Concert promoter and ticket-seller Live Nation Entertainment Inc. said Monday it was partnering with recording company Universal Music Group to help create and sell concert ticket packages that bundle in merchandise for Universal artists. The partnership will also explore other marketing opportunities for musicians.
This means that most likely Madonna's new album will be distributed by Universal Music. This is because Live Nation is not a traditional record company and still depends on a partnership for the physical distribution. In what form the release and merchandising for the album will be done in 2012 will become clear in the next few months.
Madonna has revealed one of her daily rituals on the set of W.E. was to help the costume department dress the stars.
Madonna's daily routine on the set of W.E. included helping to dress the actors and actresses.
The singer wrote the script for and directed the new movie - a two-tier tale about the life of Britain's King Edward VIII and his American wife Wallis, and a modern-day woman called Wally - and said her on set rituals included dressing the stars including Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish.
She explained to flicksandbits.com: "One of my rituals, one of the most important rituals for me was to help finish dressing the actors or the actresses. I loved putting the finishing touches on them, and feeling a connection with them before we began the day of shooting. So putting on their necklaces and their bracelets, fine-tuning their hair and clothes and kind of finding an excuse to touch them, basically, was my ritual."
She also admitted that Wallis Simpson intrigued her because there is "nothing fabulous about her background".
Madonna said: "She was and is a very provocative character in the history of world politics, in the world of fashion, in the decision that King Edward VIII made to leave the throne. I don`t think it was ever done before. It changed the British Empire, it changed things enormously.
"And she is a mysterious, enigmatic creature - not conventionally beautiful, not young, twice divorced, there's not anything fabulous about her background. Yet somehow she managed to capture the heart of the man who, at the time, held the most important position in the world. That story intrigued me immensely, I wanted to understand it."
We left Toronto with a first-time experience – we finally got to interview Madonna. Dressed from head to toe in Yves Saint Laurent, her blonde hair a mass of curls, Madonna evoked Marilyn Monroe's old Hollywood glamour.
She arrived at the Park Hyatt with an entourage that included a publicist, stylists and bodyguards. At the end of the interview, when she had to pose for additional photos, Madonna balked at standing by a window with drapes open. The publicist instinctively drew the drapes but Madonna, ever the style-conscious maven, opened the drapes a little bit for dramatic effect.
Visual style is also one of the strengths of Madonna's second directorial work, W.E., which some critics slammed at the recent Venice International Film Festival. In Toronto, we saw for ourselves the Material Girl's film on a modern woman, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), whose unhappy marriage is intercut with her fantasies of the famous love story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy). The film is weak on the script but it's not bad at all.
Madonna the filmmaker also deserves a lot of credit for drawing excellent performances from her cast, especially Abbie and Andrea. The latter is especially outstanding as the elegant American woman who inspired Edward to give up the throne.
Quick with a witty retort, Madonna made a passing quip about an incident in Venice in which a fan gave her hydrangeas. It turned out that the pop star "absolutely loathes hydrangeas," a quote she made, unaware that her microphone was live. She coquettishly held a fan which she did not open throughout the interview. Below are excerpts:
King Edward III gave up the throne to be with Wallis Simpson. What have you given up in the name of love?
When you love someone, you always find yourself making some kind of a sacrifice. That's the nature of love. I love my children very dearly. I have to make sacrifices for them on a regular basis.
What do you teach your daughter about the role of women and relationships?
As women, we look at relationships and we say, "Oh, this is the kind of man that your parents want you to be, your friends think you should be with, would approve of, etcetera." Maybe they look good in paper but they don't actually turn out to be right for you. So it's an important message for my daughter, at her age, to understand that we have to make our own decisions. We have to make our own way in life and cast off society's expectations of who you should be with.
I can imagine that a man would give up anything for you.
I wouldn't count on that. While I was researching this story, I asked myself the same question. Wow, what must it feel like to be loved that much only to find out at the end of the story that it was a great weight of responsibility on her shoulders.
Does that mean you know how it feels to be loved like that?
I know how it feels to be loved a lot but no one has ever given up his kingdom for me.
How do you deal with the high expectations some people have of you as a director?
I am not sure what expectations people have of me as a director, as I only made one film previous to this. You have more expectations of people when you've seen their works before and then you expect their new work to be as good as their previous work. People are more critical of me than, say, an anonymous director because I've been successful in other areas in my life. I do feel the pressure, yeah.
How did you get the permission of Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owns the former home of Edward and Wallis in the Bois de Boulogne?
I just knew he was the owner of the estate and he had auctioned off a majority of the estate. But he still owned the Bois de Boulogne and I wanted to not only film there but also to use his likeness in the film. So I needed to get his permission. I also knew he was in possession of many of the letters between the Duke and the Duchess. So I had many reasons to want to meet him. He was extremely generous and forthcoming.
As soon as I came into his office, he opened up books and pages of letters to let me look at. He didn't let me walk away with any of them. We had several meetings. He wanted to see the script. He wanted to know how he was portrayed so I had to give him the scenes that were written about him. And they met his approval (laughing). Then he gave me permission. I agreed to help him with the charity that his daughter was in charge of, a school for underprivileged and abused children in England. So it was a tradeoff. I helped him with his daughter's charity and he let me film in his house. I think that was fair trade.
How challenging was it to depict the grandness of the 1930s and keep it intimate at the same time?
Extremely hard. You want to have the authenticity of the period. You want to have the grand sweeping elements of the period to show the life of luxury that these people lived. But at the same time, if you keep it grand and sweeping the whole time, you don't get to know the characters, so you need to have intimacy with them as well. Having the combination of the two was important to me.
Did you consult Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie and showed them this film's script?
I never showed the script to Sean. I only talked to him about making the film. He's always been supportive of me as a creative person.
