Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me interview: Alek Keshishian on Madonna, celebrity and pop star documentaries

In 1991, an often candid and grimacing documentary about Madonna would have invented a genre. Truth or Darewhich was released in the UK as the decidedly more salacious In bed with Madonnais often described as the model for the dozens of pop star documentaries that followed, from One direction is us to Taylor Swift miss american. But it’s wrong. For the most part, he stands alone. It’s the only pop star-approved pop star documentary that could rightly send publicists into cold sweats about its subject matter. After all, none of Truth or DareIts many imitators have captured their stars sucking on bottles of mineral water. Or being bitchy about Oprah. Or, as if in a Mike Leigh tragicomedy, sweetly telling a long-forgotten childhood friend that no, they won’t be godparents to their unborn baby.

Truth or Dare was shot during Madonna’s 1990 world tour by a 24-year-old filmmaker named Alek Keshishian, and captures the star in her prime. Thrilling. Embarrassing. Constantly misbehaves. He’s someone for whom an “electric fence” sign is an invitation to touch rather than a warning. So, in other words, the complete opposite of Selena Gomez, the 30-year-old Texas girl who’s been a pop sensation for most of her life. Actor, top 40 staple, former Disney kid and the most followed woman on Instagram who isn’t a Kardashian, she is the subject of Keshishian’s new film and his first documentary since Madonna’s. my mind and mewhich is currently streaming on Apple TV+, is also about a giant pop supernova, but who – deep down – can’t seem to handle it.

“Selena is the most reluctant pop star I’ve ever met,” Keshishian tells me over ice-cold water and an e-cigarette in London’s Notting Hill, eyes hidden by circular glasses, thick hair and Grey. “His fame is not based on a cool factor,” he continues. “He’s the people’s pop star. What intrigued me is that she doesn’t seem to have that bravado. Madonna had that bravado, and she also had thick skin. When Keshishian was first introduced to Gomez through his sister Aleen – who works as his manager – he was puzzled. “I was like, ‘this girl doesn’t have thick skin’. »

In my mind and me, Gomez despairs at the treadmill she found herself on. We first see her at the age of 24, rehearsing for what she considers a breakthrough world tour – sultry tracks like “Good for You” and “Hands to Myself” designed to take her out of the woods. teenage pop and in a more mature musical sensibility. But she is plagued by anxiety. She hates her appearance, her stage performance. A handful of topics seem to trigger particular self-loathing: Disney, her image as a famous “ex” Justin Bieber, the (irrational) idea that she simply cheated on a record company and fanbase and she’s not really good at her job. Much of this footage is explained by what happens (off camera) afterwards, with Gomez entering treatment to deal with panic attacks and depression, and being diagnosed with bipolar. But as the years pass and Gomez manages to manage her sanity (on camera), she only seems happy and alive when she’s not a pop star. In Truth or Dare, Madonna’s relationship to attention was like someone was hooked up to an intravenous drip. She thrived on it. Gomez’s relative joylessness is palpable.

“There were many times when I wondered, ‘Why doesn’t she just stop?’ Said Keshishian. “But there is always this need in her to do it. I think she’s happiest when she’s playing. [She told me] that one of the reasons she likes to act – and especially in an ensemble piece – is that it’s not all about her. She finds the focus [being] on it quite embarrassing. So why does she still do it? “I think if she didn’t, she would feel a bit lost. She’s been doing this since she was seven. Her management and her label are very protective of her. But I think she’s torn, because she feels obligated to her fans. She loves the self-expression of music. She just doesn’t like the promotional aspect.

Keshishian had no desire to document another pop star during his lifetime, having found a comfortable home working in advertising and screenwriting, but Gomez was eager to collaborate with him. Like any good student of pop music, she loved Truth or Dare, and convinced him to direct one of his music videos and shoot footage from his concerts. Maybe it would become something. Maybe not. But when Keshishian got to see her in action, he realized she was not well. “I could feel the wheels coming off,” he recalls. “I saw this girl suffer a lot. It was abusive for me to have cameras [there] while she is in the thick of it.

