Emmanuel Itier: We’ve seen you over the years do so many powerful roles. Obviously, you’re very comfortable in your own skin with your sexuality uninhibited, and you portray women who have maybe done drugs or women in power. Is there any role that you would not do or have said no to? And what made you say you will get the movie?
Penelope Cruz: There are roles I have said no to, but for different reasons. I never talk about those because I feel it’s disrespectful and 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 a lot to me 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.
EI: You’ve been compared, over the years, with other great actors that have come before you, and in this one [Broken Embraces], you basically do a takeoff a little bit on Audrey Hepburn. What was that like? Do you see her as someone that you have modeled yourself on a little bit?
PC: No, I see her as someone that I have always admired very much. I think she was a great actress and she was very unique. Pedro wanted a very specific look for the character of Fena — actually for the two Lenas, because it’s really like two in one. Like in Volver, he asked me to review a lot of the movies from Italy and look at the energy of the women from the south of Italy, and he asked me not to look at anybody in particular, just to watch those scenes again to capture that energy. He chose that look for that 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.
EI: I think it was a Woody Allen movie we interviewed not long ago, and one day we were asking him about why the movies he made in Europe were better than the movies he made in America. He was saying it’s because directors in Europe understand you better than the directors in America. What do you think about that? Do you think you’ve been given better roles and better directors when you were overseas?
PC: No, I’ve been very grateful for the opportunities that I get in America also, and more and more with time, 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, to be able to make a living out of the passion that I feel for acting, and 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. In Vicky Cristina, for example, Woody is American and he’s one of the greatest American directors, and we really had a very good relationship working. We understand each other really well. He gave me one of the best opportunities somebody has ever given me in my career.
EI: He’s making different movies now that he’s filming overseas…
PC: I think he’s a total genius and he can do anything he wants. He has touched so many different genres and styles, and I think Pedro is too. Just to point out an example of a Spanish director I worked with and an American director, I’ve been very lucky to work with great people like Damien Crow, and Steven Freer is a brilliant director, and Sergio Garseletto an Italian director. I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to work in all these different countries and in different languages, and that people have given 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. They didn’t know that because I did the casting and I put myself on tape, and then when I met them, they realized that’s all I knew — the lines for the character. [Laughs] I was very young and I look back and think I really owe them a lot for trusting me.
EI: This is your fourth film with the director. Did he just write the part for you, or do you know how it came about and how you approach it?
PC: I think when he was finishing the first draft, he started to put faces in every character. 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 — that opportunity. The four characters I have played with him could not be more different from each other and from what I am as a woman. So as an actor, you always need that — 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. In the first one, I was a prostitute giving birth in a bath. In the second one, I was a nun who falls in love with a transvestite and dies of AIDS while giving birth. In the third one, my husband was dead in our refrigerator [laughs] as Raimunda in Volver. And in this one, it’s really like three women in one, so I feel extremely lucky to have this work relationship with Pedro. I feel really like the luckiest girl in the world to have this with him.
EI: In every movie, you have a cooking scene… Are you good at cooking and do you have any signature dish? Do you like cooking more than eating out?
PC: I can cook a little bit. I can cook a few Spanish dishes, but it looks, in movies, like I cook much better than I cook. [Laughs] The things I can make can taste pretty well bad. I am not the most organized person in the kitchen, but I took a lot of lessons. I’ve played a Brazilian chef once, and then, in Volver, somebody who owns a restaurant, so I really have to know how to cook, and I took lessons both times. But my lessons were more like 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 then I’m not that good at cooking. So we learn to do a lot of strange things with the movies. I know how to gallop a camel [laughs] — things that maybe I don’t know if I will ever have to use in my life… [Laughs]
EI: Which of the roles Pedro has given to you has been the most demanding?
PC: I think all of them have been equally demanding and fun and challenging. You can never be bored next to 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. We have this dance, working together, 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.
EI: How do you feel that you’ve grown as an actress from the first time you worked with him until now?
PC: I think we have both grown and changed. Because I was a teenager when I met him, 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 lives, so it’s beautiful that we have seen each other as work collaborators and as friends. We have shared with each other so many special moments of our lives. And then, when we are on the set, the relationship changes a little bit and it’s a little bit more serious — more the director and the actress, and we don’t really talk about our things or hang out or go do the things that we normally do when we are not shooting. I think that that changes, as an actor — a way for us to protect the work relationship and the friendship. But Pedro and I have never talked about it; it just naturally changes when we are on set.
