Penélope Cruz won a Goya for her very first film role, in Bigas Luna’s 1992 romp Jamón Jamón, but it was her brief role as a mother giving birth on a bus in Almodóvar’s 1997 thriller Live Flesh that first caught the attention of international audiences. She reunited with him two years later for All About My Mother, in which she played a pregnant nun with HIV. By this point, she’d already made her US debut in Stephen Frears’ The Hi-Lo Country, and a few films later she recreated her character from Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes for Cameron Crowe’s 2001 American remake Vanilla Sky. She returned to to Spain for Volver, a role that won her – and the rest of the female cast – the Best Actress award at Cannes...
Pedro wrote the role of Raimunda specifically for you.
Cruz: At the beginning, he said he was thinking about me for the role of the daughter – because it was seven years ago. And then he was writing, and he said, ‘Now I see you more as the lead character. You can play her.’ When I read it, I thought it was the best script I’d ever read in my life.
Did you draw from your own mother for this role?
Cruz: Yes, a lot of things. Her strength – she was very passionate about life and she would do anything for us. And she had to fight alone to raise us. She didn’t have the problems that Raimunda had, fortunately, but she had to work six days a week, and then she would do breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was a super-woman! For me, I don’t know how she did it with three kids.
Were the emotionally intense scenes in the movie difficult to play?
Cruz: Yes, they required a level of concentration. When I was on the set, I was just reading things, listening to music and watching things that had to do with the state of the scene, maintaining for the whole day that state. If I had an hour off for lunch, I would put on a movie or something that would help me stay in that area. And at the end of the day, I was like a zombie. I hardly had the energy to eat with my eyes open. I would just go to sleep – it was a really exhausting experience.
Was it a different experience to your previous times working with Pedro?
Cruz: Well, the role was bigger – and six months working together. She’s also a more demanding character. We rehearsed for three months and that was great.
How does Pedro work during the rehearsals?
Cruz: We do table work. With the script, we sit and we read the scenes, and he takes notes and changes or adapts some lines. He needs to hear us saying the words. It’s never very different, though, from how it starts out.
Pedro says your character is influenced by Italian women from the 1950s – like Anna Magnani in Bellissima or Sophia Loren.
Cruz: Pedro asked me to watch those movies again as homework to look at the energy of women from the Italian neo-realist films. A lot of them had characters that represented motherhood. My character really represents that in this movie, so that was the reason for the character to have that physical aspect and that energy. It wasn’t gratuitous. For some reason, in the ’50s in Italy, the mother figure was very important – and my character needed to have that energy.
Does doing a film like this make you want to become a mother?
Cruz: I wanted that before. All my life, since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to have children. I love children. It has not changed. Also, with the three movies I have done with Pedro, I have been a mother. He kills me off in the other two – in this one I survive!
Why do you think you and Pedro are great partners on film?
Cruz: I don’t know. We had a great connection from the beginning. Even before I met him, it was so strange. I felt like I already knew him, I loved him. It was so powerful. And when I looked at him in the eyes, this was the feeling that I knew I was going to have with him. It gets bigger and bigger every day. I adore him. It’s much more than working together. He’s a really special person in my life. He’s so creative; he never stops.
Are there any other directors you are as close to?
Cruz: Pedro’s different – very unique, very particular and difficult to compare to anyone else. But I’ve been lucky with many of the people that I’ve worked with. I think I’ve been very lucky with great opportunities – directors like Stephen Frears, Cameron Crowe and Fernando Trueba, as well as Bigas Luna, who gave me my first opportunity. A lot of people I would love to work with again. But of course I have a special relationship with Pedro, and I don’t think it’s good to hide that.
What about Bandidas, another Spanish-language film, which you made with your friend Salma Hayek?
Cruz: I feel it’s fun to do those once in a while – an action adventure film. I don’t want to do only that, but it was a lot of fun to do it with Salma, and doing all those action scenes were scary. It’s fun for women to be in a Western. And I had to learn how to handle the fake guns. It takes a lot of practice to twirl them around – but I can do a lot of crazy things now from movies. I can gallop a camel! Give me a camel, I know how to start it and stop it!
What did you learn from Volver?
Cruz: I did a lot of cooking – I learned how to chop in a professional way. I also did months of training with flamenco singers, to learn the position and the way they sit. It’s a very particular thing when they sing that kind of song. Your foot is doing one thing, your hand is doing a different thing – even if it wasn’t my voice, the playback had to be perfect. So we trained for a very long time – more than two months. If I trained I would love to do a musical in a movie. But I am not a professional singer.
But you cook, right?
Cruz: I can cook a few things. I always save the same recipes to impress my friends, and I always do two or three things, so they think I can cook. But I don’t know how to do anything else. A friend saw me cutting some carrots and said, ‘Ah, you’re good at that. I thought you couldn’t cook.’ And that’s from the lessons for the movie.
What are you working on next?
Cruz: I’m making one movie now that is a co-production – Manolete. It’s the story of the bullfighter, and stars Adrian Brody, who is an amazing actor. He plays a bullfighter from the ’40s, who died when he was 33. It’s a love story between his character and mine. My character didn’t like bullfighting and wanted him to quit.
You have also just finished working with Gwyneth Paltrow on The Good Night, in England.
Cruz: Yes, and with Danny DeVito and Martin Freeman, who is so great. He’s such a good actor. It’s a lot of characters, and I only shot for two weeks. Gwyneth’s brother Jake Paltrow, the director, wrote the script too. I think he’s really talented. He’s a special one.
And what about your work as a producer?
Cruz: I am producing a movie for Fernando Trueba, and I think it’s something we will do next year. It’s my first venture with that. I also bought the rights to a book called Indian Passion by Javier Moro. It’s the real story of a woman in Spain at the beginning of the last century who became a princess in India when she was 18. It’s an amazing real story that people don’t know about. When I read the book and I discovered nobody had the rights, I went after them and it took me seven months to get them. Then a lot of people wanted them. But it’s great that Javier Moro wanted to sell them to me – and we made it happen. I’m going to take some time off to focus on that, as we have to put time in finding a writer and director. It’s a big movie that shoots in France, Spain and India – so we are not going to do it for two or three years.
It sounds like you’re a workaholic.
Cruz: Maybe a little workaholic. But I think, even though I’m now getting offers that are very tempting, I’m going to say ‘No’. Maybe it’s time for me to do that and also become a little more selective.
THANKS TO BOLA AT GREENROOM • 17.AUG.06
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