When I was writing, I did give the screenplay to Guy at a certain point. I also shared the concepts, stories and ideas with Guy because he was also interested in the story from a historical point of view. They never really gave me specific advice about telling this story but Guy would give me technical advice about cameras or using digital versus film or one cinematographer being better than another or one sound mixer being better than another.
Antonio Banderas was in the same seat as you are on now. Your "Truth or Dare" was mentioned and in that documentary, you said…
That I was dying to meet him, yeah. I used to have a terrible crush on him. It's true. I think he's taken.
How good is your support system?
I have a good support system in general. I have a great crew of people that I work with. The creative team that I was making this movie with me was extremely supportive. My children were extremely supportive of me and forgiving me of all of my absences. My friends and family – yeah, everybody was encouraging.
Have people tried to box you in?
People have opinions about what they think I should and shouldn't do but no, I've never felt someone say, "You cannot do this." When I moved to New York, I was a dancer. I've always been adventurous in a creative way. I never imagined for a minute that I was going to be a singer and a song-writer but I left myself open to experiences, auditions and meeting people. One thing led to the next.
I was open to things even though I was trained as a dancer. When somebody said, "Hey, why don't you try auditioning for this record producer or this musical?" I didn't say, "Oh no. I'm a dancer. I can't do that." I just said, "Why not?" So for me, moving from all of these things to making a film isn't really that big of a jump because it encompasses everything that I love.
You are also an actor. But now that you have directed your second film, do you think that you found your niche?
I prefer being a storyteller. As an actor, you are obviously an integral part of the film but it's not really your point of view. It's a mistake to think that I'm in control of everything even when I'm onstage and going on tour because, for instance, I can't control the weather or whether one of the dancers injures himself. There are all sorts of things that happen that I can't control.
One has to roll with the punches but it's always good to be as prepared as possible. Being a director means you have to learn how to deal with disappointments gracefully because every day, you hear the word "No" a thousand times. No, that can't happen. No, we don't have time for that. No, that's too expensive. So I'm trying to work with those kinds of restrictions. Being creative is a real challenge but I enjoy it.
The film shows Wally attending these high end auctions. When was the last time you were at an auction?
There was an auction of Tamara de Lempicka paintings about two years ago. I didn't get anything because they were too expensive.
What drives you crazy?
What drives me crazy besides hydrangeas? People who aren't prepared.
Can you talk about the filmmakers who inspired you, especially on this film?
I was inspired by various filmmakers for various reasons. I was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's film "Persona" because it's the story of two women who have this symbiotic relationship and, in many ways, they switch positions. By the end of the movie, you're not sure who's the crazy one and who isn't. The nature of their relationship was interesting to me.
I'm also a really big fan of Alain Resnais and his film, "Last Year at Marienbad." I loved his use of camera movement and filming in long tracking shots down hallways and mirrors. That film was cutting edge for its time. It broke a lot of rules about filmmaking. People really understand it. In fact, I watched a documentary about the film. All the actors would show up on the set every day. None of them even had a script but they were so in awe of the director that they were willing to just be there, wait and hear what he wanted them to do. I was fascinated by the fact that the actors were willing to take this risk and that he was willing to take that risk, too. He was a big inspiration.
Madonna is being quietly urged to re-edit some scenes of her movie about the love affair between King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson, who later became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
If Madonna wants W.E. to be a contender this awards season, she must act fast and have a new version ready by the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on October 23.
An executive close to the film said that, now it has been shown at the Venice and Toronto festivals, Madonna has a brief window of opportunity to decide how to shape her movie to best advantage.
'We see shots of a lot of corridors, so they can go, and other scenes can be trimmed,' the executive told me.
In fact, the picture could be cut by ten minutes without compromising the director's vision, which brings a rock 'n' roll sensibility to a love story we all thought we knew.
It has the advantage of being visually stunning and benefits from an excellent central performance by Andrea Riseborough as the Duchess.
Also, Madonna's take on what Wallis had to give up to be with Edward (or David, as his family and mistresses called him) is incredibly moving. She was in a mink-lined prison: able to have anything she desired but, ultimately, lonely.
Madonna runs a parallel modern-day story featuring Abbie Cornish and Oscar Isaac that acts as a commentary on what the Duchess had to endure, and although it stops the film becoming a heritage picture, some critics feel it slows the narrative down.
When Madonna and I spoke in Venice, she acknowledged that 'maybe it needs a bit of this and a bit of that, and maybe it is still a work in progress'.
She laughed and added, with a hint of frustration: 'For God's sake, I hope it's over with soon!'
Films get re-cut all the time, so there's no shame in going back to the editing suite. At least she hasn't got to shoot additional scenes, a common practice in the movie business.
Madonna said she wouldn't mind doing a special screening for the Royal Family. 'Maybe if they saw them (the Duke and Duchess) as human beings, it might help.'
I doubt the Queen would ever command a performance and, if she did, it would never be publicly acknowledged. But if the director and Her Majesty were to meet, perhaps Madge could ask permission to do a movie on the Queen Mother.
'That would be an interesting subject. She was a tough cookie,' she told me.
Newspaper The Independant had an interview with Natalie Dormer, the actress best known for her performance of Anne Boleyn in the popular TV series The Tudors. Dormer now portrays a young Queen Elisabeth in Madonna's W.E. Here's what she had to say about Madonna.
One director who hasn't asked her to disrobe for the screen is Madonna, and Dormer is highly respectful of Her Madgesty. "She's the icon who spans three generations – you might as well be in a room with Elvis Presley. As a child I used to prance alone in front of the mirror to The Immaculate Collection dressed in a rah-rah skirt, so it was really difficult walking into that room for the recall. It was terrifying, but you had to switch that part of your brain off. I'm an actor and she's my director, so there is a democracy there, there is an equality. You need to in order to function."
