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Page last updated: 07/10/2005

Behind the Scenes of Dick Tracy with Madonna!

Straight from the behind the scenes Dick Tracy book, we present to you their interview with Madonna in its entirety. Enjoy and look back to the year 1990!

By Mike Bonifer

Q: Tell us about Breathless, her history. Where did she come from?

M: (laughs, yawns) She’s in a pretty bad situation to begin with. I mean anybody who accepts the life that she was leading obviously comes from a *&$% place. She’s got a job singing in a nightclub, she’s not a successful singer. I mean I don’t think she’s making records and stuff, or she wouldn’t be there. And she stays there and takes the abuse of whatever gangster takes over, bullies his way into the club. She has this tough exterior, but there are many moments of vulnerability throughout the movie where you see who she really is – a person with a lot of pain who’s never really been loved, and she wants to get out of it. And that’s what she sees when she sees Dick Tracy. Because Dick Tracy treats her with respect for the first time. No other man has, so that’s why she falls madly in love with him.

Q: He’s the sun and you’re the moon.

M: Exactly. El sol y la luna.

Q: What did the role of Breathless have that you like in a movie part?

M: I wanted to work with Warren and all the other actors who were doing it. I thought the script was very funny. Style’s a big thing for me, and I just thought it was going to be a really original piece of work. Something different.

Q: What were you shown of the film’s design before taking the role?

M: All I saw were drawings of the characters. I read some coming strips, I read the script. I kind of got an idea what it was going to look like from Warren and Vittorio Storaro, and Milena. Breathless is larger than life. She has the most incredible costumes. She doesn’t go anywhere unless she’s wearing an evening gown. It’s totally outrageous and insane, and it’s fun to be able to play somebody like that. The challenge of it is to take it one step beyond the cartoon character, which is so one-dimensional, and to add to it.

Q: How did you humanize the comic-strip Breathless?

M: By dealing with the basic issues in her life, and that is that this is a girl who’s trapped. By thinking of her in a human way, even though she is all glitter and gold and platinum-blond hair.

Q: What kind of input did you have into the way Breathless looked?

M: It didn’t come easily. It was trial and error. I felt like a mannequin on wheels for a while, because, first of all, I had finally grown my hair out, and it was long and dark, and they couldn’t decide if they should make Breathless blond or brunette. So I did a screen test in a blond wig and of course Vittorio Storaro started oohing and aahing, so that was really it. Something about the light around your face when your hair is blond, and the backlighting. So my long hair kept getting chopped off, more and more and more…it was a hair-raising experience. Breathless couldn’t have one of those beautiful Lana Turner hairdos, because Lana Turner was too pulled together. I spent more time figuring out Breathless’ character in terms of the way she looked than anything else – trying on the dresses, deciding how far we were going to go with her…undressing, and the way her hair was going to look. The thing we were trying to capture with Breathless is that when we see her she always just got dragged out of bed.

Q: Who were your inspirations for the character?

M: The only person that I could even think of in terms of an inspiration – and she’s not even right because she’s too hard and masculine, she was just invulnerable – was Marlene Dietrich. You know that stance she always had when she performed where she was just not going to give you too much? She dared you to like her, in a way. She wouldn’t make a move toward you, she wouldn’t kiss an audience’s ass, you know? In terms of performing, I thought of her. I wish I could’ve looked more like her, but that’s Marlene Dietrich, you know? A girl like that wouldn’t have been stuck in a situation like Breathless.

Q: Tell us about the Stephen Sondheim songs you sang for the film. How were they presented to you?

M: Stephen Sondheim played the songs on the piano for me one day in Warren ’s living room. He sang them to me in his most-endearing fashion. I thought, “Omigod, I have to sing those songs?”

Q: Why did you react like that?

M: Because they’re very complex songs. They’re not like any songs I have ever sung, and they’re not even like obvious pop songs from that era. The chordal and rhythmic changes made them complicated. That’s the way Stephen writes, he never repeats himself, wordwise or notewise. And he just doesn’t give in, he doesn’t resolve things musically. You know when you hear a song and you know what’s coming next? He doesn’t do that. So they’re very difficult to learn. And when I heard them, I didn’t want to like them; I resisted them, except for “I’ll Always Get My Man,” which I liked.

Q: How did you go about learning them?

M: I decided that I was going to think of it as a challenge, it was going to be like learning how to tap dance, which was very complex, and which I had to do for Bloodhounds of Broadway. I got a voice coach, Seth Riggs, and he helped me find the notes, because going from one note to the next was so strange. Seth’s accompanist would make slowed-down versions of the songs and I would take them home and memorize them, just go over and over them. And then we started having rehearsals with (choreographer) Jeffrey Hornaday for the staging of them, and that’s what really brought them to life for me. Not to be standing in my kitchen singing them. They were just songs to me before I got into a performance situation and put on a long dress to rehearse in. When I present them, that’s when they come to life for me.

Q: You strike a lot of strong poses in the film, for instance, appearing in Dick Tracy’s doorway with a bottle of champagne…

M: That’s Breathless Mahoney. She’s just a big poser.

Q: Did you have a favorite pose in the picture, one that really captured the character?

M: One of the first times you see me in the movie, Dick Tracy comes back to the dressing room to see me, and I’m changing behind one of those screens, and I put on a negligee and come out… and I strike this pose knowing he can see through my negligee, holding the champagne glass in the air. It was ridiculous. (laughs) Nobody acts that way. And I’m doing it just right, so that I’m silhouetted on the wall behind me. Actually, Marlene Dietrich used to do that all the time, too. I mean the girl was more interested in hitting her mark than anything. All she ever did was pose. She knew where the light was. And that’s what Breathless did, too. She was so much about light. So…her life may be miserable but she always looks good.

