Yes, this is me with Madonna's chair
I met Madonna.
When I type that, it has the cutesy bluntness of "we bought a zoo." But even wilder than purchasing a zoo, I did finally get to meet a woman who has inspired me for three decades.
By "meet," I don't mean in the magazine coverline sense, I mean I met-met her—like, shook her hand, was introduced, sat knee-to-knee with her and conversed.
And frighteningly, it almost never happened.
The first week of December, I received an e-mailed invitation to join a W.E.-themed round-table interview of Madonna and Andrea Riseborough (everyone's trying to forget Abbie Cornish was in the movie) at the Waldorf-Astoria on December 14th at 2PM. As exciting as this was for me—six years of blogging was worth it if only for this!—it was also devastating...I was scheduled to be in Paris with José celebrating a big birthday of his on the 11th, 12th and 13th, and would be landing in NYC on the 14th several hours after the Madonna meet-up.
As I examined the invite, time went by so slowly. I alerted José, who had spent a month planning our sprint through Paris (our first trip there and a major splurge), and his first reaction was, "That's annoying. Hope it's not too devastating for you. Will they have another one?" (How did I end up with someone who thought for a second I was going to miss a chance to meet and speak with Madonna?)
When I got home, we had it out a bit; I told him there was no way I could sit back and miss this if there were any way to make it happen, including rearranging (not postponing) our trip. This didn't sit well. "It's just Madonna in a room!" he argued. To which I replied, "Yes, José—it's MADONNA IN A ROOM."
I reassured him that if I had to choose between José and Madonna, I would choose him...but that I would rather not have to make that choice!
Unfortunately, my stray thought that there might be an L.A. junket I could fly out for did not bear fruit. (Liz Rosenberg told me SHE would not skip Paris, but that she WOULD if she were ME.)
With some frantic shuffling, it turned out that we could move our entire trip ahead by one full day with no fee from the hotel (there was even one room available!) and a total charge of $300 to move the tickets (only because one leg of our journey was switching airports from the orginal plan). So for $300, we wound up with a much better trip (three full days in Paris instead of two full days and two half days) and I wound up able to share air with the Queen.
I wasn't convinced I'd actually get to meet Madonna until our connecting flight from Chicago landed in NYC the day before the interview. That's when we looked at each other and realized we'd pulled it off.
The day of the interview, I decided I'd wear a black jacket and shirt. Fashion-oblivious or not, I could hardly wear one of my six or so T-shirts to meet Madonna. I worked part of the day then walked from Times Square over to the Waldorf. Surveying it felt like scoping out the scene of a crime I intended to commit...wasn't someone going to stop me?
The time had originally been 2PM but was now a 2:30PM check-in with 3PM to 3:45PM listed as the interview span. Not wanting surprises, I'd already sussed out that this meant there would be two or three tables of six to eight people in separate rooms. Madonna, Andrea and Arianne Phillips (her faithful costumer) would do 15-minute visits. This meant it could be challenging to get a question in edgewise—film writers can be absolutely piggish at round tables.
12 bodies fit around this? We were closer than a Sex book spread!
Inside and up to the 18th-floor Sutton Room, I was the first to arrive by a heartbeat at about 2PM. Speaking of heartbeats, mine were a mile a minute when I entered the room and saw how tiny the table was. I've done countless round-table interviews, but never have I done one with such a huge star, nor at such a small table. Madonna's chair was a big, comfy leather seat while the rest of us had typical hardbacks. I of course sat right next to where I imagined Madonna would sit.
The original chair meant for Madonna was one step away from a throne
The next guy to arrive was a sexy Argentinean correspondent who wondered if I'd interviewed Madonna in the past. Assuming he meant while awake, I had to say no. More guys arrived and we began chatting (I'd never laid eyes on any of them except my pal Tony, who was there for Random House, which is doing books on the Duke & Duchess of Windsor) quite openly about our good fortune. I had the impression that everyone there was a Madonna fan to some degree, ranging from, "Of course I like her—who doesn't?" up to, "I should try to kill and eat her in order to become closer to her." It also became apparent that this was "the gay male room"—out of the 11 people (not six to eight!) who showed up, one was a straight man and one was a woman.
Talking to kill time and to keep from obsessing over the impending momentous encounter, we shared our thoughts on "Gimme All Your Luvin'" (most didn't L-U-V it), on W.E. (most said it was far better than they'd expected, if imperfect) and on...well, what other topics are there?
Madonna's final resting place (for 18 and a half minutes)
Stealthily, someone came in and removed the ostentatious comfy chair, replacing it with two regular chairs, one tilted down to the table right next to me. Turns out the extra was for a writer who'd been added, but we were able to get the extra person to sit in the middle instead of next to Madonna, who as an institution should be first-come, first-served.
At one point, we were told Madonna—who was quite late—wouldn't be arriving for another 30 minutes, but that Andrea would be in soon. Arianne had canceled. This was all good news in that this meant we'd have Madonna all to ourselves.
Then, out of nowhere, we heard, "Here's Madonna!" and she entered the room with Liz and some security, one of whom popped a water bottle for her and placed it at her seat. (She never touched it or, yes, I would now own it and would be sprinkling it on any wounds I acquired in order to hasten healing.) The Weinstein people cautioned us that there would be NO photos afterward. (This was my only complaint about the experience because there were so few of us and a group shot would've been a snap; but it's definitely not unheard of for talent to not do any photos at these things. And now I have one last remaining bucket-list thing...not counting the more substantial stuff!)
