May 17, 2017 at 10:00 AM EDT

When you’re the queen of pop, only the most over-the-top music video will do. So for the second single off her Like a Prayer album, Madonna teamed up with director David Fincher, who was working almost exclusively on music videos at the time. (It’d be another six years before he broke big as a film director, with Se7en.)

Inspired by Fritz Lang’s dystopian film Metropolis, the clip starred Madonna as a crotch-grabbing doyenne of a factory filled with enslaved shirtless Adonises, most notably model Cameron Alborzian (who’s now a noted yogi). Not surprisingly, “Express Yourself” was an instant sensation on MTV — and, at the time, the most expensive video ever made — raking in accolades for its flipping of gender norms. “Madonna was a strong female presence,” says producer Gregg Fienberg. “In that video she really stepped into the forefront, promoting women’s power.”

Twenty-eight years after the video’s worldwide release, on May 17, 1989, EW talked to Alborzian to learn some secrets from the set.

That cat was a champ…

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To cope with working as late as 4 a.m., Alborzian adopted an inspirational mantra: “I thought, ‘If the cat can get through this, then I can too,'” he says. But unlike the model, the feline had a stand-in. “It was very professional, but it could only work a certain amount of hours.”

…but also a troublemaker

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“There were quite a few takes,” Alborzian recalls of one of the video’s most memorable shots, in which Madonna drenches herself in milk. “Because it was liquid, we had to take it five, six, seven times to get it right. It’s tricky when you have liquid and a cat in a scene.”

Madonna was a little naughty…

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Despite having to simulate sex with a pop star, Alborzian insists there was nothing awkward about their love scene. “Madonna likes to play, so it made things a lot more fun,” he says. “She was probably more naked than she needed to be.”

…and she was a blast to hang with

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Alborzian recalls an upbeat, social vibe on set: “[Madonna’s then boyfriend] Warren Beatty was there, Herb Ritts was there, it was just an amazing time. We hung out in each other’s trailers and she was very positive about life, just living it up.”

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