Madonna’s second directorial effort W.E. opened out of competition on the Lido Thursday where the singer/actress-turned-director discussed the project – which she said took “years of research.”
During a press conference that was standing-room-only, a composed and confident Madonna gave succinct, in depth answers to questions that reflected how immersed she has been in the film – the research and script of which (written with Alek Keshishian) she says took three years to complete. The film debuted to mixed reviews, with Screen’s Mark Adams writing: “while certainly not perfect, it does have delightful and memorable moments.”
As to why she was interested in the project, Madonna said, “I was completely and utterly swept up the reason that this man King Edward VIII would give up his thrown for the woman he loves. Why he would relinquish his great position of power for love? I wanted to get to the bottom of it, I wanted to investigate I wanted to find out why. That was my original attraction.”
The film intertwines two women’s lives – which often reflect each other – alluding to an almost past-life bond between the two. Asked why she opted for the two-tier narrative approach Madonna elaborated, “While I was interested in the epic romance of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, I was never interested in a straightforward biopic … It is important to understand [the film] is my point of view after understanding and digesting all the information from the years of research I did. I wanted the story to have a point of view and I created the modern day story of Wally, that Abbie (Cornish) plays and essentially the Duchess’ story is shown through eyes of Wally only to emphasise further the point that truth is subjective and that depending on where we are standing and the life experiences we have had we are going to experience that story in a different way, and it is going to mean something different to each and everyone of us.”
She also expressed gratitude for the release of Oscar winner The King’s Speech after overcoming some initial nerves that the project might have cancelled hers out. “I view the success of that film as sort of laying the ground work for my movie and when I saw Tom Hooper at a party recently I thanked him profusely for setting up my movie because now people have a reference point …when they watch my movie they will say ‘oh right’ that is that person and that is Bertie and that is Elizabeth and that is the brother etc. etc…so we’re not starting with a blank slate.”
Madonna also admitted to an “obvious subconscious attraction” to Wallis Simpson agreed when asked, that the film is about motherhood and the urge to create, as both of her characters yearn to become pregnant. At the same time, the film was a lush telling of love and the desire for love at the same time as it exposed its problems and trappings.
“I don’t see love as banal and trivial and I don’t see it as sentimental either. I think love is as impossible to describe and explain as it is to describe the nature of God or the laws of the universe etc, it is just one of those intangible things. It is the force that moves us all.”
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Madonna straightforwardness was extended even to private questions, including her relationships with her former husbands Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie or about her spirituality. She simply batted back, “when you ask questions you really ask questions,” before nailing them on the head:
“I am and was always attracted to creative people, which is why I married Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie, both talented directors and they both encouraged me and were very supportive,” while also saying “I always loved film all my life I am a film lover and have always been inspired by movies and I think I have always had it in the back of my mind I wanted to make one.” (She previously directed 2008’s music-inspired Filth & Wisdom.)
As to her spirituality the entire cast – present on the Lido – roundly agreed that Madonna’s spiritual life only helped the filmmaking process.
Summed up best by James D’Arcy, who portrays King Edward VIII, “When she handed out tambourines the first day we all smiled,” he joked. “Spiritually is something that is deeply personally. With me, I think that it manifested itself with Madonna’s strong vision [and that she is a] clear communicator and a really good laugh. That is beautiful spirituality as far as I can see.”