What surprised her most about Madonna? "Her sense of humour – a very, very sharp, dry sense of humour, which on a set is very important. She obviously knows what she wants. I don't have to comment on that in an interview in The Independent... everyone knows how and why Madonna is the phenomenon that she is. But I take my hat off to her – she was on a very steep learning curve. I know from Anthony that a director gets asked hundreds of questions on a daily basis. It's a massive mind mess-up of micro-managing."
What of reports of an unhappy set, actress Margo Stilley storming out over 'artistic differences'? "There is going to be so much air whipping around it because it's Madonna," says Dormer. "You can think what you like of Madonna – about her political choices, and her PR – but you have to respect her courage not to let the critics stop her exploring her potential."
Practically every celeb in Hollywood has his or her own scent these days, so it's surprising that one of the biggest stars in the world has yet to create a signature fragrance.
However, that could be changing. According to WWD, Madonna is said to be in "serious discussions" with Coty, which developed perfumes for Beyonce , Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga (out next year).
In addition to her Material Girl apparel line at Macy's, Madonna launched nail polish, lip gloss, body sprays and lotions under that brand last month.
While a Coty spokeswoman declined comment, this wouldn't be first time the pop superstar had beauty insiders buzzing about a possible scent.
Madonna has infuriated some Italian politicians by suggesting that prime minister Silvio Berlusconi "screwed the entire country."
In an interview with the country's best selling Oggi glossy magazine, the singer is asked what she thinks of Mr Berlusconi, who facing trial this month for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute.
"What do I think about Berlusconi? I wouldn't like to talk about it now. But didn't The Economist say it all?" she tells the magazine. Earlier this year the magazine carried an analysis of the billionaire politician's bunga-bunga crisis under the headline: "The man who screwed an entire country." An earlier piece written in 2001 before the crisis was titled: "Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy."
But the singer's comments have provoked fury with supporters of Mr Berlusconi in Italy, where Madonna's family were born.
Italian parliamentary official Carlo Giovanardi told local media: "Her political thoughts are worth nothing. Among other things she is openly for homosexual families and therefore openly against our culture and our Constitution. Mrs. Ciccone quotes The Economist, a magazine in a country that has recently experienced strong social upheavals," he adds.
Gabriella Carlucci, a parliamentary MP from the PDL party said: "It's disappointing that she's running down Italy because it's a country that loves her. It is obvious she has a communist press officer who told her what to say to get quoted in communist papers.It is obvious she knows nothing about Italy."
Another PDL party official Daniela Santanche called for a boycott of her new movie W.E. "Madonna has offended millions of Italians. After this I hope she'll be left to watch her movie on her own," he said.
Madonna did not ask volunteers at the Toronto International Film Festival to face away from her, says the Material Girl's publicist.
A statement from Liz Rosenberg was issued on the red carpet Tuesday night refuting a report in the Globe and Mail that said volunteers were asked to turn their faces to a wall so they would not see Madonna as she walked out of a Monday news conference for her new movie, W.E.
"Neither Madonna nor her security ever gave instructions for the volunteers to turn away from Madonna," Rosenberg said in the statement. "In fact she was so impressed with the volunteers that she publicly thanked them from the stage for their hard work before the premiere of her film last night which earned a standing ovation. She had a wonderful time at the festival and was especially delighted that she got to spend so much time with her fans in front of the theatre which is a famous tradition at the festival."
Rosenberg said she can't figure out who made the request of the volunteers. The Globe cited a volunteer who said such a request was complied with. "(Madonna) has never and would never ask anyone to do that ever," said Rosenberg.
It is the second time in recent days that the performer has been accused of imperious behaviour. At a news conference at the Venice Film Festival to support W.E., a fan presented Madonna with a bouquet of hydrangeas. She promptly declared that she loathed the flowers, and later made fun of the incident with an online video.
W.E. jumps back and forth through time to tell two stories: Andrea Riseborough plays Wallis Simpson, the controversial American whose romance with Edward VIII ultimately led to his abdication of the throne, while Australian actress Abbie Cornish portrays a downcast modern woman who is obsessed with her.
The film, Madonna's second directorial effort, has received decidedly mixed reviews.
The Toronto International Film Festival wraps Sunday.
Madonna on Monday said she said she doesn't mind any criticism of her filmmaking abilities, so long as it is directed at her movie and not at herself.
The pop star told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she is promoting her second film W.E., she had to earn her reputation as a musician and she expected to do the same as a film director.
"I had the same kind of pressure when I began my music career," Madonna told reporters. "I was nervous, and I didn't know what to expect, and people didn't know what to expect."
The film, which premiered at the Venice film festival and is screening at Toronto, has been characterized by critics as visually stunning, but lacking in focus and burdened by weak performances.
"I can tell when people are reviewing my film and when they're reviewing me personally," Madonna said when asked whether she cared about what critics thought. "So when they stick to the film, then I do care."
W.E. stars Abbie Cornish as a young New Yorker in the 1990s who becomes infatuated with the 1930s marriage of King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, played by Andrea Riseborough. It follows Madonna's first feature, 2008's Filth and Wisdom, which performed poorly at the box office.
Britain's The Guardian newspaper was the harshest among the critics, giving the film just one star out five, while the Daily Telegraph gave a more positive three star review.
The budget of W.E. is estimated to be around $15 million, and it hits movie theaters in the United States in December, prompting one journalist to ask Madonna about her Oscar hopes for the film. "My legs and my fingers are crossed," she quipped.
The video that showed Madonna's reaction of disgust when offered some hydrangeas at the Venice Film Festival was seen by thousands. She wouldn't be Madonna if she responded to the incident in her own typical way. In a funny video posted on her official Youtube channel and tweeted by her manager Guy Oseary, she seems to be apologizing to the flowers in question... but not really. Check it out below.
Madonna dropped by 2011 Toronto Film Festival on September 12 to promote her new directorial movie W.E.. The Material Girl opted for a Tom Ford black dress with sheer sleeves and overlay. She matched it with Brian Atwood shoes, a Ferragamo bag, and Neil Lane jewelry.
