Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me Interview: Alek Keshishian on Madonna, Fame and Pop Star Documentaries

In 1991, an often tongue-in-cheek honest documentary about Madonna is said to have invented a genre. truth or Darewhich came out as significantly more lewd in the UK In bed with Madonnais often described as the blueprint for dozens of pop star documentaries that followed One Direction: This is us to Taylor Swift Miss Americana. But this is wrong. For the most part it stands alone. It’s the only pop star-approved pop star documentary that could justifiably make the publicists of its subject sweat. Finally none truth or Dare‘s many imitators conquered their stars by skinning mineral water bottles. Or being bitchy about Oprah. Or, as if they were in a Mike Leigh tragic comedy, they gently tell a long-forgotten childhood friend that they will not 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 at her peak. Exciting. Confusing. Endless misconduct. She’s someone for whom an “Electric Fence” sign is more of an invitation to touch than a warning. In other words, the complete opposite of Selena Gomez, the 30-year-old Texan who’s been a pop sensation for most of her life. An actress, Top 40 regular, former Disney kid, and the most followed woman on Instagram who isn’t a Kardashian, she’s the subject of Keshishian’s new film and his first documentary since Madonna’s. My mind & Istreaming now on Apple TV+ is also about a gigantic pop supernova that – deep down – just can’t seem to hold out.

“Selena is the most reserved pop star I’ve ever met,” Keshishian tells me over ice water and a vape in London’s Notting Hill, his eyes covered by round glasses, his hair thick and gray. “Their fame is not based on a cool factor,” he continues. “She’s the people’s pop star. What intrigued me is that she doesn’t seem to have that bravery. Madonna had that bravery, and she also had thick skin.” When Keshishian Gomez was first introduced through his sister Aleen – who works as her manager – he was stumped. “I was like, ‘This girl doesn’t have thick skin.'”

in the My mind & I, Gomez despairs at the treadmill she is on. We first see her at age 24 while rehearsing for what she thinks will be a successful world tour — sultry tracks like “Good for You” and “Hands to Myself,” designed to take her out of teen pop and into one mature musical sensibility. But she is in the grip of fear. She hates how she looks, how she performs on stage. A handful of issues seem to trigger particular self-loathing: Disney, her image as the famous “ex of” Justin Bieber, the (irrational) notion that she’s just duped a record label and a fanbase and isn’t very good at her job. Much of this footage is explained by what happens (off-camera) afterward, as Gomez seeks treatment to deal with panic attacks and depression and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But as the years go by and Gomez comes to take care of her sanity (on camera), she only appears happy and alive when she’s not a pop star. in the truth or Dare, Madonna’s relationship to attention was like someone hooked up to an IV drip. She got over it. Gomez’ comparative lack of joy is palpable.

“There were a lot of moments where I was like, ‘Why doesn’t she just stop?'” says Keshishian. “But she still feels the need to do it. I think she’s happiest when she’s playing. [She told me] that one of the reasons she loves acting – and especially in a ensemble play – is that it’s not just about her. She finds the focus [being] pretty embarrassing on her.” Then why is she doing it anyway? “I think if she didn’t, she would feel kind of 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 about her commitment to her fans. She enjoys the self-expression of music. She just doesn’t like the promotional aspect of it.”

Keshishian had no desire to document another pop star in his lifetime after finding comfortable homes in advertising and as a screenwriter, but Gomez was keen to work with him. Like any good pop music student, she adored truth or Dare, and convinced him to direct one of their music videos and film their concerts. Maybe it would be something. Maybe it wouldn’t. But when Keshishian saw her in action, he realized she wasn’t doing well. “I could feel the wheels coming loose,” he recalls. “I saw this girl go through a lot of pain. It felt exploitative to me to have cameras [there] while she’s in the thick of it.”

Selena Gomez and Alek Keshishian in the middle of the production of “My Mind & Me”

(AppleTV+)

So after those few weeks in 2016, it stopped rolling. After Gomez recovered in 2019 and received her diagnosis — she’d also undergone a kidney transplant for the autoimmune disease lupus — she and Keshishian picked up where they left off, this time with a clearer purpose in mind. Eventually, My mind & I is about an incredibly famous person trying to use her fame forever. It’s also, in Keshishian’s words, “an indictment of fame itself.”