Q: When Breathless visits Tracy in his office, she says, “There’s a pool of darkness in you, Tracy. And I’m here to take a swim.” Does that sum up their relationship?

M: I always felt so ridiculous saying those lines, so we’d do it as written, and then we’d try something that was a little bit less over the top. But what she means is that – Dick Tracy walks around trying to be like a cheerleader. He’s so good and you can’t tap it, you can’t break that veneer of Mr. All-American Hero. So Breathless is saying she knows there’s something else going on behind there – which is true, I mean the guy’s psychotic. He avoids intimacy with people and he’s addicted to catching bad guys. There’s something crazy about his behavior – a guy who goes around talking to his wrist watch. She knows he has a dark side, and she calls him on it. “I know you’re interested in me, so why don’t you stop pretending that you’re not?”

Q: In your view, are Breathless Mahoney and Tess Trueheart two halves of a whole woman?

M: I never thought if it that way. I always that Tess Trueheart was a bitch, I hated her guts.

Q: Why?

M: Because she gets Dick Tracy. She’s got dibs on him, let’s just say that. She has his passion. She has his loyalty. I guess you could do the obvious, and think that she was this kind of wimpy girl, this goody-two-shoes kind of person. A saint. But I think Glenne Headly portrayed her with strength, a sense of humor, and vulnerability. And you could do the same with Breathless and say that she was juts the bad girl, and only the bad girl. I don’t think I played her that way. The only thing that Tess and Breathless had that was similar was equal amounts of self-contempt. Tess hated the fact that she couldn’t look good in a backless evening gown… and Breathless can look at Tess and hate the fact that she can never have Dick Tracy’s love.

Q: Describe working with Warren Beatty.

M: Hmm…(laughs)…hmmm. Warren is an interesting man. This is the time when I wish I had control over really big multisyllabic words. Warren is…well, he’s kind of like Dick Tracy.

Q: How so?

M: Dick Tracy is a very isolated guy, as far as I’m concerned. He’s kind of a loner. He’s also very smart, very clever. He’s also a detective. And Warren is all of those things. He investigates everything, from the shoes on your feet to the bow in your hair. Nothing goes by him. He studies people intensely and he has this way of extracting information out of you, and you realize after you’ve spilled all the beans that you’ve just told this perfect stranger everything, and he hasn’t told you anything. Everybody does that with him. He does something to you that makes you, obviously, comfortable to do that. It’s not a cold investigation – he seduces you into telling him things. So I guess I would have to say he’s seductive.

Q: Describe his directing method.

M: He’s a perfectionist. You can’t get away with anything with him, in terms of acting, he’s relentless, and if it takes a hundred takes to get it, then you’re going to do a hundred takes. He’s very generous, in that you can try whatever you want with him. But his favorite thing to do is to do so many takes that you forget everything you planned on doing, and you’re completely broken down, and then you just do it without thinking, and that’s usually your best stuff.

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you?

M: The waterfront. Because I wanted to let go of everything at that point and let him see how desperate I really was. I saw it as a woman who didn’t care anymore, who didn’t care about keeping up the hard façade and the posing. Warren wanted me to play it invulnerable, as well. He wanted to do it both ways. So we did the scene take after take where I was devastated, falling apart, until I thought I was done. I went back to my trailer and he let me calm down, and then a half an hour later he came to the trailer and said that he wanted me to come out and do it all over again. I said “What?” And I had to go and play it all over again as invulnerable.

Q: Describe the relationship between Breathless and Big Boy.

M: I had nothing but contempt for Big Boy. And he would treat me like a bad little girl. He was always slapping me and spanking me. And in terms of being on the set, whenever Al put his prosthetics on, his suit, he was a gross pig. And he’s not that way in real life – he’s very gracious, and well-mannered, and gentlemanly, and sweet…As Big Boy, he would tell me the dirtiest jokes and suck on his cigar like it was some sort of weird phallic symbol, and just be a pig. He was always smacking my butt and my face. I hated him, I loathed him, I was disgusted with him. And so what happened off-camera was that I’d always try to be moving away from him, and he’d always grab me and go “Get over here!” which is exactly what happened in the movie. Every time I expressed my distaste for him, he would smack me, which is also what happened in the movie. I got mad. He made me cry sometimes. There was a scene where he kept smacking me in the stomach, and it would sting, and what made me cry was not so much the hit, but the fact that Warren wouldn’t stop. He would just keep going, and I was humiliated. So it worked, because that’s what’s happening to Breathless – she’s totally humiliated by Big Boy.

Q: Did you always stay in character off-camera?

M: Yes, I always do, in all my movies.

Q: There must be some similarities, then, between you and Breathless…

M: Yeah, we both like Warren . (laughs) Other than that, she’s a victim, I’m not. She’s a singer, I am. She’s sexy, I am. I don’t think that people are only going to like me if I go around looking fabulous and posing all the time, and that’s what Breathless thinks. So there are some similarities, and there aren’t. But I think people are attracted to doing characters that have something to do with themselves, that they can relate to deep down inside.

Q: What will be happening to Breathless after this movie?

M: She’s going to go to the hospital. She’ll be in and out of rehab. As for the rest, it’ll have to be a mystery.

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