Given that it launched the movie careers of the then little identified Rosanna Arquette, the completely unknown Aidan Quinn and a few singer known as Madonna, 1985’s Desperately Looking for Susan nonetheless stakes a superb declare to be one of many canniest casting jobs of all time. And that’s earlier than you get to the then even much less identified supporting actors: Laurie Metcalf as Arquette’s cheesy sister-in-law! John Turturro because the tacky membership MC! John Lurie barely seen as a saxophone-playing neighbour! Giancarlo Esposito in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it function as a avenue salesman!
It’s an astonishing roll name of future expertise from after they had been nonetheless younger and hungry in Manhattan. And that’s as a result of Desperately Looking for Susan isn’t solely set in a time when there have been at the least as many artists as rats residing in New York Metropolis, it was a product of that point, too. “The town was falling aside and downtown there have been aspiring artists as a result of lease was so low-cost. So I needed to populate the movie with individuals who had been genuine to that point. I didn’t care whether or not somebody in Kansas would recognise them, however New Yorkers would know they had been New Yorkers,” Susan Seidelman, the movie’s director, tells me by video chat from her residence within the New Jersey countryside, to which she and her husband just lately moved after a number of many years in downtown New York. (“The realm had modified,” she explains with the jadedness of a real New Yorker, albeit one now in New Jersey.)
Desperately Looking for Susan tells the story of a bored suburban housewife, Roberta (Arquette), who turns into obsessive about somebody known as Susan (Madonna), whose boyfriend Jim (Robert Pleasure) leaves her messages within the private advertisements part of the newspaper. Roberta follows Susan across the metropolis and begins dressing like her – an analogue model of somebody following an influencer on Instagram. After numerous screwball plot twists, Roberta is mistaken for Susan by Des (Quinn), a buddy of Jim’s, and chaos ensues with the lightest, most romantic of touches.
On reflection, it seems to be inevitable that the movie would turn out to be a permanent basic, a sort of Umbrellas of Cherbourg of Eighties SoHo. However that felt so inconceivable as to be unimaginable to Seidelman again when she was making the movie. It was solely her second job after her debut Smithereens, a movie in regards to the post-punk New York scene that starred Richard Hell, and she or he was hailed as a part of a brand new wave of impartial film-makers. “I name it no wave, as a result of we had no cash,” she says. However Desperately Looking for Susan was an enormous success, propelled in no small half by Madonna changing into a celebrity simply earlier than it opened, after the discharge of her second album, Like a Virgin.
And right here Seidelman is, nearly 40 years later, having to spend her afternoon speaking to me a couple of movie she made when she was 33 as a result of it’s being launched for the primary time on Blu-ray. I inform her I had initially deliberate to ask if she minds nonetheless being outlined by a film she made so way back, however then I seen beforehand that her Instagram deal with is @desperately_seeking. So presumably not. “Effectively, I’ve answered a whole lot of questions on Madonna over time, that’s true,” she says with fun that implies heavy understatement. “However no, I don’t thoughts. It’s thrilling if you make one thing that passes the check of time. As a result of I didn’t even suppose in these phrases after I was making it. I simply needed to place my finger on the heart beat of the time.”
Seidelman’s willpower to provide the movie a slick of authenticity signifies that the up-and-coming actors she determined to not forged are nearly as astonishing as those she did: Ellen Barkin, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis had been all rejected for the function of Susan, as they felt too LA. As a substitute, Seidelman persuaded the producers to let her forged a singer and dancer with no appearing expertise, who occurred to stay down the road from her. Madonna had launched Borderline however nothing else, and Seidelman thought she had “the fitting perspective” for the character. It was the equal of shopping for Apple inventory the week earlier than Steve Jobs invented the Macintosh. Over the course of the nine-week shoot, Madonna went from an unknown Seidelman might movie strolling across the East Village with none hassle to, within the final week, requiring safety as a result of Rolling Stone journal had simply put her on the cover.
