What does it take to become Madonna?
According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, a “gruelling” months-long endurance test consisting of 11-hour days made up of choreography sessions, singing and script readings that have been described as a “bootcamp”.
This is, of course, in reference to news reports about the auditions for the upcoming Madonna biopic, which is reportedly being directed by Madge herself. (I don’t doubt that to actually become the Madonna, the process was much harder.) The film has also been co-written by the pop legend alongside Secretary writer Erin Cressida Wilson, with the singer said to be involved in every detail, large and small. And auditions have apparently even involved dance and singing sessions with the Queen of Pop herself.
As one source told The Reporter: “You have to be able to do everything.”
In news that surprised no one, Madonna announced that she was going to helm the creation of her own biopic in 2020. Speaking to Rolling Stone a year later, she said that writing the script had been “the most draining, challenging experience I’ve ever had.
“Remembering all the things that made me decide to be who I am,” she added, “my journey as an artist, my decision to leave Michigan to go to New York, all the things that happened to me when I was young and naïve, my relationships with my family and friends, watching many of my friends die – sometimes, I have writing sessions where I go to bed and I just want to cry.”
Undoubtedly, Madonna has lived. Along with selling over 335 million records worldwide and being the most influential female pop star of all time, she has consistently pushed the boundaries of pop music. From her infamous Sex book to the now legendary Blonde Ambition World Tour; her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, especially during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, to her musical reinvention and innovation; no artist has invited more controversies or done more to disrupt and shatter the status quo.
There’s also the darker side of her life, too. Along with losing her mother when she was young, in 2013 the pop icon spoke about her experiences with sexual violence when she first moved to New York. There has also been the barrage of sexism, which she still faces today, ageism and her tempestuous personal life, which has seen her marry and separate from Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie.
It makes sense, then, that the audition process to play Madonna in her own biopic might be extreme. Not that it has put off some of Hollywood’s brightest stars. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Julia Garner, Florence Pugh, Euphoria’s Alexa Demie and even pop star Bebe Rexha have all auditioned.
But who could really one, two, cha cha cha into the role of the Material Girl? And who hasn’t auditioned but totally should? Here, we give our two cents on who should play the rebel heart herself.
Some might call this choice… reducative, but it would be a stroke of genius to have Lady Gaga play Madonna. Given their history together – they’ve been rivals since the Born This Way/Express Yourself controversy of 2011 – and the constant back-and-forth between them, it’s unlikely. However, like her fellow Italian-American superstar, Gaga doesn’t do anything by halves, so it would be an incredible performance. But more than that, imagine the PR campaign she would give us? It would make the House of Gucci promo trail look tame. For that alone, this should happen.
Ever since she announced her yet-to-be-released second album Masochism, Sky Ferreira has seemingly been looking for reasons not to release it. Playing Madonna in her biopic would definitely provide a great excuse, although it could also be a stroke of genius. Ferreira can certainly act and her voice would suit Madonna’s songs (Sky Ferreira cover of Secret when?). Likewise, if her hair was also styled with those Marilyn Monroe-esque blonde curls, Ferreira would more than look the part.
Perhaps having Lourdes play her in a movie of her life would be too meta for Madonna, although aesthetically it would make a lot of sense. Likewise, for Lourdes, there might not be anything weirder than giving birth to yourself on camera. Nevertheless, this would definitely be an inspired casting, one that might offer an opportunity for a, admittedly meta, discussion about the relationship between famous parents and their children, inherited trauma and privilege, and nepotism. In a weird way, it would also put Lourdes Leon on the map in her own right, which feels long overdue.
Miley’s wonderfully gravelly tone may not be the right match for the vocal pop purity needed for songs like Cherish or Borderline, but she is the artist today whose career trajectory most similarly mirrors Madonna’s. She definitely has the experience needed to give the role weight, and there’s also a striking resemblance between the two. Without a doubt, the million-Mileys-an-hour star would throw herself into the role. It might be hard to suspend disbelief, though, given the singer’s own larger-than-life personality. Still, it feels like the sort of role that Miley was always destined to play.
Seeing Florence Pugh’s name on the list of people who have auditioned to play Madonna was unsurprising and for good reason: the Englishwoman is one of the best actors working right now. What you may not know is that she can also sing – on YouTube, there are numerous videos of her performing covers of songs with her guitar. Playing an instrument gives her an edge over the competition, too, as she’ll have no problem portraying Madonna’s latter-year guitar playing era. It might be the safest choice here – and Madonna rarely plays it safe – but Pugh would undoubtedly deliver and might even get some Oscar buzz for her take on the Queen of Pop.
As Maddy in Euphoria, Alexa Demie expertly toed the line between arrogant and vulnerable, a skill that would be essential in order to humanise Madonna – who, as can be attested by anyone who has watched In Bed With Madonna, can be prickly, high-handed and imperious. But in the beginning of her career, Madonna was scrappy, too, fuelled by ambition and determination. Demie has a similar energy, and that hunger seems essential in order to bring early Madonna to life. She can also sing, though she may not be the best vocalist on this list. But then again, neither is Madonna. And that’s never stopped her, right?
After Inventing Anna, we know that Julia Garner can do an accent. Accents, plural, in fact. But did you also know that she’s adept at impersonations, too? A video of her appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon sees her mimicking both Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani – and she does it brilliantly. Madonna’s voice would not be nearly as difficult to recreate, and Garner can clearly hold a tune. She also looks eerily similar to Madge, especially in the early stages of her career. As an actor whose star is on the rise, Ms Garner would be an excellent fit.
There’s no doubt in my mind that when Madonna set out to write her own biopic, she wanted to cast herself as the lead. Perhaps she intended to use that weird de-ageing technology that Martin Scorsese used in The Irishman. In fact, French actor/director Valérie Lemercier did something very similar in her film Aline, an unorthodox and fictionalised take on the life of Céline Dion, where she played the title character at every age in her life. In a way, it could be a surrealist masterstroke, a brilliant commentary on authorship, the consumption of celebrity and the voyeurism of the biopic. It would also be quintessentially Madonna. In fact – and go with me on this – I fully believe that she’s still planning to do this and the bootcamp auditions were just an elaborate ruse. Who’s that girl? It can only be Madonna.