Madonna bootcamp was gruelling, intense and, it turns out, completely pointless | Film

It’s a sad day to be Julia Garner. For years, Garner has been slowly carving out a niche for herself as one of Hollywood’s most promising leading actors. She was the best thing about Ozark, the best thing about The Assistant, the best thing about Dirty John, and she was also in Inventing Anna. And this unstoppable rise was meant to be capped with a showy turn as one of the biggest icons the world has ever seen: Madonna.

Of course, that’s all in the bin now. The long-gestating Madonna biopic – about Madonna, co-written by Madonna and directed by Madonna – has been canned. News of the film’s cancellation came after Madonna announced a huge world tour, although it’s understood that the decision was made before that. According to the Hollywood Reporter, every script that Madonna turned in was at least three hours long, and so full of incident that producers were unsure whether to turn it into a television show or split it into parts like a Harry Potter film.

Julia Garner fought off competition in Madonna Bootcamp
Julia Garner fought off competition in Madonna Bootcamp. Photograph: Image Press Agency/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Whatever the reason, though, the film is done. This is bad news for Universal, which had spent lots of money developing the project. It’s bad news for Madonna, since the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocket Man showed that a biopic is the best way to cement a musical legacy. But, really, the person who comes out of this worst is Julia Garner. Because this means she put herself through Madonna Bootcamp for nothing.

The Madonna film had one of the most berserk audition processes in motion picture history. Once Madonna had drawn up a shortlist of all the actors who could feasibly play her – as well as Garner, they reportedly included Florence Pugh, Odessa Young and pop star Sky Ferreira – she put them through the musical performance equivalent of the first half an hour of Full Metal Jacket.

The young stars were drilled hard, participating in gruelling 11-hour choreography sessions with Madonna’s own choreographer, several readings with Madonna and a number of further auditions where they had to sing Madonna songs at Madonna for the approval of Madonna. The whole thing sounds so absolutely brutal that you can’t even be truly sure that Julia Garner was really the best person for the job. Maybe she was the last one standing. Maybe she was the only actor not to end each day with a sock full of loose fingernails. Maybe she was the only one who didn’t end the process by curling up into the foetal position and involuntarily urinating whenever she heard the opening bars of Like a Prayer.

Either way, it doesn’t matter any more. The whole Madonna Bootcamp process was for nothing. Julia Garner might have won, but she still only came out of the experience with the same status as Pugh and Young. Despite everything, they are all at best just theoretical Madonnas.

But although the disappointment might sting now, every Madonna Bootcamp participant can hold their head high. The Madonna movie might be dead, but the skills learned along the way will prove to be invaluable in the long term. If the project ever returns as a TV show, they will be automatic frontrunners. If there’s another role that requires dancing, they will know that they had the best training in the business. If there’s ever a strange upsurge in the popularity of weird erotic thrillers that transparently rip off Basic Instinct, they can find reassurance in the knowledge that they once spent several days in the presence of a woman who starred in one of the most egregious.

Most importantly, though, when a chilly European arthouse director inevitably decides to take all the Madonna Bootcamp stories and use them as inspiration for a gruesome psychological horror in the mould of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, they will all get cast and mine all their real-life trauma for critical acclaim. It might not be a lot, but it’s the best they can expect right now.

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