Julia Garner, Florence Pugh and Emma Laird are among the stars still in contention, with some hopefuls participating in 11-hour choreography sessions: "You have to be able to do everything."
At the moment, the biggest role available for some young actresses is one of pop music’s biggest icons: Madonna. Everyone from Emmy winners and Oscar nominees to signers turned actresses has been seen for the role, with some advancing on to what can be best described as a Madonna Bootcamp.
Casting director Carmen Cuba is running the search, with the list having been whittled down over the course of several months. Julia Garner and Florence Pugh are among those that are still in the running, along with Euphoria star Alexa Demie, indie regular Odessa Young (Mothering Sunday), and newcomer Emma Laird (Mayor of Kingstown). Musical artists have also been a part of the search, including Bebe Rexha and Sky Ferreira, the latter of whom has had small roles in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and the Twilight Zone series, among other onscreen parts.
As for the actual audition process, it’s “grueling,” says one rep with knowledge of the auditions, some of which have been going on for months.
According to sources, the hopefuls participate in intense — sometimes up to 11-hour-a-day — choreography sessions with Madonna’s choreographer, after which there are choreography sessions with Madonna, herself. And then there are callbacks, which consist of readings with Madonna, as well as singing auditions with the superstar.
“You have to be able to do everything,” says one person with knowledge of the process. The project, which sources say currently culminates with her landmark, 1990 Blonde Ambition tour (this, of course, may change as the script continues to develop), will require dancing and singing sequences, meaning that after the audition process is over, the would-be star is still looking at months’ worth of intense training ahead of a potential start date.
Musical biopics often have their subjects — or subjects’ relatives or estates — involved, in order to retain the requisite rights. Elton John served as executive producer on Rocketman, with his husband David Furnish producing the film through their Rocket Pictures, and the upcoming Bob Marley biopic at Paramount has the late singer’s children and wife onboard to produce. But Madonna’s involvement — she is the subject, co-writer and director — is particularly notable.
“The reason I’m doing it is because a bunch of people have tried to write movies about me, but they’re always men,” Madonna said in October during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. (Brett Ratner’s RatPac and Michael De Luca were previously attached to produce a biopic about the singer for Universal based on the 2016 Black List script Blonde Ambition.) In 2020, it was announced that the singer would be directing a biopic for Universal and co-writing the screenplay with Oscar-winner Diablo Cody. Amy Pascal is on board to produce. Cody has since exited the project, with Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, The Girl on the Train) taking on co-writing duties.
Madonna is a plum role for any actress. With Universal as the distributor, it is assured a wide theatrical release. And with Madonna as the subject-director, it will no doubt attract a lot of eyeballs. The biopic, while in active development, does not yet have a green light from the studio, which is high on the project, but usually awaits a final script, budget and cast before giving the go-ahead. A major factor is ultimately who will be cast as the Material Girl.