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The Hot Seat: Penélope Cruz

The good news? You get to make out with Penélope Cruz. The bad? It has to be through a sheet.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

On paper, Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodvar are a bit of an unlikely cinematic match. She's one of the most beautiful women in the world—a genetically perfect sexpot who's seduced Scarlett Johansson (on film) and Javier Bardem (in real life). He's a gay auteur with a fondness for brightly colored melodrama. In 2006, Cruz starred in Almodvar's Volver, their third feature together, in which she simultaneously wore a set of prosthetic buttocks and reaffirmed her A-list status on the international film circuit. Now they're reunited in Broken Embraces, the story of Lena (Cruz) and her affairs with both a handsome film director and a creepily obsessive businessman. (Guess who wins?) We met with Cruz to talk about mummified sex scenes and giving the gift of tits.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews

Artists and capitalists—can they fall in love?
Who am I to say if that happens? You can find all kinds of peculiar combinations in life. In Pedro's world, in his cinema, you see things that are so much more strange than that—and all of those things come from observing real life. In All About My Mother, where my character is a nun who falls in love with a transvestite and gets AIDS from him—even things like that, he took them from real stories. When we were making that movie we were working with a lot of transvestites and transsexuals, and somebody on the crew met a father that gave his son, for his 18th birthday, a pair of tits. His first pair of tits.

Does anything shock you anymore?
I always try not to judge. I don't judge.

There are two pivotal love scenes, and in the one with Ernesto Martel, you were kissing through sheets, almost like mummies making out.
I think the scene that Pedro decided to shoot under the sheets is one of the best scenes that he has shot in his entire career. It really expresses the prison that this woman lives in.

It's a pretty unnatural way to film a love scene...
It was very difficult. He was shooting two heads covered by a sheet. Everybody was really amazed by that idea—nobody spoke about anything else.

We're so used to seeing sex scenes in movies—we've seen everything. Is it still possible to capture true passion in a film?
Pedro has never repeated himself in any type of thing, and he has showed legendary love scenes. He has a special vision for everything he shoots. He doesn't treat four or five scenes as the most important scenes of the movie. For him, every shot has the same importance—even if it's the wheel of a car.

Can it get frustrating to work with someone like that, such attention to detail?
I love it! You can learn so much from him. He's like a machine of creating. He never stops.

How has your relationship with him changed over time?
We know each other a lot, and we know how the other one is feeling after two seconds of looking at each other. I don't feel more relaxed on the set because he's my friend—I feel always a little bit intimidated because he's such a big personality, and he's very honest. He will always tell you the truth about a take. It's scary, but I'd much rather have that. I don't like working with people who tell you that everything's great all the time—I don't believe it.

You're a serious actor, and you're also renowned for being a sex symbol. Are you ever tempted to work against that attractiveness—like Charlize Theron did in Monster?
Did you see Don't Move? The character needed to have a very specific look that would have to be almost repulsive, sometimes. Everything I wear in the movie, I bought it at a place where every sweater and every dress costs one dollar.

Broken Embraces opens in New York Nov 20.

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