EI: In terms of movies that you picked, did you feel like there was a very big deal made out of the relationship between you and Scarlett [Johansson] — more so than you felt when you first read the script?
PC: No. I knew that, in the story, there was this trio, and I supposed that I was going to get that type of reaction sometimes, but it’s fun. We always had good stories to tell from movie, from what happened that day on the set, so we were able to laugh about it too. Scarlett and I knew that it was going to be a little bit like that, but Woody was so hilarious that day that we will always have that to remember it. He just wanted to go to the dermatologist after that. His focus was on that appointment with the dermatologist.
EI: What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
PC: I would love for them to feel a lot of things, because that’s what happens to me with Pedro’s movies. The reason 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 become an actress. It was really because of him. To be able to get to know him one day, to at least be able to go to casting and get to meet him and thank him for the huge amount of inspiration that I felt from his work — that’s really what I hope when I make a movie, when I’m part of a project like this, that people will really feel something when they see it.
EI: One of the feelings people might get is envy towards this particular lifestyle and the things you get to do as an actress. I think it’s an interesting coincidence that you have two films back-to-back that involve the difficulties a director has getting his next project done. Do you think people understand that this isn’t the same thing as working in a factory — the same kinds of working relationships — or is it something very different that we should be envious of?
PC: To tell you the truth, there is the 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 about directing or the world of movies. Sometimes, when things go well on a set or when you are working with somebody like Pedro or Woody or Rob Marshall, or somebody so talented and so inspiring, it’s really beautiful what happens there. It’s true that those two movies [Broken Embraces and Nine] are, in a way, an homage to the world of cinema, and it was very, very beautiful to see that. For example, in Broken Embraces, we have two crews — the real one and the fake one. The first few days, it was a little bit confusing to know [laughs] who was real and who was an actor [laughs], and I would step back and take pictures of the two sets. The set was so huge and so alive, and such a beautiful chaos, because there is a lot of chaos in a movie set. Nine is a lot about the chaos of creating and the crisis of a director. So it’s been very interesting for me. The whole year has been into movies that were an homage to cinema.
EI: One of the funnier, lighter moments in Broken Embraces is when Mateo is coming up with ideas for the sexy vampire movie. Is that a movie you might be interested in seeing?
PC: I would love to see it. At one point, I think 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. I find it very funny — the story of a [Donna Sangre].
EI: The two films that are back-to-back and you kind of play three characters in this, keeping you dancing with everything else involved with doing musicals. Is this like a year that you’ve stretched yourself as an actress? Did you gain a lot from doing film in so many different sides of your talent?
PC: Yeah, I feel I learned a lot because of working with all these amazing people. I enjoyed the process of making both movies, and they could not be more different. Then to be able to explore the genre of the musical is nice, and to be able to sing for the first time professionally and dance — 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 face the whole time because music was very present and because we were training for like five hours a day, so everybody was very peaceful because we were all very exhausted. So it’s for sure a year that I will always remember as in kind of a dream, to be able to do these two movies in one year.
EI: Can you share with us a little bit about upcoming projects? What kind of roles are you looking for? And can you talk about your role in the next Sex and the City?
PC: No, that’s a little cameo that I did. I shot a half a day and I did a cameo because I’m a very big fan of the show and Sarah Jessica Parker and the movie, but they don’t really want me to say anything about the scene or the story. But I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’m reading scripts and I have not made a decision yet. Also, I’m traveling with both movies promoting both films, so you cannot really shoot another movie at the same time.
EI: In Broken Embraces, obviously the editing kind of told whether a film is going to live or die. Have you felt, like in some of the movies you’ve done before, that editing really could have made or broken your film or the way you were portrayed? Also, do you listen to hip-hop?
PC: I listen to all types of music. As much as I love movies, music, for me, is still the most powerful art and the one that goes just directly to your heart. It doesn’t have to go through the filter of your mind — it just goes there. I’m a very big fan of music, that’s why it was so huge for me to be part of a musical. The editing: unfortunately, I am very aware of it and I look at the monitor too much. Sometimes the monitor can become your worst enemy because you can, unconsciously or consciously, start editing yourself, and 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. It takes away a lot of the freedom, 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 I remember even the number of takes so I know and I think it’s better when I make the decision of not looking at what I’m doing.
