Interviews from the past: The Next Best Thing
Here’s a nice movie interview from the past.
Madonna and Rupert Everett discuss how their movie The Next Best Thing came to life.
It’s been four years since the Material Mom has graced the big screen. When last seen, she was playing the title character in Evita, a role that garnered her a Golden Globe award (though not an Oscar nomination) for Best Actress. Since then, she has concentrated on her musical career and raising her newborn daughter.
Now Madonna returns opposite Rupert Everett in the comedy/drama The Next Best Thing. It’s the story of Abbie and Robert, two friends who would be perfectly matched as a couple were it not for the fact that Robert is gay. Their situation becomes complicated when, after a night of cocktails, they wind up in bed ? and Abbie winds up pregnant.
Deigning to give a roomful of reporters a few minutes of her time, Madonna recently talked about her latest movie, about being a single mother, and about Rupert Everett’s two left feet.
Q: When Rupert Everett first found the screenplay for The Next Best Thing, he immediately turned to you. Were you surprised?
Madonna: I’ve been friends with Rupert for years and we’ve always talked about working together. Basically, Rupert came to me with the original draft that Tom Ropelewski wrote and he said, “Does this story interest you? It needs a lot of work.” And I read it and said, “Yeah, it interests me, but I agree it needs a lot of work and I can’t really commit to it until that work is done.” So Rupert got involved in custom-tailoring it for us and making it a much more interesting, layered story than the original.
Q: How much would you say you’re like Abbie, your character in the film?
M: I don’t have very much in common with my character. I don’t think I could have done it myself. I don’t think I could have entered into an agreement to have a child with somebody I wasn’t in love with and didn’t have a relationship with. And I certainly couldn’t have kept a deception up about who the father was. My guilty conscience would have gotten the best of me.
Q: Would you say that you were a perfect choice for The Next Best Thing, a movie in which your character becomes a mother in an unusual fashion, since you yourself are a single mother?
M: I’m not the first single parent, that’s for sure. There are lots of celebrities and people in the public eye that have children and they’re not married. I think more than anything it’s important to understand and accept that families come in all shapes and sizes. The notion of the nuclear family, with two parents together with two kids that they gave birth to ? that’s a pretty rare scenario these days. People have to be much more open and tolerant about those family situations so that people don’t feel strange, because how many families do you know that are nuclear families right now? I don’t know that many, actually.
Q: And how did you select John Schlesinger to direct the film?
M: Rupert and myself, it was our choice. Basically, we got the script to a certain place and it then it was, “Who do we want to direct it?” I’m a huge fan of John Schlesinger and so is Rupert.
Q: You had a hand in working on the soundtrack. Could you talk about what that was like?
M: It was a lot of hard work, actually. I never thought it was going to be so difficult. Finding music that I personally like that would also work in the film and that John Schlesinger would like ? that was the hard part. I think I have pretty avant-garde taste when it comes to music. I don’t really go for mainstream stuff. Most of the artists on the record are European artists.
Q: And you got to slow dance with Rupert in one scene. What was that like?
M: Rupert has two left feet and he used both of them to step on mine all the time. We had to learn ballroom dancing, which wasn’t necessarily new for me, but Rupert did very well. That was one of my favorite moments to film.
Q: What was it like having to kiss Rupert, who besides being your co-star is also one of your good friends?
M: It was great. He taught me a lot and he was a pleasure to work with. I think we have really good chemistry. It was a bit weird but you just gotta do what you gotta do. I mean, he is attractive. If I didn’t know him it would probably have been easier. Because he is my friend and he has been for so long, it’s kind of like kissing your brother.
Q: What should people take away with them from The Next Best Thing?
M: I think the most important thing for families is love, and if a gay couple wants to have a child, they shouldn’t have any prejudices against them for wanting to raise a child. And if a women wants to have a child on her own, and she’s not married, and she’s not in love with anybody, she shouldn’t have anything held against her for that. I think that families come in all shapes and sizes and we have to be tolerant about that.
Ever since he stole the spotlight from Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Rupert Everett has been hot. Given the chance to work with pretty much anyone he chose, the openly gay British actor called one of his best friends, Madonna, to see if she would star in a film with him. That movie turned out to be The Next Best Thing. With Madonna as an unconventional single mother and Everett as her gay best friend, this funny and poignant tale contains more than a touch of reality, as Everett explained during a recent press junket.
Question: Rupert, this movie seems tailor-made for you. How did you ever come across it?