There was a time not long after truth or Dare, when Keshishian himself was kind of famous. He’d been pulled out of relative obscurity by Madonna after she saw his Harvard graduation film, a rock opera spin-on Wuthering Heights, and she asked him to film her tour. He asked her if he could shoot the dramas, dynamics and love affairs backstage. (Warren Beatty, Madonna’s boyfriend at the time, hovers on the verge of truth or Dare like a ticked piece of arm candy.) She agreed. The couple bonded and dated in their ’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 mature, you start to see the emptiness of a lot of it. I didn’t like seeing my name in gossip columns. I’m just not that person. I hate being in front of the camera. So I got the fuck out of Hollywood.” He left Los Angeles – his base at the time – for London. “And then she turned around and moved to London too!” he laughs. “I was like, ‘I can’t fucking get rid of this woman!'”

The pair have since worked together — albeit never on one truth or Dare Sequel Keshishian has always expressed disinterest in — and remain friendly if not BFFs, most recently celebrating Rosh Hashanah at the same party in September in New York. Today, for the most part, he admires her from afar, not that she’s ever made it easy for people to banish her from their minds. “I always say she’s like that cool girl in the back of the school bus who controls all the seats around her,” he laughs. “If she hadn’t been a pop star, she would still have been ‘that girl.’ The one who walks into a room and everyone is mesmerized. She’s always had that confident presence. That charisma. I think the bar is a little lower these days.”

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It wasn’t just Madonna that alienated him from stardom. Lines were inevitably drawn My mind & I back to truth or DareBut A Missed Link is a largely unknown film directed by Keshishian in 2006. Love and Other Disasters was a romantic comedy filmed in and around London, starring Matthew Rhys, Catherine Tate and the late great Brittany Murphy. It remains Keshishian’s last feature film and until My mind & I, his last film ever. He didn’t talk about it much. But I tell him that I was struck by the spiritual connections to both of his pop documentaries. Because of the women who lead them, they feel—willingly or unwillingly—like reflections on fame. Madonna has always made fame her bitch, Gomez has learned how to make it survivable, and Murphy — a brilliant, haunting actress who experienced professional and personal turmoil before her death at age 32 in 2009 — was effectively killed by it .

Brittany Murphy and Matthew Rhys in Love and Other Disasters

(Shutterstock)

“Brittany was an amazing light,” says Keshishian somberly. “But she had many demons.” He calls Love and Other Disasters his worst filmmaking experience. “I did it in the city I loved with a great crew and a great producer, but it was difficult. Because I had a troubled actress in the lead.” He could see on the set that Murphy was struggling. “I protected her. I considered stopping the film, but that would have put 70 crew members out of work. So we went on.” He shakes his head. “I think that influenced me.”

I’m asking if his refusal to continue filming Gomez in 2016 had anything to do with what he experienced with Murphy. “I think so,” he says. “You’re starting to realize that movies are what you are do – they’re not the be-all and end-all. So in 2016 I was like, ‘That’s not right – I don’t want to film that.’ Selena had to live through this and hopefully get better and figure everything out. If I was 24, I probably wouldn’t have stopped. I would have said, ‘Oh, this intrigues me – let’s just keep rolling.’ But I hope I’ve gotten wiser with age. I hope I’ve become more compassionate.”

Time has made him kinder, but it hasn’t made fame any less unattractive. “I had all these things once,” he says. “An assistant who would give me my petty cash. Who would do my grocery shopping? But it wasn’t real. It never felt right I wouldn’t trade my life for that of a famous person.” Instead, he decides to circle her. While sometimes, but not often, holding a camera.

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

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/selena-gomez-documentary-alek-keshishian-interview-b2245165.html Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me Interview: Alek Keshishian on Madonna, Fame and Pop Star Documentaries

JOE HERNANDEZ

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