Did that change the dynamic on set, on condition that one individual within the ensemble was immediately a lot extra well-known than the others? “Uhhh, not a lot for me. It might need been tougher for Rosanna, however that’s her dialog,” says Seidelman.
Arquette is fantastic within the movie because the stifled housewife. However Madonna’s efficiency is irresistible. You watch her grifting her method round city whereas trying fully beautiful and – like Roberta – you simply wish to be her. By the way, one other aspiring actor Seidelman rejected for the movie was Bruce Willis, who received right down to the final two actors for the function of Jim, that means audiences had been very almost handled to the tantalising sight of Madonna and Willis making out on display screen.
However Madonna in Desperately is – learn how to put this delicately – fairly just like the Madonna audiences would see six years later in her documentary In Bed With Madonna. So is it honest to say she was simply taking part in herself on display screen? “No, I don’t suppose so,” says Seidelman loyally. “I imply, she was taking part in a variation of herself, and she or he was bringing her perspective to it. However she’s saying scripted strains, proper? It’s not improvising.” The 2 ladies stayed in contact for a number of years afterwards. Seidelman went to Madonna’s wedding to Sean Penn, and Madonna despatched Seidelman flowers when she was making her subsequent movie, Making Mr Proper, starring John Malkovich. However why does Seidelman suppose no different director has received a superb efficiency out of her?
“I believed she did a superb job in Evita, perhaps as a result of she associated to that character. I feel she wanted to seek out the factor that she linked to. I didn’t see Shanghai Shock however I did see Who’s That Woman, and I feel she was fairly well-known at that time. While you’re coping with somebody who’s that well-known and has an entourage and concepts, and a few of these concepts could also be good and a few not so good, it’s more durable,” she says.
Seidelman grew up in suburban Pennsylvania, “which might be what drew me to Desperately Looking for Susan, because it has the 2 sides to me: the suburbs and downtown,” she says. She made some extra comedies after Desperately Looking for Susan however the 1989 movie She-Devil, tailored from Fay Weldon’s basic The Life and Loves of a She-Satan, sparked an actual backlash. It appeared like a undertaking made for her, because it has so most of the similar themes as Desperately: a girl making an attempt to interrupt out of society’s function for her, and two ladies pitched towards one another – this time performed by the considerably inconceivable pairing of Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr.
The critics had been scathing, and Seidelman watched them panning her movie on TV from her hospital mattress whereas she was in labour along with her son, Ozzy. Now that movie could be seen as a precursor to the run of Nineties feminine revenge comedies together with The First Wives Membership and Loss of life Turns into Her. So why does Seidelman suppose her film was given such a tough time?
“I feel some folks had been offended that I put a heavy lady within the lead and made her heroic. I used to be shocked on the variety of critics – who had been 99.99% male – who had been offended at her physicality,” she says.
Was Barr troublesome to direct? “By no means. I discovered her very, very simple to work with. Once more, I feel I used to be fortunate in that, although she had turn out to be an enormous TV star, she had by no means made a film earlier than. And I feel working with Meryl Streep kinda places everybody of their place.”
Seidelman took a number of years out to take care of her son earlier than returning to direct extra movies after which work on the primary season of Intercourse and the Metropolis. She directed the pilot episode after being approached by the producer, Darren Starr. “I feel Darren was a fan of Desperately Looking for, and this was a New York present with feminine tales so he needed what I might carry to it. However the present received rather less gritty and extra shiny in later seasons,” she says.
Did she like that much less? “Um, nicely, it’s what they needed to do. I didn’t watch as a lot of season 4 or 5 as a result of it turned just a little predictable. However you possibly can’t argue with success,” she says. All the identical, it’s not very onerous to think about Madonna-as-Susan standing over Seidelman’s shoulder, cigarette in mouth, smirk in place, saying: “Certain you possibly can.”