The "Hard Candy" singer was joined by her two stars Abbie Cornish and Andrea Riseborough. The former wore an ivory beaded gown with a tiered chiffon overlay details by Elie Saab, while the latter donned a Dolce & Gabbana green sequins dress.
The Monday red carpet event was held in front of Roy Thomson Hall. It was preceded by a press conference at Bell Lightbox with Madonna and Andrea in attendance. The director rocked a red top and black skirt, while the actress playing Wallis Simpson in the movie chose a black lace gown.
Marking Madge's second directorial stint after 2008's Filth and Wisdom, W.E. highlights the affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that led to the British royal abdicating from the throne to marry his divorcee lover. While Simpson is played by Andrea, King Edward VIII is tackled by James D'Arcy.
Meanwhile, Abbie portrays Winthrop, another woman caught up in a similar affair. Her on-screen secret lover is going to be played by Oscar Isaac. The drama was premiered at the 68th Venice Film Festival as part of out of competition movies, and is slated for a limited release in U.S. theaters on December 9.
Madonna showed up on Monday to fight for her new film, W.E., at the Toronto International Film Festival. But nobody called her out.
At a noon news conference, the toughest question from the reporters who managed to ask one ran something like this: "Since you have not had the same acclaim for making movies as in your music career, do you feel pressure?"
"Of course, I do, because it's new and I had the same kind of pressure when I began my music career."
Another reporter asked, gently, whether Madonna the filmmaker cares about critics.
"I do when I think that it's a fair criticism," Madonna answered. "I can tell when people are reviewing my film and whey they're reviewing me personally."
As fireworks go, it didn't add up to much, given the harsh reaction to W.E. at the Venice Film Festival just over a week ago. Critics came down hard on the movie, a back-and-forth pair of love stories about a contemporary woman who is preoccupied with the affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward III. In fact, some were calling the encounter "Death in Venice."
But in Toronto, an accommodating reporter just wanted to know if Madonna had Oscar hopes.
"My legs and my fingers are crossed," said Madonna.
Clearly, W.E. should have skipped Venice, and come first to Toronto — the festival where just about everybody loves just about everything.
Swathed in bright red, to match her lipstick, Madonna offered some thoughts about her approach to the director's craft. "I equate a dolly tracking shot and a woman walking down the street," she said at one point. Go figure.
Next year Madonna will celebrate 30 years in the music business. And despite Lady Gaga, Adele and Rihanna biting at her heels she's still the female singer to beat. What's her secret? Never looking back. She admitted: "I don't think much about me in the past, to tell you the truth. I'm too busy looking forward."
Although her debut single Everybody in 1982 was only a dance hit in America, her third single Holiday went to No2 in the UK and she has become the world's top selling recording artist of all time, selling 300 million records. In the UK, the musical magpie has had 11 No1 albums, tying her with Elvis Presley as a solo act with most No1s. She's also had 13 chart-topping one singles, including True Blue, Like a Prayer and Music.
Of course, Madonna didn't stop at music. She is an award-winning actress, starring in films like Evita and Desperately Seeking Susan. She has written children's books and is now a film director, helming W.E. about the romance between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Madonna has gone from the trashy girl, wearing skirts over capri pants and with arms covered in bracelets, to a sophisticated 53-year-old wearing expensive well-fitted dresses. Her career has certainly inspired almost any female singer of the past 30 years from Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue and Pink to Beyonce, Britney Spears and of course Lady Gaga. What does she think of that? Speaking to promote her W.E. film, Madonna laughed: "Oh well, I would just say what the Duchess says: 'Get a life'."
She also has no truck with the current trend for perfection - whether through cosmetic surgery, or celebrities in photoshoots, or just wanting the perfect relationship. Madonna warned: "Stop striving for perfection because there is no such thing.
“We have to look beneath the surface and I think that we can't take it personally and literally.
“We can't judge a book by its cover, you have to read the book.
“How do you get to know a person? You can't expect to know who they are by reading an article in a magazine about them.
“We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities and it's pretty easy to get famous very quickly now. So I think there is an obsession with celebrity and people mistake getting to photograph somebody in their backyard, playing on the swings with their children, as actually some kind of intimacy. You don't really get to know a person that way, because their lives have been intruded upon. It's an illusion.”
It has been three years since her last album Hard Candy, which included 4 Minutes, but it seems she'll soon start work on her 12th album to be released next spring. She joked: “First I have to go to the studio and record it. For that, I need some free time.”
Madonna has been in the public eye for so long now she's been loved and hated, admired and derided, especially when it comes to acting. She won a Golden Globe award as Eva Peron in Evita and was well received in Desperately Seeking Susan, but there were also howlers like Shanghai Express and Swept Away, directed by her then hubby Guy Ritchie.
Despite having a fortune - rumoured to be half a billion dollars - the mother of four still worries about what people think of W.E., which is the second film she has directed. She admitted: “It would be great if people perceived my work well.” But the critics at the Venice Film Festival ripped it apart - it seems some want her to stick to music.
This isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon — skimming across the blue Venice lagoon in a motor launch, the bright sun reflecting on the waves, the majestic buildings shimmering in the heat... Oh, and having Madonna — in a stunning Dolce & Gabbana little black dress — waving a black silk fan to keep me cool.
I soon discover she's in a reflective mood — and willing to be unusually candid in what, these days, is a rare interview. She tells me that everything she has now — a family, a career and a young lover — has come at a price. I ask her if it really is possible to have all three. ‘You can — but what you can't then expect is a good night's sleep,' she says with a wry smile. I have all three; love, children and work. Lucky me.'
This is the real Madonna. The Madonna that few people see. The Madonna who keeps her thoughts fiercely private — until we find ourselves sharing an airless cabin on the Grand Canal at the Venice Film Festival.
