TORONTO, CANADA – The Material Girl has arrived!
That was the big news at the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) here at Toronto, Ontario, Canada when iconic pop queen, Madonna, arrived to promote her new film, “W.E.,” the drama about the controversial romance between American divorcee Wallis Simpson (the “W,” portrayed by Andrea Riseborough) and Britain's King Edward VIII (the “E,” portrayed by James D’Arcy), which led him to give up the throne.
The film also tells the story of a contemporary woman named Wally (Abbie Cornish of “Sucker Punch”) and her obsession with the midcentury British romance.
Madonna, who arrived at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel wearing a red blouse and a black pencil skirt with black heels all by Yves Saint Laurent and a special W.E. necklace designed by jeweler Neil Lane, also co-wrote “W.E.” with her “Truth or Dare” collaborator Alek Keshishian.
Looking very Marilyn Monroe-ish with her shoulder-length blonde hair in cascading curls, Madonna was a vision of confidence. Her sharp sense of humor and her distinctive intelligence were on display as she answered our questions honestly, humorously and intelligently.
Despite three burly bodyguards watching over her and a doting entourage that was quick to touch up her hair and make-up before the pictorial, Madonna showcased her independent thinking as she handled herself like a true-blooded pop royalty.
We told her that we know her as a performer and now as a director. But how is she as a writer? What is her writing process, we asked.
“Well, I like to write by myself for periods of time collecting ideas, writing things down,” the 53-year-old Madonna revealed. “I like to write in longhand because I also like the visceral feeling of writing with a real ink pen and then like to get together with, say, Alek Keshishian in this circumstance and collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other and come up with stuff. Then we have a 20-minute break where we’re completely behaving like children and having fun. Then we go back to work.
“I don’t really have any one specific process. I like to do a lot of research first, gather up all my facts, meet people, watch things, read things and then sit by myself for a while. I like to put myself in an environment that I have created for writing in the circumstance of this film. I found an empty room in my house and I wallpapered the walls with pictures from the auction catalogue and photographs that I had Xeroxed of the Duke and the Duchess from the time they were children up until the time right before they both died so that I was sitting in a room that was completely and utterly inundated with their images so I could soak up their energy.”
As for being a director, Madonna disclosed, “It does seem like I made a big leap from being a singer-performer-entertainer to making films. It is a completely different discipline but when I do my shows, I am completely and utterly involved in the minutiae of every aspect of the show. I am already a detail-oriented person and I would like to think of myself as a visionary.
“As a filmmaker, I spent a lot of time with my cinematographer Hagen Bodanski before we started shooting. I would show him a lot of movies and I’d say what kind of lens was that – steadicam, handheld. We talked about various film stocks as we went along and I would make notes. I was a student in every way you can imagine. Then when we were shooting the film, I spent a lot of time with the focus puller who gave me lens lessons. He would tell me what lens would be most flattering for a close-up, what I need to do if I want to bring the foreground closer and shoot through a crowd. So I was just lapping up as much information as I could from my incredibly experienced and talented crew as I went along. I was glad they were generous with me. Thank goodness!”
Even the handsome and charming Antonio Banderas, whom we interviewed for his latest Pedro Almodovar-helmed movie, “The Skin I Live In,” couldn’t hide his excitement when we told him that Madonna was in town and we were going to talk to her in an hour.
“Oh my God!” he exclaimed cupping his face with both his hands in disbelief. “Tell her I said hello!” he added excitedly after confessing that he had been “thinking of you for the past 20 years.”
When we told her of Antonio Banderas and his excitement to meet her, she said, “Oh yes, I mentioned when I was doing ‘Truth or Dare?’ that I was dying to meet him, yeah. I used to have a terrible crush on him. It’s true! But I think he is taken.”
• • •
Antonio, on the other hand, who is reunited with director Pedro Almodovar after 21 years in his new film, “The Skin I Live In,” is excited to talk about working again with his idol.
The movie, based on Thierry Jonquel’s novel “Tarantula,” is about a surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio) who tries to get back to his daughter’s rapist, Vincent (Jan Cornet), by transforming him into a woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), and keeps her captive with the help of his servant Marilia (Marisa Paredes).
“It was in the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 that Pedro approached me with the idea,” he narrated. “He just read the novel, ‘Tarantula.’ And he said, ‘I think that we have a story here that it can put us together again after so many years.’ But it took him eight years by the time that he called me. Then he suddenly called me. I was coming out of a workshop in New York that I was doing for Zorba. And he said, literally, without even saying hello. He just said, ‘It’s about time.’ I asked, ‘Do you have a script already?’ He says, ‘Yes. Where are you?’ ‘I am in New York,’ I said. And he replied, ‘You will have it in a couple of days.’
“Pedro Almodovar is not an easy director. He’s very demanding. He is very precise. And he doesn’t like actors who are coming with a suitcase filled with tricks of everything that you have been accumulating during the years as a professional. So he took this suitcase that I brought and literally threw it out of the window. And said, ‘We have to start from zero.’”
So how does he maintain his good looks, we asked the tanned, shaved and slim 51-year-old actor.
“I do yoga,” he said. “I eat well. I try to be in harmony with my life. I don’t have too many anxiousness to get anywhere, anymore. I am at this particular moment in my life content. I am very satisfied with the work that I am presenting in this fall time and very especially with this one. When you are content with the things that you are doing, it just helps you to feel and look good.”
Formerly a Manila journalist, Los Angeles-based Janet Susan R. Nepales is a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
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