Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz has worked with some of the best and most innovative filmmakers around the world, including Woody Allen, Rob Marshall and Pedro Almodovar. Broken Embraces marks the fourth time that she has teamed up with Almodovar, this time playing the love of a filmmaker, who leaves him devastated when she dies in a car accident.
During a press conference for this latest Spanish language film, Penelope Cruz talked about playing powerful women, working with Almodovar since she was a teenager, and how she really doesn’t like to be labeled. Read what she had to say after the jump
Question: Over the years, you’ve done so many powerful roles and you’re obviously very comfortable in your own skin, portraying women who have maybe done drugs or who are in power. Is there any role that you would not do or that you have said no to?
Penelope: There are roles I have said no to, but for different reasons. And, I never talk about those because I feel it’s disrespectful to say, “Oh, I said no to this project or that other project.” I’d rather talk about the ones that I said yes to and the reasons why. When I read a script, I try not to judge the characters. I try to have an open mind and really see what it makes me feel. When I close a script and I can’t stop thinking about it, and I feel that I need to be part of that project, that is a very, very good feeling. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it’s a wonderful feeling when you cannot stop thinking about that character and that story. It happens to me a lot with Pedro [Almodovar]. Every time he has given me one of his scripts, I just could not stop thinking about these women and these stories that he wrote, and I wanted to be part of that work.
Over the years, you’ve been compared with other great actors that have come before you, and in this film, you basically do a take-off a little bit on Audrey Hepburn. What was that like? Do you see her as someone that you have modeled yourself on at all?
Penelope: No, I see her as someone that I have always admired, very much. She was a great actress and she was very unique. And, Pedro wanted a very specific look for the character of Fena and a very specific one for Lena, actually for the two Lenas because it’s really like two in one. With Volver, he asked me to review a lot of the movies from Italy and their realism, and look at the energy of the women from the south of Italy. He asked me not to look at anybody in particular, but just watch those scenes again to capture that energy. He chose that look for the character of Raimunda in Volver. And here, he chose the look of Audrey, in movies like Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it was really the look that he imagined that Mateo would have chosen for Fena, and it didn’t go further than that.
Do you think that you’ve been given better roles and worked with better directors, when you work overseas?
Penelope: No. I’ve been very grateful for the opportunities that I get in America, also. And, knowing now that I am also more comfortable with English, the roles become more demanding and more challenging, in different ways. But, I’m really grateful for every opportunity that I’ve gotten, here or in Europe, because I’ve been able to have a career with that continuity, and I am able to make a living out of the passion that I feel for acting. I really did it. That really was like science fiction for me, when I was growing up and dreaming about being an actress, so I am very grateful and happy that I can work in something that I love so much. For Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for example, Woody Allen is one of the greatest American directors, and we really had a very good working relationship. We understand each other really well. He gave me one of the best opportunities somebody has ever given me, in my career.
Don’t you feel like he’s making different movies, now that he’s filming overseas?
Penelope: I think he’s a total genius and he can do anything he wants. He has touched so many different genres and styles. Pedro has, too. I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to work in all these different countries and different languages, and that people gave me the opportunity to work in America, when I was 20 and I didn’t speak the language. I only knew the dialogue for my character, and they didn’t know that because I did the casting and put myself on tape. And then, when I met them, they realized that that was the only English I knew. I was very young. Now, I look back and I think I really owe them a lot, for trusting me. I did the casting like everybody else and I got the part, but they had faith in me and they allowed me to do the movie, knowing that all the English I knew was the dialogue for the part.
Penelope: No. I knew that there was this trio in the story, and I supposed that I was going to get that type of reaction sometimes. It was fun. We had good stories to tell, from what happened that day on the set, so we were able to laugh about it. Scarlet and I knew that that was going to be a little bit like that, and Woody was so hilarious that day. He just wanted to go to the dermatologist, after that. His focus was on his appointment with the dermatologist.
In a lot of your films, you have a cooking scene. Are you good at cooking, and do you have any signature dish?
Penelope: I can cook a little bit. I can cook a few Spanish dishes. But, in movies, it looks like I cook much better than I cook. I am not the most organized person in the kitchen, but I took a lot of lessons. I played a Brazilian chef once, and then, in Volver, I played somebody who owns a restaurant. I really had to know how to cook, so I took lessons, both times. But, my lessons were more to be the assistant of a chef, so I could learn to cut the vegetables very fast. I can do all of those things really well, but I’m not that good at cooking. We learn to do a lot of strange things with movies. I know how to gallop a camel [from making Sahara]. I’ve learned things that maybe I don’t know if I will ever have to use in my life.
One of the funnier, lighter moments in this film is when Mateo is coming up with ideas for the sexy vampire movie. Is that a movie that you might be interested in seeing?
Penelope: I would love to see it. At one point, Pedro was thinking about making that a movie, and then he just wrote it into part of this story because he has so many ideas and he’s always writing. Now, I think he’s writing three or four scripts, at the same time. And, he was writing two others while we were shooting this one. He’s a machine. He never stops creating.
With this being your fourth film with Pedro, did he just write the part for you?