Madonna, it seems, was so afraid of being lonely in middle age that it took two divorces and a string of break-ups before she learnt the art of compromising with the men in her life. ‘The older I get, the more I understand about the nature of relationships and how to have a successful one,' she says. ‘The more I realise that it has to do with compromise and sacrifice and that's just the way it goes. And unless you want to be alone for the rest of your life you have to realise that.'
Madonna, who is very much a ‘couple' with dancer boyfriend Brahim Zaibat, acknowledges that having it all can't be taken for granted. ‘Either the kids aren't going to be getting all your attention, or the man isn't or the job isn't and I can't contemplate living without all three. I can't imagine not having children. I can't imagine not being in love and I can't imagine not being creative and doing the work I do. 'You can't always get what you want, but compromise pays off in the end, right? Give up a little bit here to see if you can get something there. It's about trade-offs and give and take.'
This, from a woman who has been at the top of her game for 30 years — having sold 275 million records — and has a reputation for taking no prisoners. But isn't she used to getting her own way? All the time?
She shifts and moves close to me. ‘Madonna has to beg sometimes,' she says. ‘Madonna doesn't get everything she wants.' Yeah, right, I think.
To prove her point, she tells me what happened when she was shooting a scene for her big new feature film W.E., about Wallis Simpson, the twice-married American socialite for whom King Edward VIII gave up the throne. Madonna's movie has two leading ladies, Andrea Riseborough, portraying Mrs Simpson, who was to become the Duchess of Windsor, and Abbie Cornish who plays Wally Winthrop, a modern-day, unhappily married New Yorker whose storyline runs as a counterpoint reaction to what happens in the Duchess's life.
Madonna explains how she was shooting in New York's Central Park and was just about to shout ‘Action' when a band started up. The film had paid to use the park, so Madonna asked if the band's soundcheck could be delayed. ‘I really had to beg,' she tells me. Madonna had to beg! I exclaimed incredulously. There is an emphatic wave of the black fan. ‘Yes, absolutely.'
W.E. received a ten-minute standing ovation following its world premiere in Venice, but by then the film had sharply divided film writers. Some critics gleefully tore it apart; others, like me, found much to praise, although I had some reservations.
In fact, it's beautifully acted, shot and costumed. Riseborough gives one of the performances of the year as the Duchess, while James D'Arcy portrays the Duke as a blond-haired, frivolous playboy who tries to have a social conscience — but those house parties on the Riviera just got in the way.
Madonna found a surprising fan in director Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, which won a best actress Oscar for Natalie Portman. He called the film Madonna-esque, explaining it flowed with a rock 'n' roll sensibility, and made the point that most period pictures are often static and dull. W.E. goes back and forth across the decades and there's a dance to the music of time.
After the film's North American gala at the Toronto International Film Festival next Monday night, Madonna might decide to sex up W.E. a tad. There's a steamy scene or two between Cornish's Wally Winthrop and a Russian security guard, played by Oscar Isaac, not ‘R-rated' Madonna, but ‘sexy'. The scene was cut, as were others, for movie length reasons. ‘I would like to think that the film is finished, but I did watch it the other night and thought: “Um, maybe it needs a bit of this and a bit of that. Maybe it is still a work in progress,”?' she tells me. Then she exclaims, laughing: ‘For God's sake, I hope it's over with soon.'
She could screen it for ex-husbands Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie to see if they have any thoughts. But she won't be seeking their advice because, in a sense, she has already had it, she says. ‘They didn't knowingly help me, but certainly I learned by being around them. I mean, they're both talented film-makers and intelligent human beings, so I think, without knowing it, they gave me advice. I was paying attention to what they were doing and watched. I'm a watcher and a learner.'
She explains what she picked up from them. ‘I think Guy's a very stylish director and he does things with cameras that are unconventional and certainly pushes the envelope in that area — and in terms of visualising things, he's a ground-breaker.'
Meanwhile, Penn knew about getting to the rawness, the truth of a character. ‘When I was married to Sean, I was amazed at how seriously he took his parts and how far he was willing to go,' she says. When I was with him I didn't know I was going to be directing films, obviously. That wisdom I observed and witnessed stayed with me.'
She says she learnt from them, too, the importance of research when directing a movie. She read any letter she could lay her hands on that was sent to or received by the Duchess and her Duke. She found ones the Duchess sent to her Aunt Bessie, where she wrote of how she would always have to be with the former King and how she felt incarcerated. ‘Those letters are key to her character,' says Madonna of the Duchess. ‘To be loved the way she was by the King. What a great act of romance, self-sacrifice.
‘Every girl loves the idea a man would sweep her off her feet, give up everything for her, only to find out that she is self-imprisoned by that love because if a man is willing to give up a kingdom, then you're going to have to spend the rest of your time together making that man feel like a king, aren't you?'
Madonna has plans to write and direct another movie, but isn't ready to divulge what it'll be about just yet. But a new album will come first. She's writing songs and seems determined to have it released next spring — she may tour off the back of it. ‘A girl does have to make a living,' she declares.
And for that her looks, of course, are an important asset, so she works out and, like many of us, carefully watches what she eats. She steers clear of certain foods, but has her weaknesses and tries to battle them. ‘I don't eat as much pizza as everybody else, that's number one. I exercise even when I'm too bloody tired to.
‘I try to stay away from fried foods, although I had French fries at one o'clock in the morning because that's all there was to eat, but I would never eat any the next day because I have to pay for those calories somehow. So I also try to stay away from cheese, creamy sauces and I try to eat a lot of fish and vegetables.' I wonder whether after all her years living in England she has developed a penchant for lovely, stodgy puddings such as Spotted Dick.
‘Sticky toffee pudding with the sauce, obviously, is my weakness. No custard,' she tells me and, clearly enjoying the food theme, she gaily fans me harder and adds: ‘I like bangers and mash. And mushy peas.' When she sees the look on my face, she screams: ‘I do! I'm sorry!' She goes on: ‘I like Bubble and Squeak, not often because it's fried, but I love it.'
