Because We Are, 2008], and it's just become part of my life. I'm going to meet with Jeffrey Sachs [the economist]. I'm sure you've heard of him. He's starting a global education initiative, and I'm going to be his Girl Friday, so to speak. We're going to hold a press conference to talk about the school for girls that I'm building in Malawi. It's kind of our way of making sure that every kid has a chance to have an education-more specifically girls, but boys as well. Girls, though, in a lot of developing countries don't have the opportunity to go to school, nor are they encouraged to go to school, so what we're doing is the beginning of a dream. But I'm going to Malawi for lots of reasons.
VAN SANT: You've done a lot of work with Jeffrey Sachs already, haven't you?
MADONNA: Yeah. We've been supporting each other for years now. I've worked on some Millennium Villages with him. We have two Millennium Village sites in Malawi, and they're both doing very well. He's an incredible human being.
VAN SANT: I've never met him, but I've heard he's very charismatic.
MADONNA: He's extremely charismatic. Very well-spoken and charming. He's one of the few people I know who talks the talk and also walks the walk. He thinks very big.
VAN SANT: What's the economic theory behind the Millennium Villages?
MADONNA: Well, his work is primarily focused on ending poverty, but you know, there are lots of ways to skin the cat. Millennium Villages are an experiment that he has tried all over the world. It costs a certain amount of money, and it takes a certain number of years for them to work, but he's got it down almost to a science, where for $1.5 million over a five-year period, you can make a series of interconnected villages self-sustainable through education and prepping and diversifying their crops and giving them agricultural tools and medicine and knowledge. Jeffrey has been really supportive of all the work I've done in Malawi. So, yeah, we'll be drinking a gin and tonic and swatting away the mosquitoes down there. By the way, Milk  was such a brilliant film. I cried and cried. I loved it.
VAN SANT: Oh, great. Thanks.
MADONNA: Did you like working with my ex-husband? [laughs]
VAN SANT: I did. Sean [Penn] was amazing.
MADONNA: He is amazing.
VAN SANT: I haven't really caught up with Sean since he's been going to Haiti. I mean, it's incredible, what he's been doing.