in a material world

An Immaculate Collection of Details About Madonna’s Self-Written Biopic

Now they can tell us about success and fame. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty Images

Madonna once said, “Life is a mystery,” but her in-the-works biopic is anything but. The project (which cast its lucky star, Julia Garner, earlier this month) has been an extremely public affair from the beginning, when Madonna streamed writing sessions with Diablo Cody on Instagram Live. That means its drama has been equally public — for example, when Cody departed the film. But like Madame X herself, the project has danced onward. Given that it’s currently in preproduction, the movie is not likely to be released for years. Time goes by so slowly! In the meantime, let’s get into the groove and run through what we know about the movie.

Since when are they making a Madonna biopic?

Madonna first posted about her screenwriting adventures with Cody, whose credits include Juno and the Jagged Little Pill musical, on Instagram in August 2020. In September, she got true blue and confirmed the film was a biopic. Not only that, but Madonna revealed she already had studio backing from Universal and power-producer Amy Pascal.

So who’s involved?

Madonna, for starters. It’s her material, girl! And she’s not just cowriting — she’s directing the movie, Variety reported. (Not like a virgin, either, if you remember that she previously helmed 2008’s Filth and Wisdom and 2011’s W.E.) Despite starting the project with Madonna, Cody won’t see it through; she departed the project sometime in early 2021. The Sun reported that working with Madonna, well, pushed her to the borderline, but Entertainment Weekly later reported that Cody had finished a draft of the screenplay. In March, The Hollywood Reporter claimed Erin Cressida Wilson, who adapted The Girl on the Train, had stepped in as co-writer.

Early reports thought Julia Garner would play Madonna after Madonna herself seemed to open her heart to the Ozark star by following her on Instagram. Still, the film had an extremely high-pressure audition process, per THR, with Florence Pugh, Alexa Demie, Sky Ferreira, and Bebe Rexha all striking poses for Madonna. In the end, it was Garner, with Variety reporting she had been offered the role. Madonna spoke to Julia Fox, whom she’d been spotted with multiple times, about playing her friend Debi Mazar, EW reported.

And what is the film actually about?

As Madonna expressed herself in a statement, the movie follows “the incredible journey that life has taken me on as an artist, a musician, a dancer — a human being, trying to make her way in this world.” (“The focus of this film will always be music,” she added, although we have to assume she doesn’t specifically mean her 2000 album.) In other words, as fans have gleaned from those Instagram writing sessions, it’s about her career rise. Madonna has teased scenes about her early avant-garde days in New York writing “Like a Prayer.” THR reported that the script currently ends around the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour while noting that could change. Oh, and it’s currently called Little Sparrow, as Madonna revealed in a bathroom photoshoot with the screenplay in February.

What are the other films about Madonna?

While we’re talking Blond Ambition, we’d be remiss not to celebrate Madonna’s many tour documentaries. There’s 1991’s Truth or Dare focused on that tour, 2005’s I’m Going to Tell You a Secret about the Re-Invention World Tour, and 2021’s Madame X. “Blond Ambition” also happens to be the title of another once-planned Universal biopic; the script, by Elyse Hollander, topped the 2016 Black List of notoriously unproduced films before it was acquired by Universal in 2017 — with director Brett Ratner attached. Madonna, though, wasn’t crazy about the idea and trashed it on Instagram. “Only I can tell my story. 📚,” she wrote. “Anyone else who tries is a charlatan and a fool. 🤡.” Evan Rachel Wood, who’s playing Madonna in the Weird Al biopic Weird, is in trouble deep.

An Immaculate Collection of Details About Madonna’s Biopic