The studios used to arrange dates between its stars. Who would you have wanted on your arm?
Oh, Jimmy Stewart! I love him so much. I would die to meet him! I can think of two incredibly favorite moments in his films that just melt me. In It's a Wonderful Life, there's that scene where he's standing with Donna Reed, who's talking on the phone, and he's telling her that he doesn't love her as he's kissing her, and he's crying. Clearly, he loves her so much. [She swoons] Ohhh! And then the other moment is in Rear Window when he gives Grace Kelly this look. She's spending the night with him, and he turns and rests his chin on the back of a chair and looks at her so lovingly. I can't describe it, but that is the way I want someone to look at me when he loves me. It's the most pure look of love and adoration. Like surrender. It's devastating.
How do you think old-line Hollywood sees you?
I don't really think they understand me well enough to think of me in any way. A lot of them see me as a singer.
Do you consider yourself a movie star?
Yes, if I could be so immodest to say so.
Do you want to become a mogul someday?
[Laughs] I would rather own an art gallery than a movie studio. Or a museum. I would rather be Peggy Guggenheim than Harry Cohn.
But you do have a production company set up to find movies for yourself.
Yes, Siren Films. You know what a siren is, don't you? A woman who draws men to their death.
Is that how you see yourself?
Oh, I suppose I've had my moments of sirendom [laughs].
You're about to play your first movie villain, Breathless Mahoney, in Warren Beatty's 'Dick Tracy.' Are you researching the role by doing evil things?
Oh, I don't have to research that. [She laughs coquettishly.] She's a siren, definitely. She's a nightclub singer. Stephen Sondheim is writing the music I perform. And she falls in love with Dick Tracy in spite of herself. I don't think she's inherently evil, but she's quite accomplished in her villainy. She's basically a good person. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way. [She flutters her eyelashes.]
Last year you took nine months to do the David Mamet play 'Speed-the-Plow' on Broadway. Yet, if we're to believe your crack on the David Letterman show last July, you hated the experience.
Oh, but I love it, too. I hated to love it, and I loved to hate it. It was just grueling, having to do the same thing every night, playing a character who is so unlike me. I didn't have a glamorous or flamboyant part; I was the scapegoat. That's one of the things that attracted me to it. Still, night after night, that character failed in the context of the play. [Madonna essayed the role of a manipulative, possibly altruistic and ultimately beaten Hollywood secretary on the make.] To continue to fail each night and to walk off that stage crying, with my heart wrenched … It just got to me after a while. I was becoming as miserable as the character I played. So when I did the David Letterman show, it was very much toward the end of the run, and I really was marking off days on the calendar!
Your character withstood epic verbal abuse from the Ron Silver and Joe Mantegna characters. Had you been playing yourself, wouldn't you have just punched their lights out?
Absolutely, I would have. So many times I wanted to smack Ron Silver. I wouldn't have taken their shit after two minutes in the office. I wouldn't have had a job, if it was me up there.
What kind of material do you find yourself drawn to? Weren't you interested in acquiring film rights to a novel called 'Velocity'?
Oh, yeah! It's a great story. The girl who wrote the book, Kristin McCloy, told me that when she wrote it, the two pictures she had on the wall by her desk were of the Dalai Lama and of me. She wrote it with me in mind. I couldn't put the book down. It really moved me. The story is about a woman whose mother dies, and she goes back home to try to develop a relationship with her father that she'd never had. It's very strained – and I can relate to that. And in the midst of this, she falls in love with someone who is all wrong for her – and I can relate to that. She doesn't get the guy in the end. But she becomes very close with her father. It's very touching.
How're you getting along with your father these days? Do you understand each other?
Yes, we get along very well right now. I mean, it's been up and down. You know, my father is not an incredibly verbal man, and that's been my frustration. He doesn't really express himself. And more than anything, I want my father's approval, whether I want to admit it or not. But he's always been very affectionate with me. I have a million different feelings about my father, but mostly I love him to death. What's difficult for my father is the idea that I don't need him. But I do need him.
Has he been able to comfort you lately?
Yes, absolutely. I can confide in my father. It wasn't that I couldn't before, but I didn't want to. For years, I resented him. You see, when my mother died, I attached myself to my father. He was my only parent. So I felt in many ways that my stepmother stole him from me. I felt deserted. All my life I harbored that resentment. For five years after I left home, in fact, I barely spoke to him. But we've made our way back into each other's lives. Whenever I need him, he's there for me.
Do you think about death much?
Yes, but in spurts. Sometimes I just assume I'm going to live forever. I don't want to die. It's the ultimate unknown. I don't want to go to the dark beyond. I want to stay where I know where everything is.
Had she not died, what kind of role do you think your mother would have in your life right now?
If she were alive, I would be someone else. I would be a completely different person. I have to be careful sometimes. When someone dies and the years go by, you tend to make them into something they're not.
The song "Promise to Try" on the new album is about letting go of that. It's about a yearning to have her in my life but also about trying to accept the fact she's not. As in the lyric "Don't let memory play games with your mind/She's a faded smile frozen in time." Yes, I wish, but it's not going to be. I do talk to her often. I mean. I always have. I don't know if she can hear me or not, but I tell her things that a girl can only say to her mother. Private things.
What kind of mother do you think you'll be?
Very affectionate, but probably domineering – maybe too domineering. And I'll have to acquire patience, but I think when you go through the nine months of pregnancy, you learn to be patient. I would love to have a child. But you've got to have a family first. … Can't do it by yourself. But it's definitely up high on the list of things to do.
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