Budapest opens arms to Madonna Bloc party: This is not your drab, repressed Eastern European city. In a non-judgmental climate, sexy star will be able to let her hair down.

March 11, 1996|By Susan Milligan | Susan Milligan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BUDAPEST -- On the weekend President Clinton came to Hungary, there was a line of many hundreds of locals waiting for four hours for their chance to get close to an American celebrity.

The throng wasn't vying to see Mr. Clinton -- whose appearance was barely noted here. Madonna is coming, and this was the day that producers of the film "Evita," starring the flamboyant pop singer and Spanish heart-throb Antonio Banderas, were casting extras for the movie.

The rules were straightforward: You had to be between 30 and 70, able to sing in English and possibly to dance. The reward? A little bit of cash and the opportunity to be in the same movie as the controversial, popular star.

"I like her. She's got guts," says 68-year-old Magda Turner, patiently waiting for her chance to try out. "That's why she is where she is."

Madonna's arrival -- expected late this month -- is sure to create havoc here. One film industry source says Madonna would be here 43 days, staying at a luxurious downtown hotel favored by diplomats.

"Michael Jackson was here three days, and everything was turned upside clown," the source says. "Can you imagine 43 days with Madonna? You know what she will do -- hit the discos and go jogging."

While they wait for the big stars to arrive, Budapest is grappling with more important questions: Is this architecturally pretty, but somewhat grim city, enough excitement for the outrageous Madonna? Is Madonna just too big for Budapest? Will she be safe from obsessed fans?

And then there's the romance question. Madonna -- whose "Truth or Dare" video features her praise of the handsome Mr. Banderas -- is going to have a lot of alone-time during the weeks of shooting.

Will the voluptuous actress Melanie Griffith -- whom the world's tabloids say had gotten a bit too fleshy for Mr. Banderas -- be on hand to keep an eye on the two "Evita" stars?

Inquiring Hungarian minds want to know.

"Everybody is going to try to get close to them. They'll be around the hotel," says Ildiko Toth, a writer for Kepes Europa, an entertainment magazine.

Hungarian tabloids and entertainment press have been speculating that Mr. Banderas and Madonna were once involved, but that "Madonna was too much for him," Ms. Toth says.

Then, she said, "Melanie was even worse," so the couple were on the outs (though they are still photographed together).

And now, the Hungarian press has speculated, Ms. Griffith's two-time husband, Don Johnson, wants her back.

All of these off-screen dramatics catch the attention of entertainment media around the world.

But in Budapest, those sort of shenanigans are not likely to be considered scandalous.

So what if Madonna has an affair with someone? That's fairly common here. Public displays of affection by Madonna would be watched with interest -- but not judged -- here in Budapest, where it is common to see couples kissing and groping on the metro or in restaurants.

Budapest's mayor, Gabor Demszky, married a substantially younger woman after his first wife married his best friend/campaign manager. The two couples are all friends, and Hungarians don't seem to care about their mayor's social life.

And Madonna's often-revealing wardrobe? She'd fit right in here in the summertime, where seasonal heat and the lack of air-conditioning lead young Hungarian women to do without extra clothing, such as underwear.

The hot-weather fashion in Hungary is to wear shorts that have a kind of thong-effect in the back.

It's hardly the repressive image Westerners have of Eastern Europe. But it's the norm here.

"The socialist regime imposed laws and restrictions, but it didn't teach morals," says Levi Malnay, director of Promotion and Original Programming at HBO-Hungary. So while Madonna will fascinate Hungary, she probably won't be judged badly.

Also, "from an American star, people accept it more," Mr. Malnay says.

Further, Madonna has a "feminist" appeal that draws female fans as well as male admirers, says Anita Altman, a local social columnist.

"Madonna is going to appeal to everybody. Everybody's going to want a glimpse of her," says Ms. Altman, Style editor and "Social Beat" columnist for the Budapest Sun.

"For so many years, Madonna was considered to be a loose woman," but her image has changed recently after her run-in with an obsessed stalker, Ms. Altman says.

"Here is a woman who, as openly sexual as she is, was honestly terrified by someone she thought was infringing on her rights, and she stood up for herself," Ms. Altman says.

With the stalker episode still fresh, "security will be very tight," says Maria Ungor, the Hungarian production manager for "Evita." There will be six weeks of filming in Hungary for "Evita," following shooting in Buenos Aires.

Hungary was selected because labor and production costs are cheaper here than in the West, production officials say. Budapest also has buildings that are similar to South American structures key to the film, but which were destroyed since the era of Eva Peron, on whom the film is based.

Also, "there is a long tradition of filmmaking in Hungary," where many films have been shot over the past 40 to 50 years, says Laszio Sipos of Magic Media, which is casting extras for "Evita."

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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