MADONNA claimed that she welcomes criticism of her new film W.E. — as long as reviewers are judging the movie on its own merits.

“I can tell when people are reviewing my film and when they’re reviewing me personally,” the musical phenomenon told a packed press conference at the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL earlier today.

“I welcome criticisms of my film when it’s viewed as an artistic form and not when people are mentioning things about my personal life or my achievements in any other field because they’re irrelevant to the film.”

“So when they stick to the film, I do care. I mean, I pay attention to it.”

For her part, MADONNA knew the movie would be a challenge. She said she was interested in making W.E. even before she crafted her 2008 directorial debut FILTH & WISDOM, but didn’t feel ready to take on the complex project at the time.

“I felt like I needed to tackle something much simpler and really understand the technical aspects of filmmaking before I took it (on),” said MADONNA, clad in a vibrant red blouse and formfitting black skirt.

W.E. jumps back and forth through time to tell two stories: ANDREA RISEBOROUGH plays WALLIS SIMPSON, the controversial American whose romance with EDWARD VIII ultimately led to his abdication of the throne, while Australian actor ABBIE CORNISH portrays a downcast modern woman who is obsessed with her.

MADONNA involved herself in virtually every part of W.E., from music to the script (which she cowrote) to the lush set designs and intricate costumes. She even liked to help dress her actors every day, fine tuning their hair and clothes.

“Finding an excuse to touch them – basically – was my ritual.”

Added ANDREA: “It was very important because we had a sense of connection before we began.”

And MADONNA threw herself into the research process fully. In her own words, she was fascinated by WALLIS SIMPSON. She was an unpopular figure to many, yet W.E. takes pains to illustrate how much WALLIS SIMPSON sacrificed in her romance with royalty, surrendering her privacy and her freedom while earning the scorn of millions of Brits.

“She was and is a very provocative character in the history of world politics and the world of fashion,” commented MADONNA, who wore a gold W.E. necklace that she said was a gift from her staff.

“She is a mysterious enigmatic creature. Not conventionally beautiful, not young, twice divorced, not anything fabulous about her background and somehow she managed to capture the heart of the man who, at the time, held the most important position in the world. That story intrigued me immensely and I wanted to understand it.”

Rumours have long swirled that WALLIS SIMPSON was a Nazi sympathizer, which MADONNA seemed to address indirectly.

“I was interested in the concept of the cult of celebrity, which we are all consumed with now and the idea is that there were so many rumours that are now believed to be true about Wallis Simpson. And when I investigated her story, there were so many of them that I could find no empirical evidence stating that they were true.”

“We often reduce our historic or iconic figures to a sound bite and it’s tremendously unfair. What was important to me was to portray Wallis Simpson as a human being with flaws, imperfections and a human side.”

While MADONNA and her cast treated the subject at hand with a steadfast seriousness, there were moments of levity in the roughly 30 minute gathering.

MADONNA revealed that she wielded a guitar on set and would sing to pass the time, even favouring the crowd with a few bars.

We’re making a movie/Isn’t it groovy/Welcome to my house

At one point, a reporter announced that the film’s two leads — both of whom have dark hair in the film — resembled the director, to which MADONNA responded: “I’m not a brunette. I’m not. I swear I’m not.”

She also coyly addressed the fact that the movie will be opening in December in the midst of the OSCAR race.

“My legs and my fingers are crossed,” she said simply.

But on a more serious note, she did acknowledge that as a fledgling filmmaker, she has dues to pay and respect to earn and that she feels pressure in trying to make a name for herself in a new medium.

“Of course I do. Because it’s new and I had the same kind of pressure when I began my music career. And I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect and people didn’t know what to expect.”

“And I had to earn my way in the world of being taken seriously in the music department. And now I’m well aware that I have to do the same in the world of film.”

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