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While Madonna and George Harrison are both influential music figures, the two crossed paths for the first time in the film industry. However, the final product was a disaster, and Harrison said that working with Madonna was a ‘pain in the a**.’

George Harrison and Madonna worked together on a 1986 movie

George Harrison in Cannes, France in 1976
George Harrison | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Madonna dominated pop music in the 1980s and began to make her way into movies. In 1986, she and her new husband, Sean Penn, were cast together in Shanghai Surprise, directed by Jim Goddard. The movie was produced by HandMade films, a production company founded by Harrison in 1978. Harrison also had a cameo role in Shanghai Surprise, along with helming the soundtrack. 

Unfortunately, the movie was a disaster. The production was a mess with reports about the newlyweds feuding on set and causing tension with the cast and crew. Critics bashed the film upon release, and it currently holds a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Madonna’s popularity couldn’t even save it as it flopped hard, garnering $2.3 million on a $15 million budget. 

Harrison did not mince words when talking about working with Madonna

There was a lot of bad press surrounding Shanghai Surprise, and Madonna and George Harrison attended a press conference for the film where they tried to clear things up. The pair seemed to be friendly, but in a later interview after the film’s release, the former Beatle shared his true thoughts, stating that it was hard to work with Madonna since she “hasn’t got a sense of humor.” He also didn’t hesitate to shoot a couple of jabs at Penn’s behavior. 

“You want the truth? It was a pain in the ass,” Harrison said, per Far Out. “Because we were doing a comedy movie, she hasn’t got a sense of humor. And her husband Sean – who’s a really nice and intelligent fella, and I had a laugh with him at times – but, you know, he sort of gets all uptight and, you know, caused all the trouble. It was like The Producers [1967 movie], you know, where he says: ‘I’ve picked the wrong cast, the wrong actors, the wrong director, where did I go right?’”

Madonna also revealed her true feelings later


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The feelings appeared to be mutual between the two, as Madonna didn’t have the kindest words to say about Harrison either. In a 1986 interview with the BBC shared via, Madonna said that the press conference with her and Harrison was a total failure, mainly because he didn’t let her speak and kept saying “all the wrong things.” 

“When we got to England, it was like the 3rd world war… because Sean and I make good press.” Madonna said. “I really felt that George Harrison didn’t give me the chance to speak. I felt that he kept putting his foot in his mouth. He was very provocative in his statements; I feel like he was saying all the wrong things to calm people down, but I couldn’t really say that much.”