ver since Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd
Webber’s Evita opened at London’s
Prince Edward Theatre on 2| June
I978. a film adaptation of this hugely
successful stage musical about
Argentina’s controversial first lady has been mooted. In the intervening eighteen years. a slew of projects has been developed. put on the back burner and then abandoned.
Among those connected with the lead role were its creator Elaine Page. her Broadway counterpart Patti LuPone. Ann-Margaret. Meryl Streep. Liza Minnelli and pop singer Gloria Estefan. When Alan Parker first began working on lz'i‘ila the incumbent star was Michelle Pfeiffer. who had recently given birth and was reluctant to leave Los Angeles. Since Parker’s naturalistic approach involved abandoning Hollywood’s sound stages in favour of locations in Argentina and Hungary. Pfeiffer soon joined the list of not-quite-Evitas. Still without a leading lady. Parker returned to England for the Christmas of 1994.
Then. completely out of the blue. he received a letter from Madonna in which she proclaimed her passion for Evita. her desire to play the role. and her belief that she was the only one truly capable of doing so.
With the advantage of hindsight. Parker sounds perhaps a little more blase than he was at the time: ‘The letter wasn’t earth-shatterineg special. Shcjust declared. in a very humble way. that she desperately wanted to play the role. and that she thought no one else could possibly play
‘Madonna declared, in a very humble way, that she desperately wanted to play the role, and that she thought no one else could possibly play the role but her, which wasn’t quite so humble.’
the role but her. which wasn’t quite so humble. She also said that she would dance and sing and act her heart out. which indeed she did do. and that she would put her entire recording career on hold the moment she committed to the film.
‘I suppose I was just taken by her passion. There were many pages of hand-written Madonna writing. and I suppose I was seduced by her. Then we met two or three times before I said yes. She says we met ten times. which is not true. but maybe it seemed like ten times to her. I really thought she could do it. I never worried about whether she could pull it off. All I was ever worried about was whether Madonna’s status as a pop icon would get in the way of people accepting her.‘
This last point became particularly problematic when. following the soundtrack recording sessions in London (all the songs had to be recorded in advance). Madonna and co-stars Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas - who play Juan Perarrived in Argentina with Parker and his film crew. Memories of the authoritarian Peronist regime of the 40s and 50s were still fresh there. as was resentment about the recent Falklands War. A Peronist-inspired campaign of vilification demanded to know why ‘the whore Madonna’ was being allowed to play Eva Perén, the illegitimate peasant girl who married the president and. dressed in Dior and diamonds. became the champion of the country’s poor. before dying of uterine cancer at the age of only 33.
‘As we drove in from the airport.’ explains Parker. ‘it was scary to see “Fuera Madonna” [“Go home Madonna”] on every bridge and
every wall. Or “Chau Alan Parker and your English task force”. which was more worrying. Or “Muerte”. which was even more worrying. We had to take it very seriously for security
reasons. although it turned out to be the work of
a small. extremist element in the Peronist party. The thing that gave me the clue was the graffiti. Everywhere it said “Chau Alan Parker and your English task force”. it was spelt “taks force". so I thought it’s probably only one dyslexic Peronista and we shouldn’t worry too much about him.’
Among those previously tipped to occupy the director’s chair were Ken Russell. Herbert Ross. Hector Babenco. Michael Cimino and. most recently. Oliver Stone. Having finally brought Evita to the screen. Alan Parker puts his success down to luck and timing. but he more than anyone was there from the very beginning.
When Rice and Lloyd Webber’s speculative concept album was released in I976. two years before the Evita stage show became a reality. Parker approached their manager to ask if they would like to make a film based on the latter. Wisely they held out. and the Roger Stigwood- produced stagc musical enjoyed a run of 2900 performances before transferring to Broadway and garnering seven Tony awards. In I979. while Parker was working on Fame. Stigwood returned the compliment by asking him to adapt Iii'itu: but with Fanw completed. Parker decided against doing two musicals back-to-back and declined the offer. Now. finally. 23 years and several award-winning films later. the director’s infectious enthusiasm for the finished film is spilling out into the plush Covent Garden hotel room where we’ve met to discuss it.
His right hand alternately occupied with a glass of Chardonnay or a Marlboro cigarette. Parker says that in order to script the ‘sung- through‘ film — which eschews conventional linking dialogue — he went back to the musical source.
‘The inspiration for me was always Andrew and Tim’s original concept album.’ he says. ‘I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the stage show
because I didn’t really remember it anyway. On stage you ﬁnd theatrical devices to do and say things. but because ﬁlm is so much more real. I was able to ﬁll in much more of the political background: the military coup in 1943 prior to Eva’s meeting with Pero’n. the suppression of the trade unions. the eventual collapse of Pero’nism. All of which is juxtaposed with this incredible media figure. Evita. who was always
‘As we drove in from the airport, it was scary to see “Fuera Madonna” [“Go home Madonna”] on every bridge and every wall. or “Muerte”, which was even more worrying.’
smiling and always loved. In the end. like the original musical. it’s the story of one woman. but the political aspects of the times in which she lived are shown in a little more depth.’
Despite having read 29 books about the real Eva Peron. Parker’s research left him with an ambiguous opinion of her. ‘In the end.’ he says. ‘whatever your politics are. this was a woman who came from nothing. met the most famous man in Argentina. became his wife. and then went on to become the most famous woman in that country. A woman who returned from the Rainbow Tour of Europe sick of her own media image and threw herself into “good works” that did an extraordinary amount of good for the ordinary people of Argentina. And probably. in the process. bankrupted the country.
‘Yet she can’t have been blind to what her husband was tip to. For example. using the army to suppress the trade unions he had earlier seduced and used as a power base. Although Peron was democratically elected — twice — his was a very authoritarian regime.’
It’s a surprisingly balanced point of view for the usually more opinionated Parker to adopt. ‘Yeah. doesn’t sound like me. does it?’ he admits with a smile. ‘Balanced. I don’t know. maybe l’mjust getting older.‘
Evita opens in Scotland on Fri 3 Jan.
Another place, another time: Antonio Banderas and Madonna In Evita
The List 13 Dec l996-9 Jan 199717