Penelope: I think when he was finishing the first draft, he started to put faces on every character. And then, he told me about it and, a few months later, he gave it to me. I read it and immediately I said yes. Every time he has given me a script, I’ve been really blown away by having that in my hands, and having that opportunity. The four characters that I have played with Pedro could not be more different from each other, and from what I am as a woman. As an actor, you always need somebody to have the imagination and the trust to put you in the shoes of a character that is completely different from everything you did before, and he’s done that with me, four times.
Can you talk about who the other three characters were, in your previous films with Pedro?
Penelope: Well, in the first one [Live Flesh], I was a prostitute giving birth in a bath. In the second one [All About My Mother], I was a nun who falls in love with a transvestite and dies of AIDS while giving birth. In the third one [Volver], my husband was dead in our refrigerator. And, in this one, it’s really like three women in one. So, I feel really extremely lucky to have this working relationship with Pedro. I really feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have this with him.
Which of the roles Pedro has given to you was the most demanding?
Penelope: I think all of them have been equally demanding, fun and challenging. You can never be bored with Pedro. Every day is a huge adventure. You never know what he’s going to ask you to do next, and you never know what is going to come out of his mouth. He likes playing with fire, but at the same time, he’s a very kind man. Working together, we have this dance of trust and risk that is really beautiful, and we both enjoy it very much because it’s also a lot of years of friendship now. I met him when I was 16.
How do you feel that you’ve grown as an actress, from the first time you worked with him until now?
Penelope: I think we have both grown and changed. I was a teenager when I met him, so it would be very strange to say that I have not changed, and he has changed, too. But, we all are constantly changing, every day of our life. It’s beautiful that we have seen each other, as work collaborators and as friends. We have shared so many special moments of our lives with each other. And then, when we are on the set, the relationship changes a little bit and it’s a little bit more serious. It’s more the director and the actress, and we don’t really talk about things or hang out, or go do the things that we normally do when we are not shooting. I think that that changes as a way for us to protect the work relationship and the friendship. Pedro and I have never talked about it. It just naturally changes when we are on set.
What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
Penelope: I would love for them to feel a lot of things because that’s what happens to me with Pedro’s movies. The reason why I became an actress was because of how much his movies made me feel any type of emotion. And, because of his movies, I decided to find an agent and try to become an actress. It was really because of him. I wanted to be able to get to know him one day, or to at least be able to go to a casting and get to meet him and thank him for the huge amount of inspiration that I felt from his work. What I really hope, when I’m part of a project like this, is that people will really feel something when they see it.
Have you ever felt, in some of the movies you’ve done, that editing really makes or breaks the film or the way you are portrayed?
Penelope: Unfortunately, I am very aware of editing and I look at the monitor too much. Sometimes the monitor can become your worst enemy because you can, consciously or unconsciously, start editing yourself. It just takes away a lot of freedom and it brings a type of self-criticism and self-awareness that is not what you need when you are acting. But, sometimes I can’t help it and sometimes I just go and look at it. The problem is that later, even after months, I remember the takes and even the number of takes. So, I think it’s better when I make the decision of not looking at what I’m doing.
What does it mean to be an Almodovar girl?
Penelope: He really knows women, to the smallest detail. He can really do an x-ray of us. And, especially if he really knows you, like he knows me, he even knows what I’m thinking. But, I also know what he’s thinking. When he gets to the set, I know if he’s slept or if he’s in a good or bad mood. We really know each other very well. But, I dreamt about being an Almodovar girl, growing up. I really wanted to be part of his team, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. Pedro can be very demanding and tough, but people always want to keep working with him because he works so hard for each project and he puts them at a very high standard. Everybody else wants to be there for him and not disappoint him because he just gives everything for each movie. It has been a huge thing for me because it was my main motivation, when I decided to become an actress.
Because you have worked with Pedro so many times, how do you keep the acting fresh, or has it just become routine?
Penelope: Nothing can ever become routine with Pedro. When I walk onto a set with Pedro, I don’t feel more relaxed. Just because we know each other and really love each other as friends, it doesn’t mean I bring my guard down. I really don’t feel more relaxed, and I don’t want to feel like that. He’s as demanding with me now as he was the first day we worked together, and he’s as honest. I really ask him to be honest with me and tell him when something is good and when it’s not. And, believe me, he’s a very honest person, that way. He will say everything that goes through his mind. But, I really value that and I’d rather have that on the set, instead of somebody that says that everything is good, all the time. I really don’t like at all. That keeps things new and fresh, and it always feels like it is the first time. But, at the same time, we have the advantage of looking at each other and really knowing and feeling the other person.
You’re such an inspiring woman for so many people. Do you think of yourself as a role model?
Penelope: No, I don’t really see myself like that. I am not somebody who likes to give advice, or anything like that, unless it’s my closest friends or family. It feels so unnatural to give advice about anything in interviews. So, no, I really don’t feel like that at all. I just try not to label myself, in any way. I just have an allergy to labels, in general. I can tell you that I am surrounded by very strong women and that I really appreciate that, but I’d rather not label myself.