Madonna, the 1994 film she ‘dropped’, and the story behind it

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The screenplay to the film Angie was written with Madonna in mind – but she’d leave the project, and two different versions of what happened emerged.

Throughout the 1990s, Madonna dabbled with some pretty successful movie projects. She kicked the decade off in 1990 with Dick Tracy and in 1991 with the controversial documentary Truth Or Dare: In Bed With Madonna (the title you saw the film under was dependent on where you lived), the latter a press sensation of a film that won her a few new enemies as well as friends.

She followed that up, in tandem with her music career, by taking on a supporting role in A League Of Their Own, and a memorable part at that. She also contributed a song to the movie, that earned an Oscar nomination. Erotic thriller Body Of Evidence was perhaps less well received, but, of course, she headlined Alan Parker’s adaptation of the hit stage musical Evita, a film for which she was snubbed for Oscar recognition but still offered to perform at the Academy Awards ceremony. For all the talk of ego surrounding megastars, that always struck me as a classy touch.


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Yet for a long time, there was another cherished project she was keen to feature in, but ultimately it wasn’t to be. Not before a few words had been exchanged either.

The film in question was the romantic comedy drama Angie, that originally was to be called Angie, I Says. That was the name of the source novel too, that’d been penned by Avra Wing. When the book was first published in 1991, it became a quick success, and a movie adaptation seemed inevitable. Even more so when Madonna took interest in taking on the title role.

The film rights had been picked up by 20th Century Fox, and it was a project that then-studio head Joe Roth was keen to press forward with. Furthermore, Madonna was not only keen to appear, but the screenplay for the movie was written very much with her in mind. Todd Graff took on writing duties (he also acted in James Cameron’s The Abyss, and would go on to direct more recent films such as Camp and Bandslam). With the screenplay bubbling along nicely, Jonathan Kaplan was earmarked to direct. He’d scored a hit with Fox with the thriller Unlawful Entry, and would also go on to direct the western Bad Girls not long after.

But a key turning point for the project came with a regime change at 20th Century Fox.

It’d been little secret that Roth’s tenure as studio head was under threat, off the back of 1991 underperformers such as Hoffa (starring Jack Nicholson, directed by Danny DeVito), Julia Roberts headlined Dying Young, awards hopeful For The Boys and Michael Douglas-headlined Shining Through. 1992 would be a better year for the studio, with Home Alone 2 offsetting the box office disappointment of Toys (starring Robin Williams). But still, Roth was that rarest of studio heads who also happened to be a film director, and he was reportedly keen not to renew his Fox contract so he could actually get hands on with films again.

Thus, he left his position in November 1992 and set up production company Caravan Pictures, with Angie, I Says one of the films he managed to take with him.

With a new deal set up at Disney to distribute his films, this then should have been straightforward. Yet eyebrows were raised just a month later, in December 1992, when news broke that Madonna had dropped out of the project. The reason, as reported by Variety, was that of a project clash.

She was said, so read the report, to have a scheduling conflict, given that she was set to make a movie called Snake Eyes with Abel Ferrara. That film would change title to Dangerous Game (pictured at the top of this article) and Madonna would indeed co-star with Harvey Keitel in the 1993 release. “We would have had to wait until May or June and none of us wanted to,” Roth said in that Variety report, adding, “it was a surprise to all of us that their movie was going to be released in October”. October 1993 that is, which would have had the film  in cinemas before Angie, I Says.

However, in the same report, just a bit further down, came the addition that Roth had “denied speculation that he had some trepidations about Madonna … not having enough time to prepare for the more demanding role” she was taking on in Angie, I Says.

The film incidentally, changed title at this point to Angie, and both Geena Davis and Marisa Tomei were both listed as possible replacements for Madonna. Davis would ultimately sign on the dotted line. Graff would be frustrated that a role he’d written specifically for Madonna was no longer to be played by her, with no slight on Davis.

But: hang on. Usually with such benign Hollywood language covering a casting change as ‘schedule clash’, everybody moves on. Not Madonna. She read the press reports that hinted at concerns over her ability to take on the role in Angie, and duly hand wrote a response. This note was faxed to Roth, who initially wondered if it was a hoax. Yet it was genuinely from Madonna.

It quickly leaked to the press, from what source was never revealed. She didn’t hold back…

“After directing ‘Coupe de Ville,’ and being involved with projects like ‘Revenge of the Nerds,’ ‘Young Guns,’ ‘Exorcist III’ and ‘The Fabulous Stains,’ you are certainly qualified to speak about the art of acting and great filmmaking”, she wrote to Roth.

“I can understand why you had reservations about my ability. I can see why you would think Geena Davis the better actress for the part. After all she’s Italian and she has an edge. How foolish of me to think I had the ability to play a vulnerable character unlike anything I’ve done to date. I should just stay in the gutter where I belong working with low lifes like Abel Ferrara and being hated by the general public.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Madonna made no further comment, and Roth played it down. Meanwhile, Jonathan Kaplan would ultimately drop out of directing the film, with Martha Coolidge taking the project on. When it was released in 1994, the $26m-budgeted Angie opened lightly, and would gross just $9.4m. That’s a bit harsh on Davis and Coolidge, but they’d ultimately been handed a hospital pass with the project to a degree.

The film thus has become something of a forgotten 90s feature, and it’s not the easiest to track down on disc either. A pity. Whilst no masterpiece, it deserves just a little more than that. But it seems, in the end, everybody concerned just moved on (and Roth, ironically, would take on another studio chief job at Disney just a few years later)…

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