Penélope Cruz interview
Penélope Cruz, star of Pedro Almodóvar's new film 'Broken Embraces', tells Dave Calhoun about sneaking on to set aged 14 to spy on the director at work, being a bad actress and learning what it is to be 'raunchy'
‘It’s more than that. He was the whole reason I became an actress. When I was a kid, I would go to the set in Madrid where he was shooting and hide and watch him. I did it when he was making “High Heels” in 1991. I don’t know how I managed it, but I got right next to the monitor and could hear how he was directing the actress Victoria Abril. I was just 14.’
How did you get into the studio?
‘I convinced the guy at the door, the security, to let me in. They said yes, and I was there for an hour, watching him direct and hoping that one day I could be directed by him.’
Did you meet him before making 'Live Flesh’?
‘Yes, three years after hiding on his set. He called me after seeing my first film, “Jamón Jamón”, which I made when I was 17, and said that he liked what I did and maybe one day we could work together. I was blown away.’
I love the idea of you spying on Almodóvar while he worked.
‘I don’t know if he knows about it.’
You never told him?
‘I don’t think so. I always forget to tell that story.’
You seem most uninhibited when you’re in front of his camera.
‘I have a completely different relationship with him than with any other director because of years and years of friendship and working together. But it doesn’t mean I feel more relaxed on the set. It’s almost the opposite because I get obsessed about not disappointing him. It’s an advantage that we know each other, so if he gives me a subtle or strange direction, I can understand him. We talk in a way the other one can understand. We almost have our own code.’
You play two characters in ‘Broken Embraces’: Lena and Pina, the character she’s playing in the film-within-the-film.
‘It’s three characters, really, because Lena has to be such a good liar in life – so in life she’s acting and pretending to be somebody else. And then there’s Pina, the character she plays in the movie.’
As Pina, you have to be a good actress in one scene and a bad actress in another. How easy was it to act badly?
‘When you don’t do it on purpose, I guess it’s very easy! But to do it on purpose, that’s not easy. It was a hard scene, I think Pedro will tell you the same thing. It was tricky.’
When you were growing up in Spain in the 1980s, what was Almodóvar’s reputation?
‘As somebody who was very brave, very provocative, very: “Oh my God, look at what this man is doing, how outrageous!” I was very curious and then I saw his movies. He inspired so many people at a time when my country was changing so much after Franco died in 1975. can’t imagine that transition without the figure of Pedro. My country would have been culturally much poorer.’
There’s a sadness to your character in ‘Broken Embraces’. She’s a typical Almodóvar woman – good, but dumped on by men.
‘I love those women. I love playing those women who are going through all those hard situations. It’s inspiring to see someone fighting for what’s right, and a lot of his women have that.’
His stories often give the feeling that if someone else tried to tell them, they’d just seem ridiculous.
‘Yes, sometimes he can tell you a story and you think: How are you going to make that work? You have to remind yourself that it’s him and he’s done the most outrageous things before. But the thing is that these things are part of life and he treats them like that. In “All About My Mother”, I was a nun who has an affair with a transvestite who has HIV and dies when giving birth. But when making that film we met people in even more extreme situations! His eye can make a tragic reality beautiful to watch.’
You won the Oscar last year…
‘Not last year, this year!’
Sorry, I’m thinking of Oscar years like tax years. Was it a great day?
‘It was amazing. I can’t say it was a dream as never dreamt it could be possible. Making a living out of acting sounded like science-fiction when I was growing up. I didn’t know anyone around me who lived from anything related to art. In that moment, so many things from all the years went through my mind – so many faces of those who have been so supportive. The energy of that moment is hard to describe in words.’
You won Best Supporting Actress for ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. How was Woody Allen? He has a reputation for being quite reserved on set.
‘No, I had great conversations with him. At the beginning he was shy. But then when you relax and approach him in a natural way, it’s okay. f you are both shy, then it’s a disaster. But someone has to break the ice, and when the ice is broken he’s the funniest person. He can really shock you. He’s like Pedro: you never know what they’re going to say. You’re like: “I can’t believe you just said that.”’
‘Things I can’t repeat, of course. But he’s so funny. I felt like I should write down every line that came out of his mouth.’
Most recently you shot the musical ‘Nine’ here in London with ‘Chicago’ director Rob Marshall. The trailer suggests you do a lot of dancing.
‘I had to do a lot of training because I used to dance years ago growing up but I had to learn again. Also I sing for the first time, so I had to train for that, too.’
Your performance looks quite raunchy. I’ve seen a still of you in lingerie doing the splits.
‘What is that word? “Raunchy”?’
It means sexy – in a good way.
‘Oh yes, some of the numbers are very sexy.’
Did you like working here in London?
‘Yes, but look… [She points out of the window.] It’s raining. It’s August. And it’s raining. Can you explain why? This is such a beautiful city. Imagine if it rained less, if you had less grey days. I’m from Spain and I need the sun. Rain makes me a little sad.’
‘Broken Embraces’ opens on August 28.
‘Nine’ opens on November 25.
Author: Dave Calhoun
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