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She didn't love the filming. In her diary of the experience, published in Vanity Fair, she whined at unseemly length about everything from bad dreams to uncomfortable hotel rooms. ("As I descend further into this labyrinth called moviemaking, I am stunned by the number of possibilities for feeling lonely and alienated...") In Buenos Aires she was shaken by the protests against the film as well as the hordes of fans who rarely left her alone. Then, on a stopover in New York before moving on to Budapest, she learned she was pregnant. Some rejiggering of the schedule and tinkering with her costumes allowed the filming to barrel ahead to the finish. But it was a close call: a few weeks earlier, and the $60 million project would have been seriously jeopardized. (The filmmakers had no insurance against the star's pregnancy; such a policy, they say, would have been prohibitively expensive.)

In frigid Budapest, the pregnant star was stressed out and unhappy. When not on the set, she spent most of her time in her room on the top floor of the Kempinski Hotel, coming and going through a private entrance ("She is here for 30 days, and I have not seen her once," said a forlorn desk clerk). "It was a difficult time for everyone," Madonna recalled three months later, polite and composed if still a bit distant, in the lounge of a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley. "We went from 100-degree weather in Argentina, the Latin culture, very embracing, warm, passionate, to a country where people are just learning to be expressive without being afraid. Everybody has a sad expression on their face. And it's difficult to work in an environment where there is no joy. It was the toughest experience of my life."

It was tough partly because of the odd sort of film being made. All the music had been recorded in a London studio the previous fall, so the actors' performances were largely locked in. Watched over closely by director Alan Parker--a rumpled, penguin-shaped Brit who paced the set with head down, like an Oxford mathematician pondering a calculus problem--the actors had to focus mainly on lip-synching accurately and hitting their marks at the right time. It was tedious work that allowed for little spontaneity, but Madonna, the music-video veteran, handled it skillfully. Shooting part of her waltz with Antonio Banderas (as the narrator Che), for example, she whirled and gesticulated around a restaurant table for more than a dozen takes, conferring quietly with Parker in between them, with scarcely a flub or a misstep.

From all accounts, Madonna was punctual, serious and well prepared on the set. "She's a tough worker," says co-star Banderas. Producer Andrew Vajna (Nixon, Die Hard with a Vengeance), while admitting that he and Madonna "had some words" when she complained about hotel accommodations in Buenos Aires and London, praises her as "one of the most professional actresses I've ever worked with. She devoted passion and time beyond the call of duty."

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