She doesn't prepare the dishes herself because, she confesses, she doesn't cook. ‘It's not in my DNA. My kids all cook really good. I could cook if you put a gun to my head, but after a long day at the office I want to come home and find my dinner on the table,' she says. ‘Oh, my gosh, everyone prepares it but me. Sometimes my daughter Lourdes likes to cook my food. They all help.' She back-pedals a bit and boasts she could boil an egg, scramble eggs, cook pasta, make coffee, whip up a round of sandwiches and — get this— concoct Rice Krispie treats.
‘I'm not that hopeless — it's just that cooking requires time,' she says, before adding that there was never time to prepare a Sunday lunch for Guy Ritchie, who loves a good Sunday roast. ‘I'm sorry I didn't, but I could have if I'd put my mind to it.'
And that just about sums up Madonna's attitude to life: anything she ever wanted to do, she has done — in spades.
As reported earlier, Madonna will be selecting a dancer for her upcoming 2012 tour during one of the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange dance-offs. Madonna and her long-time choreographers Rich + Tone will attend the dance-off in New York City on November 12. The last dancer standing at the end of the dance-off has the chance of winning the coveted prize and becoming part of her official dance crew.
Madonna has this to say about the dance-off: "Since it all began for me in New York City, it makes perfect sense to be choosing the winner of the dance competition here where someone else will get their big start. And the dancers get the chance to work with Rich + Tone – two of the greatest choreographers who I've worked with on my tours for many years. I'm looking forward to seeing all the talent from around the world at the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project in November."
Since yesterday, it is possible (under certain restrictions) to register domain names with the .XXX extension. This extension has been created specifically for pornography related content. To avoid cyber squatters to abuse and to cash in on this extension, the ICM Registry has proactively reserved 15,000 potentially offensive .XXX domains, including international city names, various dignitaries, heads of state and common terms for child pornography. Among the 4,000 celebrity names is also Madonna's, meaning nobody can register Madonna.xxx.
Cyber squatting is a common problem with domain name registration. A decade ago, when registration was less restrictive than today, the domain name Madonna.com was also cyber squatted by a porn website. Madonna, who then temporarily used the domain name madonnamusic.com to host her occial website, later won the domain madonna.com back after a legal battle.
Madonna's W.E. will have its British premiere at the London Film Festival.
The film - which gained mixed reviews from critics after a gala screening out of competition at the Venice Film Festival last week - will play at the event in October, as will George Clooney's 'Ides of March' starring Ryan Gosling.
Madonna's 'W.E'. is a two tier tale about the relationship between US citizen Wallis Simpson and Britain's King Edward VIII and modern day woman Wally, and stars Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish.
The London Film Festival runs from October 12 to 27.
Madonna gave some interviews in Venice. During the interview below, she not only talks about W.E., but also about her new album. Once she's back in NYC, she'll go back into the studio, where she'll work on her album for the rest of the year. A first single can be expected in February/March, followed by the album release in the spring.
Tonight, Madonna and manager Guy Oseary attended the Gucci Awards in the Bauer Il Palazzo Hotel in Venice. Madonna presented the first Gucci Award for Women in Cinema to actress Jessica Chastain. On stage she reminised: "It's surreal to be in Venice since I was here early in my career, filming my Like a Virgin video."
After yesterday's premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the first reviews of W.E. are in. Reactions appear to be quite mixed. While some critics are raving about a surprisingly good directorial debut, others say the flic is an absolute bomb. Here's a selection of reviews:
The Independant: So Wallis Simpson was a victim – and Madonna can direct. 3/5
Huffington Post: The only real difference between them is that Madge will never be climbing down from her throne.
Hollywood Reporter: Madonna's second foray into directing is pleasing to the eyes and ears, but lacking anything for the soul.
The Guardian: Madonna's jaw-dropping take on the story of Wallis Simpson is a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled. 1/5
The Telegraph: Madonna's W.E. is a bold and confident story about an American woman's obsession with the Windsors. 3/5
Madonna jokingly defended her title as "Queen of Pop" Thursday, quipping she would never give up her throne for love like King Edward VIII -- the subject of her latest film screened in Venice. The blonde diva's second directorial work, W.E., starring British actors James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough, tells the tale of the king's famous romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson -- and his subsequent abdication. "Would I ever give up my throne for a man or a woman?" a flirtatious Madonna said after the advance press screening at the 68th Venice Film Festival. "I think I can have both... or all three!" she told journalists.
The star -- looking sleek and glamorous in a black dress and high cream collar pinned with a sparkling jewel cross -- had sped across the lagoon from the luxury Bauer hotel on Venice's Grand Canal where she is staying. Madonna said she had wanted to capture the "world of luxury, beauty and decadence" of the 1930s, as well as the "rarefied air in the modern world", which is also one of wealth and sensuality, but "does not guarantee happiness". The controversial passion between the king and extravagant socialite Wallis is told through the eyes of a lonely modern-day New Yorker, desperately seeking the fairytale happy ending that she believes the famous couple had.
The cinematography alternates between sharp images drawn out by Wallis's striking red lipstick or startling blue eyes, and grainy, hand-held camera shots evoking the bridge linking the two dramas across history. Costume designer Arianne Phillips worked extensively with labels such as Cartier, Dior, and Dunhill to recreate Wallis's extraordinary appetite for fashion and exquisite, enormous collection of jewels and shoes. Style icon Madonna said there were "elements of myself" in the film, and said she could sympathise with Wallis as an outsider, an American living in London. "I empathize with Wallis. Public figures or icons are often just reduced to a soundbite, just a handful of attributes. I think people tried to diminish her... I tried to make her human," she said.
There may be few people better suited than Madonna to tell the story of the two-time American divorcee for whom Britain's King Edward VIII abdicated his throne.
