Madonna:This was so much more than a role in a movie. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time, and it was the farthest I've ever had to push myself creatively. What drew me to the role from the beginning was the story of this remarkable woman; where she came from, how she came up in the world, the incredible amount of influence she ahd over an entire country, and the impact she had on the whole world. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Madonna:I think previous portrayals of Eva Peron have been rather one-dimensional. She's always painted as a power-hungry girl from the sticks who rose to power and took full advantage of her position before she died. It's a very connect-the-dots version and never seemed to reach the real human being behind the myth, which is what I wanted to do in the movie.

Madonna:There have been lots of different versions of this play, with cast recordings by everyone from Patti LuPone to Elaine Page and Julie Covington, all of whom are sopranos and sing in a whole different range than I do. So I didn't really didn't have that much to guide me musically going in. On top of that, Andrew Lloyd Webber's score is very difficult and demanding. So the first step was to work on singing in upper registers and to develop a wider range for my voice.

Madonna:I think that in putting a stage production on film you have to be careful to keep the music and singing from overpowering the audience. You can get very easily into screeching the songs, and what I was most concerned with was making Evita less of a bully and more of a human being. Because the entire movie is sung instead of spoken it has an operatic quality which implies an over-the-top delivery. I was going after something much more naturalistic.

Madonna:A lot of times, in the sheer truth of the moment, I felt like we were really connecting. But there were plenty of other times when I'd say to myself, 'What are we doing? What is this? It's not an opera, it's not a musical, it's not even a regular movie. It's just...insane!' Because Alan had a rule that we weren't allowed to see the dailies, sometimes I had nothing more to go on than my own inner sense that I had to keep moving forward.

Antonio Banderas:When I first moved to Madrid as a young actor, I had a cheap room which was in a building next to the theater. As it happens, they were performing Evita. Every night, as I was trying to sleep, I would hear the music come through the wall at 1:30 in the morning. The whole wall was moving during the more noisy numbers. I couldn't sleep at all. So I stayed up cursing, you know, 'Shut up!' So I think I have this music in my skin already.

Jonathan Pryce:In Buenos Aires, I heard all these fans screaming outside my window every night. Even though it kept me awake, it was very flattering-until I realized that they were screaming for Madonna.

Alan Parker:When we first started recording in London in October last year, I think we were all very daunted by the mad mountain we had decided to climb. All of us came from different worlds-from popular music, from movies, and from musical theater-and we were very apprehensive. But hopefully, after nearly 500 hours of recording, we have all inspired one another in a creating something very special.

David Caddick (musical supervisor): Obviously, what can be accomplished on stage doesn't always translate to film. Someone singing at the top of his or her lungs in upper register on screen would simply be overwhelming. The trick is to bring everything down to a more intimate and conversational level. Essentially, she had to go back to square one and learn to sing in a whole new way. The wide range of music would take her voice to places it had never been, and she quickly proved equal to the task. She had the natural ability to reach the highs and lows required, but it demanded an enormous amount of training and practice. Her voice now has a bell-like purity which compels you to listen.

Alan Parker:Believe me, this is not a woman who messes around with half-measures. She made up her mind from the outset to really go for it and sing it as it is, or not get on the plane and come to London. Fortunately for all of us, she achieved the former.


Madonna: The good thing about Evita is that it is a musical. So people will be more accepting of me in that role because so much of it is about music.

Forrest Sawyer: Describe Eva Peron.
Madonna: desperate, misunderstood, generous
Forrest: She had a drive about her?
Madonna: Yes.
Forrest: She was a little hurt by life?
Madonna: Hugely hurt.
Forrest: Any of this sound familiar at all to you?
Madonna: Uh huh. Yes. Of course.


Reporter: At midnight, Madonna made a secret pilgrimmage to the tomb of Eva Peron. Madonna made this secret visit, this pilgrimmage, along with a chanellor, a medium, a spirit guide.

Locals are saying Madonna is trying to take on Evita's spirit. Filming hasn't even begun yet, and Madonna is dressing like Evita, wearing brown contact lenses, literally following in Eva Peron's footsteps. Some say this time Madonna has taken her strange obsession too far, that it's taken over her life. Madonna may be desperately trying to reincarnate Eva Peron because this is the role of a lifetime.


Madonna: I said it in the beginning. I think she's a great woman, a remarkable woman, a great role model, and someone I truly respect and admire. Truthfully, the first time I ever heard about Evita was because of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. When I found out a little bit about her, I wanted to know more.

How did you feel knowing that there were some negative opinions here in Argentina of you playing the role of Evita?
Madonna: I can't say I didn't feel hurt, but I think that the negative things people say are founded on things they don't really understand. I urge everyone to form their own opinions after they've seen the movie.
The way you dress and do your make-up makes you look like Evita. Is this because you're working on developing the character or does it have more to do with publicity?
Madonna: It has nothing whatsoever to do with publicity and everything to do with the character that I'm portraying.
What kind of interesting things have you learned in talking to people who knew Evita?
Madonna: I have a great admiration for Evita. I think she's a remarkable woman. The biggest surprise was how many people told me how shy she was.


Bryant Gumbel: What happens after Evita's done?
Madonna: I collapse in a heap.
Bryant: Will you make a considered attempt after it's wrapped to lay low so that it's judged on its own merit?
Madonna: Yes I will. So considerable. Yes.


Reporter: Madonna is making big news in Cannes today, and it's not because she's here, it's because Evita is. Today, only a select few film industry insiders got the very first look at the pregnant Madonna on film as Eva Peron in Evita, and the early reviews are a solid thumbs up.

Roger Ebert: Having seen this ten minutes, I now believe that Madonna can play Evita Peron, and I had my doubts.


Jonathan Pryce: Madonna has been working very hard vocally to get her voice in place to sing Evita. She has the voice for it, definitely. It was a great surprise, a delight, to hear her even just singing in the room around the piano.


A First Look at 'Evita'

Ten years in development, its starring role coveted by every Hollywood diva worth her warble, "Evita" was finally given a peek preview at the Cannes Film Festival. Distributors and critics were shown 10 minutes of the $60 million operatic production, in which not a single word is spoken. The verdict from industry types: box-office boffo. Even most critics had kudos for Madonna's Eva Peron, praising the emotional power of her performance and the singing of the whole cast, including Jonathan Pryce and heartthrob Antonio Banderas. So don't cry for any of them.