Selena Gomez and Alek Keshishian mid-production on “My Mind & Me”


So after those few weeks in 2016, he stopped riding. In 2019, after Gomez was healthy and received her diagnosis — she also underwent a kidney transplant for the autoimmune disease lupus — she and Keshishian picked up where they left off, this time with a clearer goal in mind. At the end of the day, my mind and me is about an incredibly famous person trying to cash in on their fame for good. It is also, in Keshishian’s words, “an indictment of fame itself.”

There was a time, not long after Truth or Dare, when Keshishian himself was somehow famous. He had been brought out of relative obscurity by Madonna after watching her Harvard thesis film, a rock spin-opera about The Wuthering Heights, and she asked him to film her tour. He asked her if he could also film the dramas, dynamics and love stories behind the scenes. (Warren Beatty, Madonna’s boyfriend at the time, hovers on the sidelines of Truth or Dare like a piece of ticked candy.) She nodded. The pair bonded, paling throughout the ’90s. “I was Madonna’s best friend for six or seven years,” he says. “We were inseparable – but it became too much. It was great fun to be with her back then. But as you get older, you become more mature, you start to realize the emptiness of a lot of that. I didn’t like seeing my name in gossip columns. I am not that person. I hate being in front of the camera. So I fucked up about Hollywood. He left Los Angeles – his base at the time – for London. “And then she turned around and moved to London too! ” he’s laughing. “I was like, ‘I can’t take the f*** away from this woman!’ »

The couple have worked together since – but never on a Truth or Dare sequel, which Keshishian has always expressed disinterest in — and remains friendly if not BFFs, most recently celebrating Rosh Hashanah at the same New York party in September. For the most part, he admires her today from afar, not that she ever made it easy for people to keep her out of their minds. “I always say she’s like the cool girl in the back of the school bus, controlling all the seats around her,” he laughs. “If she hadn’t been a pop star, she still would have been ‘that girl’. Whoever walks into a room and everyone is fascinated. She always had this commanding presence. This charisma. I think the bar is a little lower these days.

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It wasn’t just Madonna that steered him away from stardom. Inevitably, lines were drawn from my mind and me return to Truth or DareBut A Missed Connection is a largely unknown film directed by Keshishian in 2006. Love and other disasters was a romantic comedy shot in and around London starring Matthew Rhys, Catherine Tate and the late great Brittany Murphy. It remains Keshishian’s final feature film and, until my mind and me, his latest film. He didn’t say much about it. But I tell him that I was struck by his spiritual connections to his two pop documentaries. Because of the women who run them, they feel – intentionally or not – stardom thoughts. Madonna has always dogged fame, Gomez has learned how to make it viable, and Murphy – a brilliant and haunting actor who experienced professional and personal upheaval before his death at the age of 32 in 2009 – was one of them. actually killed.

Brittany Murphy and Matthew Rhys in “Love and Other Disasters”


“Brittany was an incredible light,” Keshishian says darkly. “But she had a lot of demons. He calls Love and other disasters his worst cinematic experience. “I was doing it in the city I loved, with an amazing crew and an amazing producer, but it was troubled. Because I had a troubled actress in the lead role. He could see on set that Murphy was struggling. “I was protecting her. I considered stopping the film, but that would have put 70 crew members out of work. So we continued. He shakes his head. “I think it affected me. »

I ask if his refusal to continue filming Gomez in 2016 has anything to do with what he saw happen to Murphy. “I think so,” he said. “You start to realize that movies are what you do – they are not the alpha and omega. That’s why in 2016, I said to myself: “It’s not good, I don’t want to film this. Selena needed to go through this and hopefully get better and figure it all out. If I was still 24, I probably wouldn’t have quit. I would have been, ‘Oh, this fascinates me – let’s just keep rolling.’ But I hope I’ve gotten wiser with age. I hope I have become more compassionate.

Time has made him nicer, but it hasn’t made fame any less attractive. “I used to have all these trappings,” he says. “An assistant who would give me my petty cash. Who would do my shopping. But it wasn’t real. It never felt right. I wouldn’t trade my life for a famous person. Instead, he chooses to orbit them. While sometimes, but not often, holding a camera.

‘Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me’ is now streaming on Apple TV+


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