The star herself acknowledges the parallels with Wallis Simpson, the central figure in her sophomore directorial effort, which made its world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday.
She ticked off their common traits: Americans married to Brits. A shared love of fabulous clothes. A sense of adventure. Tenacity, resourcefulness and resilience. But on a deeper level, Madonna said, she can relate to the limitations imposed by enormous fame — or notoriety.
"I think once you become famous, you have to pretty much relinquish the idea that people are going to see you for who you are, or look beyond the surface of things," Madonna told a small group of reporters. "I think that was a source of great frustration for Wallis Simpson and for Edward VIII, because after he abdicated, they didn't really have the opportunity to defend themselves.
"So hopefully, I have been able to do that for Wallis Simpson through my film."
Madonna spent several years researching before sitting down to write the film with Alek Keshishian, the director of her Truth or Dare documentary. What emerges is a sympathetic portrait of the oft-maligned Simpson that attempts to show what the American divorcee — and not just the king — sacrificed to marry in 1937.
"I think she felt an existential loneliness," Madonna said.
W.E. — short for Wallis and Edward, who are portrayed by Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy — tells Simpson's story through the eyes of a modern-day namesake who seeks solace from her unhappy marriage in the details of what in its day was considered the romance of the century.
Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) becomes obsessed with a Sotheby's auction of personal items that once belonged to Wallis and Edward, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The everyday objects — an engraved cigarette case, a martini shaker — become a sort of portal between the 1930s and 1998, the year of the real-life auction. In a testament to their enduring fascination, the sale totaled $23.4 million, three times Sotheby's original estimate.
The movie covers the same period as last year's Oscar-winning "The King's Speech," which focused on Edward's brother Bertie, who strived to overcome a speech impediment as he was elevated to the throne in the wake of his brother's abdication.
"I view the success off that film as laying the ground work for my film," Madonna said. "There's a little bit of history, and a little bit of knowledge. We are not starting from a blank slate."
Much of Simpson's inner life in the film is revealed by the Duchess's correspondence with the Duke and other confidantes.
In the film, Wallace confides in a letter to her aunt, "You have no idea how hard it is to live out the great romance of the century, and to know I will have to be with him, always and always and always and always."
Madonna read numerous books and films in her research and adamantly rejects contentions that Simpson was a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer, a point she seeks to rebut in the film."In fact, I believed she was a Nazi too, when I started my investigation. But after years of research, I could find no empirical evidence proving she was a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer," Madonna said. While she and her husband did have lunch with Hitler, and Simpson met with Hitler's foreign minister, Madonna said they were far from the only ones in that era to do so."There was nothing unusual about them having a meeting at that time," Madonna said. "I believe people wanted to undermine their popularity once they abdicated."
The film is rich in visual detail, with a sumptuous wardrobe created by Arianne Phillips from photographs of the Duke and Duchess together and studies of fashion archives and museums. The jeweler Cartier also recreated copies of pieces that the Duke had commissioned for the Duchess, apparently an attempt to make up for the royal jewels that would never be hers.
Madonna said she wanted to indulge in the luxury as a counterpoint to the poverty of the inner lives of the two protagonists: "To make the point that no matter how beautiful and glamorous your surroundings, there is no guarantee for happiness."
For the film's press debut, Madonna wore a replica of a bracelet made for Simpson by Cartier, with the birthstones of her four children, and a prim dark dress with a high white collar and white trim along the sleeves she said would have appealed to Simpson.
Madonna said she received support for the project from both her two director ex-husbands, Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. But she also acknowledged that that during her 10-year marriage to Ritchie, she was intimidated from directing. "I didn't think I had the right to make a film until I paid my dues, which I did by making Filth and Wisdom in 2008, she said. Madonna, the enduring pop icon who has been a dancer, singer, actress and now director, says all of her experience is coming together in W.E.
"I see myself as a storyteller. Film has always informed the other areas of my work. I don't think that being a filmmaker is such a big leap," she said. "I think all of my work before actually prepared me for the responsibility of filmmaking."
Pop star Madonna thanked her ex-husbands for encouraging her to take up a career in movies, as she arrived in Venice on Thursday for the world premiere of her lavish royal drama W.E. The 53-year-old American has been married to actor and director Sean Penn and British film maker Guy Ritchie -- and has spent much of the last few years behind the camera rather than on the stage.
W.E., her second feature film, appears at the Venice film festival outside the main competition, but the presence of one of the world's biggest celebrities inevitably dominated the attention of the world's press.
The film re-tells the story of American divorcee Wallis Simpson, whose affair with Britain's King Edward VIII led him to abdicate the throne. It does so through the eyes of another American Wally Winthrop, played by Abbie Cornish, who lives in New York in the 1990s and becomes obsessed with the life of a woman with whom she bears an uncanny resemblance.
"I am and was attracted to very creative people which is why I married Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie, two very talented directors," Madonna told reporters after a press screening of W.E. "They both encouraged me as a director and as a creative person to do what I did, and they were both very supportive," added the singer, who wore a short-sleeved black dress with white trim.
There was applause for the movie after the first screening and one early review, in the Daily Telegraph, gave W.E. three stars out of five. "Her version of their (the Windsors') lives is a fantasia that will not trouble historians," wrote David Gritten. "Yet oddly, that's a relief after so many stale, plodding TV documentaries about this unlovely couple."
PARALLELS BETWEEN MADONNA, WALLIS
Madonna said she saw parallels between herself and Simpson, a woman who was vilified by many for her role in a constitutional crisis but who is sympathetically portrayed in W.E. by Andrea Riseborough. Like Simpson, Madonna is a woman who lives her life in the public glare, and is also an American who moved to England for several years while married to Ritchie. "I identified with her in that I think it's very common when people become celebrities or public figures or icons that we are often reduced to a soundbite and that you're given a few attributes and then you're not allowed to have anything more than that," she said.
