Don't Cry For Me: Madonna as Evita
Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon is hungry. And just like her famous mother, she demands immediate attention.Mama Madonna is in the middle of a quip about Evita, her $59 million musical which debuts in many theaters on New Year's Day, when a nanny taps her on the shoulder with the news that little Lourdes is craving nourishment. Without a word, Madonna is off to breast-feed the toddler.A half-hour passes before the Material Girl reappears. "The milk train has returned," she announces, walking into her suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in California's Marina Del Ray with an entourage of publicists, nannies and bodyguards scurrying behind.Madonna might have just given birth to her first child -- a three-month-old daughter -- and wrapped a role in a movie that's generating Oscar buzz, but she's not suffering from postpartum repression. She looks svelte in a low-cut floral print suit by Dolce Gabbana. Her blond hair flows down to her shoulders; her lips are cherry red. And when she's asked if she's kept any of the costumes from Evita, she snaps, "Of course, I kept them all, but nobody is supposed to know."But there is at least one big change. The pop icon who's been described by ex-beau Warren Beatty as a woman who doesn't want to live her life off-camera now craves privacy. Motherhood, she says, has "liberated" her."It's hard for me to explain, but having a baby has been a humbling experience," says the 38-year-old singer/actress. "It took me two years to make Evita.' All of my blood, sweat and tears are in the movie. And at the same time, a child was growing inside me. Strange things were happening all at once. It was a magical experience. I'll never be the same again."Yes, she changes diapers and sings her baby "silly little lullabies." And she's learned to survive on three hours sleep."I'll never make another selfish decision again," she insists. "My daughter is upstairs right now and I miss her. I have separation anxiety."Madonna is routinely separated from Lourdes' father, fitness trainer and actor Carlos Leon, but there's no anxiety involved. The couple live apart -- he in Miami, she in L.A. -- and have no plans to wed.As unconventional as Madonna can be, she sounds like any other new mother when she describes her baby's one-of-kind magnificence."When Lourdes was first born, she looked exactly like me," boasts Madonna. "Now, she's changing and she looks more like Carlos. She has his nose and my eyes. She's beautiful." No false modesty here.Similarly, Madonna has no reservations about spelling out the reasons she believes she was born to play Eva Peron, the wife of the mighty Argentine dictator Juan Peron: "We're both brave, courageous, determined and hard-working. And I think we're both terribly misunderstood. I lost my mother at a young age and she lost her father. There's a certain sadness of hers that I can relate to."The movie, which co-stars Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce, has already spawned a hit CD. Evita premiered at #6 on the pop charts, buoyed by the success of the first single, "You Must Love Me."Though Madonna seems like the obvious choice for Eva, it almost didn't happen. Ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical bowed on Broadway in 1979, a movie version have been in the planning stages. Through the years, everyone from Michelle Pfeiffer and Meryl Streep to Charo and Pia Zadora were mentioned as possible Evitas."I was a fatalist about it," shrugs Madonna. "I thought if Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer did it, it just wasn't meant to be."That said, Madonna left nothing to chance when she heard that Disney had given Alan Parker (Fame) the go-ahead to helm a big-screen, "sung-through" version, with virtually no spoken dialogue. She quickly drafted a hand-written, four-page letter, explaining why she felt destined to don Eva's Dior suits, Ferragamo pumps, Val Cleef and Arpels jewelry and Fendi furs."I can't remember what was in the letter," she nows says. "All I know is that I begged and pleaded with Alan. I promised him that I would give him my all and that I wouldn't disappoint him. I wanted him to know I wouldn't be a spoiled brat."The letter worked. And throughout the film's 84 shooting days and 85 costume changes, Madonna proved to be a woman of her word. Prior to filming, she took a year's worth of vocal lessons designed to expand her range. During the making of the movie in Argentina, she withstood death threats from Peronists and personally secured the use of locations from Argentine president Carlos Menem."In the beginning, her work ethic was one of our fears," admits producer Andy Vajna. "But, I must tell you, Madonna made this movie three times -- in rehearsals with her vocal coach, for the recording, and in front of the cameras in Argentina. I've never worked with anyone quite so dedicated."While researching the role, Madonna discovered that she and Evita had more in common than blond ambition. "What I instantly understood about her was her desire to have a better life for herself. Growing up in the Midwest, I think I felt all of the exciting things were happening in New York or Los Angles and I was somehow stuck in the middle with nothing happening. No mountains, no oceans. I had this desire to get out and do something with my life."While Evita moved to Buenos Aires where she became a political force in conjunction with her husband, Madonna left her big, middle-class Italian family in Rochester, Michigan for a music career in Manhattan."The hardest thing I've ever done was leaving home at 17," says Madonna. "I was like Alice in Wonderland. When I went to New York, it was literally my first plane ride, my first taxi ride. I'll never forget, the cab-driver dropped me off in Times Square. I think if I hadn't been so naive, I would have been ever more scared."Madonna, scared and naive? Don't laugh. There is more to her, she says, than the cone-bra-wearing, envelope-pushing pop icon you see in videos, in the Sex book and in movies like Body of Evidence and Truth or Dare."There are so many misconceptions about me," she says angrily. "How many hours do you have? It's hard for people to issue me human characteristics, to think of me as a human being. Therefore it's easier for them to stay outlandish things about me. They don't think it'll hurt me, I guess."The anger passes and Madonna brightens up. Sounding like the self-possessed diva that she is, she reveals her future plans with a staccato declaration. "I want to do a movie about [photographer] Tina Modotti. You don't know who she is? Believe me, you will."