New York, Feb 1: The focus in the days ahead is on Madonna the musician. She's set to perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl on Sunday and her new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin',” with the white-hot Nicki Minaj, hits radio airwaves this week.
But the 53-year-old superstar is surely hoping that some of that spotlight will shine on her new movie, “W.E.,” about the celebrated romance between divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson and Britain's King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne for love in the 1930s.
“To me their lives were so diverse, complex and interesting, and there were so many different points of view to approach the story from,” said Madonna during a recent interview about the film, which opens Friday.
Madonna doesn't star in “W.E.”—she's the film's director. It tells the story of Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) through the vantage point of a modern-day woman (played by Abbie Cornish) obsessed with the fabled romance between Simpson and Edward.
The union is often portrayed as the ultimate example of true love: Simpson was married when the pair began their relationship and was forever scandalized in royal circles. When Edward became king, he planned to marry her, but opposition to the union was so great, he chose to give up his kingdom. The two later wed and became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
For some, it was a modern-day fairy tale, but it's a notion Madonna debunks in “W.E.”
“I think a lot of women have that fantasy of about what's going to happen to them when they meet Mr. Right, Mr. Perfect, Mr. Complete Me, and then you realize that that doesn't actually exist,” said the twice-divorced icon as she spoke about the film in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. “Love exists; I'm still a romantic, but it's not that fairy tale that we're all led to believe ... where the prince comes and kisses you.”
It's a message Madonna used to instill in her daughter when the star would read Lourdes the typical bedtime stories featuring a damsel in distress who is saved by a knight.
“I'd get to the end of the story and go, ‘Hey wait a second. Nobody asked her what she wanted.'... I suddenly started seeing how misleading all of these fairy tales were,” she said.
She added: “I think ultimately we have to save ourselves. ... You're going to be seriously setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if you think that one person is going to save you.”
Wally, the main character of the movie, learns the same message in “W.E.” She finds out the romanticized story of the couple told throughout the decades wasn't what it seemed after delving into deep research about the subject.
In real life, it's how Madonna learned about the couple. She read books, studied their items when they went up for auction and interviewed at least one of their contemporaries.
“I have never been so blown away by a director's level of preparation before. She'd done so much research,” said James D'Arcy, who plays Edward.
D'Arcy recalled that Madonna sent him several books to read up on his character, and most of the books were heavily marked up by Madonna's note-taking.
“When she spoke to me, she spoke with such huge passion about telling this story,” he added. “Her whole enthusiasm was infectious.” Madonna's interest in the duke and duchess was piqued after she moved to the United Kingdom during her marriage to Guy Ritchie.
“I started kind of studying about, like, being a foreigner, being an outsider, trying to understand this new country that I lived in with a class system which America doesn't have,” she said.
“To me their lives were so diverse, complex and interesting, and there were so many different points of view to approach the story from, and I also realized that people were quite polarized about her as a person, as a character in history,” she said. “People were so opinionated about her.”
Though most of the legend around the couple involves their romance, there are others who have painted a less than favorable portrait of the Windsors as Nazi sympathizers. In the movie, the notion is clearly dismissed, and Madonna insists there's no solid proof to back up those contentions, saying an early meeting between the once-king and Adolf Hitler came long before Hitler would become much of the world's enemy.
“Once he abdicated, they used ... the one meal he shared with him ... as some kind of proof he was a Nazi sympathizer because it was all part of the establishment's determination to turn the world against him, and to diminish his popularity once his brother took the throne, because he really was beloved by the people,” she said.
Simpson wasn't as beloved. Many people saw her through the lens of scandal. Some have made comparisons between her and Madonna, both strong women whose sexuality was used against them.
When asked who she saw when she assessed Simpson, Madonna said, “Part of my goal in making this film was kind of to tell the story from her point of view and set the record straight and portray her not as a saint and not perfect but a human being.”