Madonna looked absolutely stunning, everyone would later agree. She had on a '40s-style deep navy-blue dress, black Chanel glovelets and gobs of wrist and finger jewelry including a ring that would bring a tear to the eye of the most jaded one-percenter. Her hair was lovely, kind of Sarah Jennings meets Farrah Fawcett. She does not appear as tiny in person as so many say; her stilt-like heels might have something to do with that. Madonna had looked good enough when I shouted a couple of questions to her at Macy's, but for a true meeting, she could not have looked any better or any more like herself...just dazzling.
I of course stood—this is what one does for a lady, no? Everyone else joined me, which was just as well because it made the introduction phrase much more memorable, placing us all within her reach.
"Hi. Sorry I'm late," Madonna told us.
Liz said, "Hi, everyone. This is Madonna! Matthew, you've met—everyone, if you could all introduce yourself, that would be great."
She was referring to the Macy's encounter (unless she'd forgotten that I truly had never met Madonna!), but Liz's comment threw me for a loop. Madonna shook my hand nonetheless and asked, "What's your name?" like one might ask a well-groomed 11-year-old or one's biggest, gayest fan. Her voice is eternally youthful which is fine, because for me, Madonna will always be 25 and I will always be 15.
"I'm Matthew," I offered.
"Matthew—okay," she acknowledged. Somehow, I remembered to let go of her hand.
Then Madonna leaned over the table (I told you it was small) and shook the hand and got the name of every other journalist, giving us the contact—and eye contact—we all probably wanted. She repeated everyone's name as it was offered, lingering over the Argentinean's exotic moniker. "Rafa," she said. "Where are you from?" Leave it to Madonna to enter a den of homosexuality and be able to sniff out the hetero.
At this point, she was welcomed to "the gay room," pronounced it "cool" and acquiesced, "Let's start with levity."
"I have a good question to kick it off..." I began. Lookit, I am not going to wind up getting no question asked after changing my trip and organizing my life up till now around this person! Madonna said sweetly, "I'm sure you do!"
Madonna interrupted my question with, "Hold on a second—who are you guys?" She was addressing Craig and Ryan, publicists working the project in conjunction with Weinstein. They introduced themselves and she was satisfied; she'd wanted to know if they would be asking her questions, too.
At this point, another of the writers, a very knowledgable and articulate fellow who was older than everyone else there and had been kind of dominating our conversation (not unpleasantly) prior, arrived back to the table after a coffee break and broke in with some banter, the first sign that he could be an issue. Madonna rolled with it, but I steered things back to my question.
"All right, let's go around the room," Liz said, This seemed to imply that after I went we'd each get a question. That would have been the fair thing to do, but it was not meant to be.
"Let's get down to business," Madonna prompted, so I asked her an on-topic question: What had surprised her the most about Wallis Simpson in all the months and years of research she'd done? Madonna correcting me by pointing out that she didn't do just "months and years" of research, she did "three years."
Madonna gave me a long and thoughtful and unhesitant answer, which I'll be transcribing in a separate post. But without listening back to it, I couldn't tell you much about its content because I was knee-to-knee with her, turned in my seat and facing her, and I'm sure I was redder than a beet. I nodded, listening to her, but also just enjoying the thought that I had made this meeting work and had gotten my question in. It was so relaxing!
As she answered other questions, I was able to discreetly examine every inch of her. I'm sure she is used to this everywhere she goes, but still, I didn't make a spectacle of myself. I probably looked about like my soon-to-be-new-pal Chris, who was sitting next to her on the other side. I glanced up and saw his poker face with its continually roving eyes. Together, we were giving her a four-eyeball massage. I was struck by how often I returned to look at her gorgeous eyes with their impossibly thick but natural-looking lower lashes, the gap in her teeth and that lovely point at the middle of her lower lip, aspects of her appearance that have always captivated me and that had led to countless doodles. I mean, it was really her, y'know? And she was close enough that at any moment she could've (should've?) turned on me Duchess-style and sneered, "Get a life!"
Something that marred things was that the talkative correspondent did hog Madonna, asking several questions (one or two of the guys at the table never got a single question because of this) and at times finishing her answers for her. He also jumped in way too quickly, cutting her off from properly answering at least one of the questions posed to her. It's always every man for himself, but it didn't need to be that way this time—we wound up having her for between 18 and 19 minutes, so there could have been time for everyone to get something. I feel bad calling him out, but it wasn't right.
As things ended, Madonna entertained a few random questions, including one about her ability to do the Twist (which is related to one of W.E.'s best scenes), "Yes," she huffed playfully. "Pretty simple!"'
She wouldn't comment on what her next movie might be, instead saying, "The Super Bowl."
Copy of the 1934 bracelet belonging to Wallis Simpson
Madonna wore a variation of the same bracelet at the Waldorf
Then, because I was practically on top of her, I asked her if the bracelet she was wearing—gold with four crosses, quite visible in the film and a match for a famous piece owned by Wallis Simpson—had belonged to the Duchess.
"No, this isn't hers, but it's a present, a sort of a...I asked to have one of the bracelets, Cartier made two bracelets for me, for the film not for me, they recreated them for Andrea to wear and I asked if I could have one at the end and they said no, so, um, they made this for me as a consolation prize. I got four crosses, one for each of my children. So...better than nothing!"
As Liz brought things to a firmer end, Madonna asked, "Do I leave this room?"
Speaking for myself and probably more than a few others, I'd say she left it enthralled.
Read my full review of The Weinstein Company's Academy Award-nominated W.E. (in theaters February 3) and hear this entire interview later this week. Return to this blog to enter to win the W.E. soundtrack tomorrow.