"I did go through periods of feeling like I was an outsider when I first moved to England. I certainly didn't feel like that by the time I'd lived there for 10 years. And I feel, since I moved there, that I feel very welcomed by England."
Asked why she chose Simpson as a subject, Madonna replied: "I was deeply and utterly swept up in trying to understand the reason that this man, King Edward VIII ... would relinquish this great position of power for love." She added that she hoped the success of "The King's Speech," set at the same time and in a similar world to W.E., would help, not harm her project. "I was a little bit nervous, because I thought, 'oh dear, if someone else is making a movie about the same time-frame, then who would be interested in my movie?' But then I saw the film and I saw that it was from a completely different point of view and I view the success of that film as sort of laying the groundwork for my movie. So there is a little bit of history and a little bit of knowledge and we are not starting with a blank slate."
Madonna's film about the celebrated romance between King Edward VIII and the twice divorced Mrs Wallis Simpson, and the grave constitutional crisis it caused, is exquisitely done — but it's going prove divisive. A lot of people will loathe it, simply because it's been made by Madonna.
But if they were to watch it with no knowledge of who directed, they would be pleasantly surprised. They might even find much of it enjoyable, although the odd moment may have them wondering if Madge has committed treason. Whatever your feelings about Ms Ciccone, it's impossible to refute that her film brings to the screen one of the most compelling love stories in history.
It also happens to be one of the best-dressed movies of the year. The costumes, as you would expect from the original material girl, are eye-popping. In fact, the whole thing looks fantastic — it's designer Viagra.
W.E. (the title stands for the initials of the two lovebirds Wallis and Edward, although he close family and his mistresses called him David) subverts the Royal Family heritage genre by introducing a modern-day parallel, about an unhappily married New Yorker named Wally Winthrop. Madonna uses this second storyline to counterpoint and comment on what happened to the Duchess of Windsor (as Mrs Simpson became when she finally married the King after he renounced the throne for her).
What can a foreign singer who has spent the past three decades re-inventing herself, and her hair-style, possibly know about our Royal Family's history, and the intricacies of a crisis that remains sensitive seven decades after it captivated the world? Well, it would seem she knows a lot — although experts on the Abdication are bound to find fault (and they might have something to say about her insistence that the Duke and Duchess were not Nazi sympathisers).
But the director is clearly up to the challenge of defending herself. She studied the crisis for years before deciding to make this movie. We all know that the affair cost the King his kingdom, and an empire. But Madonna the film-maker, who wrote the screenplay with her old friend Alek Keshishian, raises the question of what it cost Mrs Simpson.
To be sure, she became the Duchess of Windsor and lived a life of luxury but, as Mrs Simpson (played beautifully by Andrea Riseborough) points out, the King ‘used me to escape his prison, only to incarcerate me in my own'.
Poor old Mrs Simpson would have been happier if she could have shaken cocktails for His majesty while remaining married to second husband Ernest Simpson. She would have been happier, too, if she could have thrown a few of those cocktails over the Queen Mother, who went around calling her a trollop.
But Madonna's astute enough not to push it too far. Some people have spent two years sharpening their knives for this film, but there have been at least two recent biographies of the Duchess that support much of Madonna's view.
Those knives were also out because rough-cut previews suggested the film was destined to be another of Madge's famous flops. Rumour had it that the two-tier love story was cumbersome.
Actually, the device is a breath of fresh air and I think it will make the movie accessible to younger audiences. Whether it can do the kind of box office business The King's Speech did is another matter.
However clever, the storyline of Wally and her Russian security boyfriend (played well by Oscar Isaacs) is simply not as gripping as the real royal romance at the heart of the film.
There will also be misgivings over the inclusion of an actor playing Mohamed al Fayed, who gets a scene in the film because Wally wants access to the Duchess's letters, and al Fayed purchased the Duke and Duchess's Paris villa and its contents.
There were early drafts of the script that had the Duchess dancing with her pugs to the Sex Pistol's God Save The Queen while her husband lay in bed under an oxygen mask and other medical apparatus. Madonna opted instead to have the Duchess do the twist, as Chubby Checker's great hit plays on a gramophone. It's a fun scene — and typical of the best moments in this movie, which occur when Madonna as the courage of her convictions and breaks the rules in the way Baz Luhrmann does. It's a fictionalised story based on facts, after all — not a documentary.
There's a scene where the Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson are with friends, dozing in comfy chairs. The Prince, portrayed superbly as a blonde, blue-eyed boy by James D'Arcy, screams that he's going to wake the party up by popping Benzedrine into the champagne.
Mrs Simpson hitches up her designer gown and dances the Charleston to the Sex Pistols. ‘We're so pretty, we're so pretty vacant' the song goes, and it's a sizzling moment that encapsulates the life of deluxe hedonism the couple led.
Wally (played by Abbie Cornish) is obsessed with the Duchess's life. She gets to preview the Sotheby's auction of the contents of the Duke and Duchess's Paris villa on the Bois de Boulogne. She walks through rooms of furniture — the George III mahogany library table at which Edward signed his Abdication — past piles of linen, including the crepe de chine bed sheets the duchess insisted on being ironed twice a day.
At one point, Wally holds up a tablecloth emblazoned with the duchess's cypher — two intertwined W's woven like a butterfly. As she studies it, the scene cuts to the duchess overseeing the planning for a dinner party and the same tablecloth is being smoothed over the table. She sprays scent over the placements and instructs her maids to use shorter candles because, she explains, ‘the light needs to be just above eye level to be flattering'.
All this interior design porn, the sumptuous sofas, the castles, the Mayfair apartments, the south of France villas is fascinating, of course, but it also symbolises a life beyond the reach of all but a handful of us. Madonna has lived such a life herself and knows it is meaningless unless you have someone you love to share it with.
W.E. gets its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival tonight↑ Back to top of page