Rupert Everett: I first heard about it years ago when the original writer and his wife were going to direct it at Columbia and I went up for it and didn’t get the role. It collapsed, not because I didn’t get the role, it just didn’t happen. After My Best Friend’s Wedding came out, Sherry Lansing and Tom Rosenberg from Lakeshore proposed it to me again, and I sent it to Madonna and it kind of went on from there. It took another couple of years because we restyled it and changed it a little bit.
Q: Did you have a hand in rewriting the script for Madonna and yourself?
RE: Me and my writing partner rewrote the script, as a matter of fact.
Q: And once it was done you approached Madonna, who is a friend of yours. Did you have to sell her on doing the movie?
RE: Yes, it was a sell, because the original screenplay was different from the one we shot. So I had to explain to her that I very much wanted her and I to be able to access ourselves to a certain point. I love American TV sitcoms and I think it’s a genius invention when the star of the show gets to have the same name in the show as they do in real life. I think that draws an audience in to television in a fabulous way. I wanted this to have areas like that. So even though the character Madonna plays and the character I play [are] not us, there is a lot of stuff about them that is like us. It makes it more exciting, I think, for the audience to see the movie. Madonna has had a kid in an unconventional way but this is a different type of unconventional. It rings the same bell somewhere.
Q: In The Next Best Thing your character becomes a father. Is that a role you wish to take on yourself someday?
RE: I’m too selfish. It’s a lovely story and when I first read the original screenplay, I felt so sad at the end. It’s a very, very clever story. But just because you don’t want to do something yourself doesn’t mean you can’t be open to how great it is. And I do love kids, I adore kids, but by the time you’re 40 you become very set in your ways. If it happened to me, I’d certainly step up to it and in 20 years’ time I would say, “That was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.” But if I were making the decision whether to have a kid or not, I’d never take that decision.
Q: Do you think some people will feel The Next Best Thing is a gay movie?
RE: I don’t think this is a gay film, I think it’s about family and love and parenthood. My character is gay. I think he is a very positive gay role model in that he’s a good person, he’s a good man. In the original screenplay he was an asexual, flabby, interior decorator whose answer to every problem was to get some whipped cream out of the freezer. We changed him. We made him into a man. A ’90s man who was gay ? a practicing homosexual and a great father. That’s as far as political correctness goes for me. It’s madness as far as I’m concerned. Because it doesn’t make for drama. There’s no drama if you have to siphon off all the color of personalities. I think it’s just crazy.
Q: Though it would be hard to deny that it does tackle some gay themes.
RE: I think it’s a movie about a family and what makes a parent. I think the term “gay movie,” anyway, is another term that’s kind of scary. What’s a gay movie? It gets off the shelf and says, “F**k me”? I don’t get that connotation. [The Next Bext Thing is] a movie where a lot of the characters are gay, yes. But is it a gay movie? I don’t mind it being called that, I just think it’s about parenthood and love more than it is about being gay. And it’s about the law and living outside the law and what happens to anybody in this so-called free society who lives outside the law. I think it’s bigger than just being about gay. I think it does make a point that someone who is a gay man can also be ? surprise, surprise, middle America and the religious right! ? can also be a good parent. To that extent it’s gay and I’d stand up for that. But it’s not just about that.
Q: What made you choose John Schlesinger to direct the film? What made you think he would be right?
RE: I think one of the things Schlesinger is really good at is that he always makes a town into a character in a movie. And that’s really one of the ideas I loved about him, because Los Angeles is a character in this movie. I very much wanted Los Angeles to be something in the movie and not just the mall-y Beverly Center side you see in movies. Los Angeles is a very strange place with all those pylons stabbed into the ground. It just goes on forever and ever. So I was very into John getting that.
Q: And was working with Madonna difficult, given that you know her so well?
RE: I knew Madonna quite well before. The only thing I was nervous about is that when you’re working with a friend it is a kind of sink-or-swim situation. Sometimes it goes very badly. But it went very well between us and we had a great time. We’re both human beings and both quite difficult. We’re both high-strung. We’re both moody. My pet name for her is “mood swinger.” But we’re both similar like that. And the other good thing is that Madonna can argue with you, but she forgets it soon afterwards.
Q: When people walk out of the theater after seeing The Next Best Thing, what do you want them to remember?
RE: What I would like people to take away from the film is to start reevaluating family values. What makes a family? Blood is not the only thing that makes a family. Commitment is in a family and [someone who is] the most horrific idea of a father to most of America is perhaps a great father. [I would like] that people become more open to the variations on family life. Things are going to change.
Article and Interview by J. Sperling Reich