From writer/director Asghar Farhadi, Everybody Knows (Todos lo Saben) is part family drama and part mystery thriller, as it follows Laura (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish woman living in Buenos Aires who returns, along with her two children, to the small village outside Madrid where she spent her childhood to attend the wedding of her younger sister. While there, unexpected events lead to a family crisis that causes mounting suspicions and exposes dark secrets that were long buried.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Penélope Cruz talked about the impact of the intensely emotional shoot, the challenges of working with Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who shot the film in a language that he doesn’t speak, why she’d rather understand than identify with her characters, what she did to leave this woman behind, and collaborating with her husband Javier Bardem (who plays Laura’s former lover, Paco). She also talked about shooting the all-female spy thriller 355 this summer, her longtime collaborative relationship with filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, her desire to direct a feature film, and how being a mother affects the work that she chooses to do.
PENELOPE CRUZ: Thank you! Thank you so much. I cannot say that this performance was easy to do, but I feel very lucky that this director trusted me with material like this. I would do it again in a second, but at the end of the shoot with (writer/director) Asghar [Farhadi], I was completely exhausted. I had a fever, every night, from the amount of stress that the character goes through. It’ your body and your mind, and you know that it’s fiction, but there’s always a little percentage that gets confused about what is going on.
When this film came your way, did you know that the Asghar Farhadi wrote this character, specifically for you to do?
CRUZ: Yes, he told me five years before. He told me, “I have this idea. I want to do this in Spain, and if you like it, I’m going to write in for you in mind.” I was a big fan of his work, and I loved the conversation that we had, and so, I got attached to the project from that conversation. I knew he was writing it for us, and that was honor because we really admire him.
How was the experience of shooting this in Spanish, with a director who doesn’t actually speak the language?
CRUZ: He has two amazing translators that are a part of his brain, they know each other so well. To translate Asghar, you have to know Asghar because you cannot miss anything. You have to translate the details and the subtext of things, and these two people know him and really have a similar sensibility to him. That’s why they’re good translators. It’s not just a cold translation of words. There’s meaning to what he wants to translate, and that’s always clear with them. Also, he speaks some good English, and he can also express himself in English, so we didn’t any communication problems. We got used to his way, and I didn’t feel like it was ever an obstacle. He’s incredible. He worked for five years on this movie, and moved to Spain and was studying the language and our culture. He did something incredible because you don’t see any Spanish cliches in the movie. You really see a story happening in a village in Spain, and it’s very believable.
When you’re working with a filmmaker who is demanding that you go to very dark places, do you find yourself hating him, in those moments, or do you appreciate the approach that he takes to his art?
CRUZ: No, I always appreciate it because it’s not to be a masochist. I’m not a masochist. But on set, if I’m doing a drama, or scenes of somebody that is suffering, it’s not a joke. You have to honor that person that you are playing, in that situation. Unfortunately, situations like that have happened to real people, and you have to honor that and go as deep as you can, and he is the master of that. He would ask you to please forget that you are doing a movie, and tell you that this has to be like a documentary. If he detects anybody doing a movie moment, he would cut you off, in a very kind way, and tell you, “No, you’re lying. Your eyes are lying.” But he’s so loving that he’s never offensive. You just appreciate his honesty. He says things in a very, very honest but kind way.
Was this a woman and a character that you immediately found yourself identifying with? Could you understand her pretty easily?
CRUZ: I never try to identify with them, or agree with them. I try to understand them. It was very well written, so it was easy to understand all of these characters, or most of them. Of course, the ones that do things that you don’t like, it’s always harder to identify with, but you can understand how their mind works. In in this case, with my character, I felt it was really easy to understand what she was going through. When you read it, everything was there, on the page.
You’ve talked about how this was difficult on you, physically. At the end of this shoot, what did you do to wash your hands of this character and to leave all of those emotions behind?
CRUZ: When I finished, I took the clothes of the character off, I put on my own clothes, and I went to the street, running. It felt like a liberation. But I don’t want that to sound like it was a bad experience because it was not. I loved the experience of working with Asghar. But it was four months of the character suffering so much that, by the end, I was really relieved to be done.
I also saw Loving Pablo, the last film that you did with Javier Bardem, and you were both so great in both films. What do you most enjoy about working and collaborating with your husband, and what do you feel he draws out of you, as a scene partner?
CRUZ: Well, there is a lot of trust and there is a similar way of working, so of course, it’s a great experience. But it’s not something we want to do, all of the time, even if it’s more convenient. We’ll only do it when it makes perfect sense, like in this piece or Loving Pablo.
In this film, in particular, it was so interesting to watch the dynamic between your characters because they have this history together, but they’re not currently together. What was it like to play that dynamic?
CRUZ: We didn’t look at it differently because they were not a actual couple, in present time. What I like is that the characters are so different from Loving Pablo. We were, in no way, doing similar things, and that was one of the things that made us say yes. And we have similar ways of seeing the work. We even have the same acting coach, and a similar way to prepare. It’s not that everything is the same, but we understand each other’s process. So, once in awhile, it’s something we would like to do.
You’re set to do the all-female spy thriller 355, and that has a really great cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing. What drew you to that, and what sort of woman are you playing in that film?