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'She'll Surprise a Lot of People'

As 'Evita' Enters Its Final Weeks of Filming, One Thing Is Clear: Madonna Is Flourishing as Eva Peron

May 04, 1996|DAVID GRITTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Music permeates Parker's movies (think "The Commitments," "Fame" and "Pink Floyd: The Wall") and he was determined to make the singing in "Evita" as good as possible. So he assembled his principals in London last October for four months of vocal training and recording. "We had 400 hours in the studio," he said. "That's why I'm tired now. Recording the music, then shooting the movie has been like making two films."

Parker pulled a coup in persuading Lloyd Webber and Rice to compose a new song, "You Must Love Me." The two men, who were estranged for years, met with Parker at Lloyd Webber's house in the south of France. "It was the first time Andrew and Tim were in the same room for a while," he said. "But I was in the middle so it was easier.

"I wanted to stress the strange, complex relationship between [Juan] Peron and Evita, and no song in the show articulated that. So Andrew wrote a melody and Tim added lyrics."

Parker has watched "Evita" closely since it was released as a double album 20 years ago. "Within a week of its release I asked about filming it," he said. "But Andrew and Tim wanted to see it on stage first."

In 1979, Parker was approached about directing it. "But I was just coming off 'Fame' and didn't want to follow one musical piece with another," he recalled. "Normally, I never regret turning work down but I felt resentful I'd let it go."

In turn, directors like Ken Russell, Glenn Gordon Caron and Oliver Stone were linked with "Evita"--but 18 months ago Cinergi boss Andy Vajna secured film rights from producer Robert Stigwood and Parker was back in the frame.

He has clearly chosen an epic approach. Parker assembled a 10-minute show-reel for distributors, which he showed his crew last week. It contains several big, sweeping scenes with thousands of extras--and proves Madonna, Banderas and Pryce are in fine voice. For a rough cut, it is surprisingly moving; many of the mainly British crew fought back tears when they saw it, an unusual reaction from an often cynical group.

"Well, it's been a long haul," Parker said. "We've been through a lot together." This included open hostility on arrival in Argentina from Peronist elements who feared the filmmakers would dishonor Eva Peron's memory. Graffiti on walls proclaimed "Chau [goodbye] Madonna" and "Fuera [go away] Parker." "It was scary at first and President Menem, who's a Peronist, wouldn't cooperate with us," Parker said.

"We wanted to use the actual balcony of the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, which is what they call the presidential palace. Finally he relented, partly because he realized only a minority of people were against us.

"I already knew this; I'd seen the graffiti. Knowing a bit about typography, I guessed it was one person's work. Also, the phrase 'English task force' was spelled wrong every time. So I came to think our only opposition was one dyslexic Peronist."

Back on the staircase, Madonna, hitting her mark perfectly, gets the next take exactly right. Seven or eight crew members, squeezed into the narrow hallway to shoot the scene, exhale in relief. "Lovely, M, just the job," Parker chirps. Madonna stays silent. But she allows herself a tiny enigmatic smile.

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