In a bedroom with Madonna
- 2 September 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
The press junket interview is a strange affair. It's a cross between that moment in the Apprentice when the young hopefuls go to face the music with Lord Sugar and a visit to the doctor. It is not glamorous - even when Madonna is the interviewee.
I am to go in fifth, after Norway, Portugal, Russia and Switzerland have each had their individual six minutes with the iconic pop star and rookie movie director. We have all converged in the corridor of a exclusive hotel in Venice where her film W.E premiered last night at the Film Festival.
The heat is stifling: there is no air conditioning. Still at least there will be once I get into the hotel suite with the diminutive director.
Wrong. Norway has just emerged to say the air conditioning is switched off in the room because it makes too much noise when the recording equipment is switched on.
Who cares, we shrug as one, tell us what was she like. "Nice", Norway responds. "Long or short answers," we ask? "Long," Norway sighs.
This is not good. In a non-negotiable six minutes, long answers equal dead time and a sharp reduction in the amount of questions you can ask.
And these are television interviews, and television doesn't really go for long answers. What's more half the questions means half the chance of getting a decent line from the interview. A tactical re-think is required.
Eighteen minutes later - with the precision of a military operation - Switzerland emerges from the hotel suite with a contented, if slightly flushed, demeanour.
It is my turn. Normally at this stage I would walk in with a BBC camera person and a producer. But today there is no BBC camera as Madonna's people insisted on recording this interview.
'All over the place'
I am ushered into a tiny bedroom. A row of six or so chairs lines the wall, upon which unidentified people sit. My name and organisation is read out from a list, at which point a blonde head peers around the corner. "This is Madonna," I am told.
And so it is. She is sitting cross-legged on a hotel bedroom chair, petit, pretty and poised. "Hi," she says and smiles warmly. "Hello," I reply, genuinely pleased to meet someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration.
She is wearing a black dress. Elegant and sober is the vibe: this is Madonna the movie director, not the rock chick version (although the after-party for her movie meant she has only had a few hours sleep).
I ask her how easy it was to make the movie. "Bloody nightmare" is the phrase she used that sticks in my mind. She's not kidding.
For a director learning her craft she has co-written a very complicated script.
The spine of the film is Wallis Simpson's affair with Edward VIII. But running parallel to their story is another about a modern Manhattanite who has a Wallis Simpson fixation (as did her mother hence calling her Wally).
And if dealing with two different stories and two different time frames wasn't hard enough, she threw in the complication of shooting in about 100 locations in three different countries.
The result, according to some critics, is a movie that is both literally and metaphorically all over the place. I asked Madonna if she had read any the reviews. "No," she said, "I daren't".
And I felt for her. Because she was being totally honest - she feels exposed. She has put herself out there to be judged in a genre where critics in the past have sometimes been less than effusive about her as an actress.
'Sweat and tears'
I asked her why risk the flak. After all, her place as a pop - and cultural - icon is assured. She said that she had always liked the art form and felt she could add something to it; at the very least another female voice in a male dominated world. And what, I asked, would she like people to take away from the movie?
A more positive opinion of Wallis Simpson was the general gist. "What," I said, "if they came away saying 'wow, that Madonna can make a movie?'"
She smiled shyly and said quietly with genuine humility: "that would be awesome".
When I walked out of the hotel bedroom, having sneaked a couple of extra minutes of interview time, I thought we had enough for a couple of good clips in a news package. I also thought that people can say what they like about Madonna, but she sure has a tilt at life. Some folk are radiators; others drains: Madonna is a red hot life force.
Unfortunately her camera people are not. At least that's what my producer and I thought when we watched the interview tape to chose clips for our news package.
We had been given the wrong interview: I had turned into a charming, heavily pregnant Norwegian. Disaster - we had one hour to cut the package and file it to London and no star interview. Yikes.
Back to the hotel and mayhem: everybody had been given the wrong tape. The pack of calm journalists who had stood outside in the hotel corridor an hour earlier, hot but happy, were now flaming fuming.
Sweat and tears all round, mostly from Colombia, who had flown half way round the world for her interview with Madonna only to find this technical difficulty meant that time had run out.
It is difficult to express how bad a situation that is. It's not just the expense; it's the expectation. All those colleagues back at her home broadcaster expecting their exclusive interview. Desperate.
Maybe that should be Madonna's next film, Press junkets: The Movie. The critics would probably like it.