Having made her acting debut as a teenager, Penelope Cruz has shown an extraordinary ability for playing strong, memorable women. Whether it’s in her four films with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, or her work with American director Woody Allen, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, the striking and opinionated actress puts her all into every performance, as is evidenced on the screen.
At the press day for Broken Embraces, her latest work with Almodovar, Penelope Cruz talked about the grueling process of singing, dancing and acting in the highly anticipated, Rob Marshall-directed musical Nine, opening Christmas Day, and explained why she filmed a cameo for Sex and the City 2.
Question: You have two films, back-to-back (Broken Embraces and Nine), that involve the difficulties that a director has getting his next project done. What were those experiences like for you?
Penelope: To tell you the truth, there is a magic factor that is sometimes on a movie set, that is a really, really beautiful thing that cannot be compared to anything else, if you are somebody that is really passionate about acting or directing or the world of movies. Sometimes, when things go well on a set, or when you are working with somebody like Pedro Almodovar, Woody Allen, Rob Marshall or somebody so talented and so inspiring, it’s really beautiful, what happens there. And, it’s true that those two movies are, in a way, an homage to the world of cinema. It was very, very beautiful to see that.
In Broken Embraces, we had two crews, the real one and the fake one. The first few days, it was a little bit confusing to know who was real and who was an actor. I would step back and take pictures of the two sets. The set was so huge and so alive, and such a beautiful chaos.
There is a lot of chaos on a movie set, which Nine is a lot about. Nine is about the chaos of creating and the crisis of a director. So, it’s been very interesting for me. The whole year has been about movies that were an homage to cinema.
Can you talk a little bit more about the process you went through, making Nine?
Penelope: When they showed me the choreography for Nine, for “A Call from the Vatican,” my solo number, I looked at the dancer doing the number and the choreography that Rob Marshall and Joan DeLuca put together, and I almost fainted. I thought, “This is impossible. I won’t be able to do that.”
And then, you start doing it and, day after day, you put in the hours and you feel that it starts taking shape. When you finally do it, you have this feeling of freedom that is amazing. That’s something that I really like about this job. When you really have the preparation time and things start taking the shape that they need, you have a beautiful feeling that comes from the hard work.
Is it a juggling act to do a film while you’re also learning an entirely different skill that you will probably never use again, for the rest of your life?
Penelope: Well, the film is a musical, so it was really about that. There was no way to do that movie without learning those things. We also had to audition for the singing and the dancing. It was a huge part of it, and there was no way to fake anything.
Is this a year that you feel you’ve really stretched yourself, as an actress? Did you gain a lot from doing films that show so many different sides of your talent?
Penelope: Yeah. I feel like I learned a lot because of working with all these amazing people. And, I enjoyed the process of making both movies a lot. They could not be more different.
And then, to be able to explore the genre of the musical is nice. It was great to be able to sing professionally, for the first time, and dance, which was something that I did growing up, but I had not done for many, many years. It was a scary experience, but at the same time, I think everyone who was there will tell you that we all had an amazing time. Everybody had a smile on their faces, the whole time, because music was very present. We were training for five hours a day, so everybody was very peaceful because we were all very exhausted.
So, for sure, it’s been a year that I will always remember. It was a dream to be able to do these two movies, in one year.
What kind of roles are you looking for now?
Penelope: I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’m reading scripts, but I have not made a decision yet. Also, I’m traveling with both movies, promoting those films, so I cannot really shoot another movie, at the same time.
What is your role in Sex and the City 2?
Penelope: That’s a little cameo that I did. I shot for half a day. I did a cameo because I’m a very big fan of the show, Sarah Jessica Parker and the first movie. But, they don’t really want me to say anything about the scene or the story.
You’ve said before that you’re interested in directing, in the future. When you’re making movies now, are you observing these directors that you work with and making little mental notes on what they’re doing?
Penelope: I have always done that, since I began working. I always drive directors crazy with questions. And, when they get tired of me, I go talk to the D.P., and then I go talk to the writer. If I have a scene that is not too demanding, I can put time into that. I love learning on the set. But, directing is not something I want to do now. Maybe in 10 or 15 years. It is something that I want to try in my life, and I have felt that since I was very young, but I don’t want to do it now. Now, my plate is full with just acting. I want to focus on that, and then maybe direct in the future.