VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Pop star Madonna thanked her ex-husbands for encouraging her to take up a career in movies, as she arrived in Venice on Thursday for the world premiere of her lavish royal drama “W.E.”
The 53-year-old American has been married to actor and director Sean Penn and British film maker Guy Ritchie — and has spent much of the last few years behind the camera rather than on the stage.
W.E., her second feature film, appears at the Venice film festival outside the main competition, but the presence of one of the world’s biggest celebrities inevitably dominated the attention of the world’s press.
The film re-tells the story of American divorcee Wallis Simpson, whose affair with Britain’s King Edward VIII led him to abdicate the throne.
It does so through the eyes of another American Wally Winthrop, played by Abbie Cornish, who lives in New York in the 1990s and becomes obsessed with the life of a woman with whom she bears an uncanny resemblance.
“I am and was attracted to very creative people which is why I married Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie, two very talented directors,” Madonna told reporters after a press screening of W.E.
“They both encouraged me as a director and as a creative person to do what I did, and they were both very supportive,” added the singer, who wore a short-sleeved black dress with white trim.
There was applause for the movie after the first screening and one early review, in the Daily Telegraph, gave W.E. three stars out of five.
“Her version of their (the Windsors’) lives is a fantasia that will not trouble historians,” wrote David Gritten. “Yet oddly, that’s a relief after so many stale, plodding TV documentaries about this unlovely couple.”
Madonna said she saw parallels between herself and Simpson, a woman who was vilified by many for her role in a constitutional crisis but who is sympathetically portrayed in W.E. by Andrea Riseborough.
Like Simpson, Madonna is a woman who lives her life in the public glare, and is also an American who moved to England for several years while married to Ritchie.
“I identified with her in that I think it’s very common when people become celebrities or public figures or icons that we are often reduced to a soundbite and that you’re given a few attributes and then you’re not allowed to have anything more than that,” she said.
“I did go through periods of feeling like I was an outsider when I first moved to England.
“I certainly didn’t feel like that by the time I’d lived there for 10 years. And I feel, since I moved there, that I feel very welcomed by England.”
Asked why she chose Simpson as a subject, Madonna replied:
“I was deeply and utterly swept up in trying to understand the reason that this man, King Edward VIII ... would relinquish this great position of power for love.”
She added that she hoped the success of “The King’s Speech,” set at the same time and in a similar world to W.E., would help, not harm her project.
“I was a little bit nervous, because I thought, ‘oh dear, if someone else is making a movie about the same time-frame, then who would be interested in my movie?’
“But then I saw the film and I saw that it was from a completely different point of view and I view the success of that film as sort of laying the groundwork for my movie.
“So there is a little bit of history and a little bit of knowledge and we are not starting with a blank slate.”
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato