Madonna Got ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ Role Thanks to Mogul’s Son – The Hollywood Reporter

It was Madonna’s first starring role in a movie. And many say it is still her best.

The film was 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan, a hip comedy of errors set in the downtown New York club scene.

Madonna plays Susan, a scenester trailed by the mob after stealing a pair of valuable Egyptian earrings. Rosanna Arquette plays Roberta, a bored New Jersey housewife looking for a thrill who follows Susan after spotting her name in a personal ad.

According to the film’s director, Susan Seidelman, the studio, Orion, was eager to give a rising star the role of Susan, with everyone from Kim Cattrall to Melanie Griffith considered.

Seidelman, however, kept hearing about a charismatic singer named Madonna through downtown New York circles and was eager to give her a shot.

“I wasn’t that afraid to work with a musician, a non-trained film actress who really just had an interesting buzz,” Seidelman tells The Hollywood Reporter‘s It Happened in Hollywood podcast. “She was playing at different clubs. This was the early days of MTV. There weren’t that many rock videos yet but she had one of the early music videos on MTV. I think it was ‘Lucky Star.’ I could see that the camera liked her.”

Then-Orion Pictures chief Mike Medavoy was reluctant to give an unproven singer such a significant role. “Fortunately, Mike had a teenage son at the time that watched MTV and thought Madonna was ‘cute,’” Seidelman recalls. (Medavoy’s son, Brian, is now a Hollywood producer himself.)

With that endorsement, Medavoy agreed to let Madonna have a screen test.

Seidelman brought Madonna and a small crew to Union Square Park. “No one was even really paying attention to what we were doing,” she says. “I do remember there was one pedestrian that walked by and said, ‘Oh, look — there’s Cyndi Lauper!’”

Those kinds of mistakes would not last very long. Over the three-month shoot, Madonna went from a sporadically recognized curiosity to full-fledged superstar. “Our first [shot] is when she’s walking down the street eating cheese doodles on St. Mark’s Place. No one paid attention to us. Very low-key — no security, entourage, nothing,” recalls Seidelman. “By the end of the film we did need security.… Her life had really skyrocketed in that period of time.”

The timing could not have been more perfect for the film’s marketing purposes. But Arquette, Seidelman says, was disappointed to see her first above-the-title role overshadowed by the ascendant pop queen.

“They got along fine during the making of the film. But Rosanna had been the star and the other character was going to be the unknown or the up-and-coming star. And suddenly the pressure of the film being suddenly called ‘the Madonna movie’ … that has to be difficult,” Seidelman says.

Regarding Susan’s look — which was quintessential early Madonna — Seidelman says “she brought a lot of it to the set. I was working with a production designer who was also the costume designer named Santo Loquasto.… He was smart enough to just go to her apartment and go through her closet and pull out some stuff.”

Among the clothes Madonna’s wears on screen are a pair of orange sweatpants with the initials “M.C.” on them — for Madonna Ciccone.

As for the iconic pyramid jacket that sets the plot in motion, “that was Santos’ invention. Originally Madonna didn’t like it. It’s weird because that pyramid jacket has become such a big part of her persona of that time,” Seidelman says.

But it was Madonna who dreamed up one of the most memorable moments in the film: When Susan changes her clothes in the Port Authority Bus Terminal ladies’ room, all the script instructed was that she dry her hair with a wall-mounted hand dryer.

“It was Madonna’s idea to dry her armpits,” Seidelman says. “That was a wonderful, cheeky, improvised moment that she brought to that character.”

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