By Gus Van Sant
Photography Marcus Piggott, Mert Alas
Seymour Stein is the person who signed me and gave me my first record deal, which was my only record deal... He was in the hospital, and he had me come in to visit him... He made me bring my boom box and play my music for him. He was laying there in bed in his boxer shorts and a wife-beater.—Madonna
VAN SANT: I've told people who have just started to make a film that the one thing you might experience is this feeling that everybody is conspiring against you, because you're not necessarily able to tell what's real and what's not. There are all of these messages that you get through third parties that say, "You can't get that location. You can't shoot at Yankee Stadium."
MADONNA: "That actor is not really available except for these three weeks."
VAN SANT: Yeah. And it's too hard for you personally to take care of it because there are too many things going on at the same time. It's almost like torture.
MADONNA: It's torture for me, because I want to personally go to all the people who are saying no
to me and say, "Can't we just work something out? Why can't I shoot at your castle? Why can't you make 30 outfits for me and not charge me? Why do you want to work with Martin Scorsese when you can work with me?" [both laugh] It all seems to be an exercise in acceptance, doesn't it? When do you give in? When do you let go and stop trying to control everything? Filmmaking is such a collaboration. At a certain point, I suppose you do have to let go and trust the people you're working with. I look at movies like Wong Kar-Wai's films, and they all have such a familylike feeling about them. He just keeps working with the same actors and art director and DP, and the stories don't change that much. There seems to be this familiarity there that must be such a nice luxury.
VAN SANT: Wong Kar-Wai is a really great inspiration. He's always referred to as the Jimi Hendrix of filmmaking.
MADONNA: What does that mean?
VAN SANT: It means that he's so loose and familiar with his craft that he can sort of do anything.
MADONNA: I was actually watching In the Mood for Love  again last night because I love the music. And I mean, how overused is slow motion in film? But, for some reason, he gets away with it. Every time the characters pass each other on the stairs, there's that same piece of music. It's so beautiful. He has these two married couples living next door to each other, and you never see the wife of one couple or the husband of the other, but you always hear them talking. And it's not so much of a story, but you're so sucked into it. It's something to be envied. While the stories seem simple, you really end up feeling kind of devastated and moved and melancholic every time you watch one of his movies-well, I do, anyway.
VAN SANT: I do too.
MADONNA: But maybe there's something wrong with me. Maybe I'm just a sucker.
VAN SANT: No, I think they're very strong films. Who are you using as a DP?
MADONNA: Hagen Bogdanski. He did The Lives of Others . Did you see that film?
VAN SANT: Oh, yeah. It's amazing.
MADONNA: He also did The Young Victoria, so two different looks. But I think he's brilliant.
VAN SANT: Because the DP who I've been using for many films is someone who has a connection to you. I was making a commercial for Levi's several years ago, and the art director said that they had just worked with Harris Savides, and they were sort of pushing him on me. They said, "Madonna doesn't work with anyone else." So I went, "Well, shit. If Madonna won't work with anyone else. . . ."
MADONNA: I worship Harris Savides. He's too expensive for me. I adore him. I've worked with him a lot. He's the best. It's interesting, though, because my film is essentially an English production, and I've been instructed to use people who live there-or at least in Europe. We'll film mostly in England, a bit in France, some in New York. My only indulgence is to bring my costume girl, because I've been working with her for so many years and costumes are such a big part of this movie. I just can't start working with someone new. But Hagen seems brilliant and collaborative-so far, so good. Are you working with Harris on your next film?
VAN SANT: Well, there's a film that I'm mixing right now. It's called Restless. We shot it in November and December, and Harris was the DP. I've worked with him on a bunch of films now. Seymour Stein [the record executive] was somebody I got to know a teeny bit because he helped with the soundtrack for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues . Was he somebody-
MADONNA: Who was a really important, influential person in my life? Oh, my god. Yeah, of course. He believed in me. Seymour Stein is the person who signed me and gave me my first record deal, which was my only record deal I stayed at Warner Bros. until five minutes ago. He listened to my demo. He was in the hospital, and he had me come in to visit him. He was hooked up to all these weird devices-I don't know what was wrong with him. But he made me bring my boom box and play my music for him. He was laying there in bed in his boxer shorts and a wife-beater. But he was always my champion during the first decade of my career. So he's also a very important character. I mean, I guess we all have champions, but I feel blessed and lucky to have had the ones that I've had. I still run into Seymour Stein from time to time. I see him around. He's still got that naughty twinkle in his eye.
VAN SANT: I remember that he'd start to talk about music or something and he'd start crying.
MADONNA: Oh, I know. He's such a music lover-an art lover. I remember he had these insane paintings-this vast collection of art-and the pieces were all just sort of jumbled on top of one another and leaning against the walls in his labyrinthlike apartment. He's a character. It's curious, because it seems like those days are really over in the music business, where guys like that ran things, or where you could go and see a band and get so inspired and discover them and make records with them. It's kind of sad.
VAN SANT: Now the music industry is sort of like a Craigslist venture, right? Where you're making your own records and selling them online.
MADONNA: Yeah. It's weird-that's exactly what's going on. I don't have a record deal right now with anybody. I don't know how I'm going to get my music out the next time I make a record.
VAN SANT: You have to rethink how to do it.
MADONNA: I'm going to have to reinvent the wheel. I haven't really been focused as much as I should be on the music part of my career because this movie has just consumed every inch of me. Between that and my four children, I don't have the time or the energy for anything else. For example, I do appreciate that lots of people worked long and hard putting together things like the DVD of the Sticky & Sweet tour that we just released, and I have seen the finished product, but I have got no idea how people are going to find out about it or how it's going to be sold.
VAN SANT: They'll find it. [laughs]
MADONNA: Hopefully. I think I have a fan club- well, that's what they say.