EI: You’re such an inspiring woman for so many people. Do you think there is a whole role model or a center for women in Hollywood?
PC: No, I don’t really see myself like that and I am not somebody who likes very much to give advice or anything like that, unless it’s like my closest people or family or the people that are closer to me. When they say it in interviews or things like that, it feels so unnatural to give advice about anything. So no, I really don’t feel like that at all.
EI: Well, in terms of feminism, is that something you’re comfortable with, or you don’t really think about it?
PC: I try not to label myself in any way. I have a kind of allergy to labels in general. But I can tell you that I am surrounded by very strong women and I really appreciate that, but I’d rather not label myself.
EI: You talked earlier about some of the skills you acquired as a result of acting, and one of them apparently was galloping on a camel [laughs], and you said it was probably something you would never use. However, if we had brought a camel in here, would you have?
PC: No, no. I can’t wait to go back to Morocco so I can impress everybody around me. So believe me, if I can, I will use it. [Laughs]
EI: Can you talk a little bit about the circumstances of galloping on a camel and how to stay on it?
PC: Well, no. What happened is that I had to shoot an action sequence, so I had to train for one month because when I saw that camel, they told me “You are going to have to gallop this.” Like when they showed me the choreography for Nine, my solo number, I looked at the dancer doing the number, the choreography that Rob Marshall and [Joan DeLuca] put together, and I almost fainted. I thought, this is impossible that I will get to do that. And you start, and day after day, you put in the hours every day, you feel that it starts getting shape and finally you do it, and the feeling of freedom is amazing. That’s something I really like about this job. And when you really have the preparation time and things start getting the shape that they need, you have a beautiful feeling that comes from the hard work.
EI: Is it sort of a juggling act — you’re doing a film and also learning an entirely different skill as if it were a life skill that you would probably never use again for the rest of your life?
PC: Well, the film is a musical so it was really a lot about that. There was no way to do that movie without learning those things, the same way we had to audition for the singing and the dancing. It was a huge part of it, and there was no way to fake anything.
EI: You did a great job. In fact, that’s something that I wanted to ask you a little bit more about because you mentioned the dancing before. Your physicality is something that you’ll always have to be aware of as an actor, and you said you had danced as a younger girl, but that was probably for pleasure rather than to express something about a character, right?
PC: No, it was to express because I was four or five when they took me to the ballet school. I had too much energy as a kid, so it was great for my parents that we found that because that was the stage where I could release all that energy. But around that time, that was the age when I realized for the first time that I was acting — when I was playing a character in the ballet school, when I was playing with my girlfriends, or when I was in the hair salon — my mother had a hair salon and I spent a lot of time there pretending to do my homework, but I was really studying all those women. I suddenly was aware that they were acting and that they were pretending to be somebody else, and I became very curious about what acting was and about why we are all constantly acting in life. I became very curious about human behavior, and I think you have to have that curiosity in order to really want to be an actor. But then I really got hooked into the classical ballet, and for many years I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted that to be my profession, and then I stopped when I was a teenager because of movies. [Laughs]
EI: I’ve read that you’re interested possibly in directing in the future, so I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. Also, as you are making movies now, are you observing these directors that you work with — Pedro, Woody, Rob Marshall… — and making little mental notes on what they’re doing and storing that for the future?
PC: No, that I have always done since I began working. I always drive them crazy with questions, and when they get tired of me, I go and talk to the VP, and then I go and talk to the script. And then, if I have a scene that is not too demanding and I can put time into that, I love learning on the set, but it’s not something I want to do now. Maybe in 10 or 15 years it is something that I think I will want to try in my life, because I have felt that since I was very young, but I don’t want to do it now. I feel now it’s just my plate is full with acting and I want to focus on these, and then maybe in the future…
EI: Since you’re into photography, how easy or difficult is it for you to go out and shoot without being noticed? Or do you take portrait shots, or do you like to take candid shots…?
PC: It depends. Sometimes I don’t shoot for months, and sometimes, when I’m on a set, I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I just don’t think about it, and then I always regret it because there are so many beautiful moments there and great people you work with. But it’s more my hobby.
EI: Has Pedro discussed with you his use of the color red in this? Because it seems like there’s not a scene in this movie that doesn’t have red.
PC: Pedro doesn’t really give you the theory of why, and I love that. I love that he doesn’t need to put it into words. But he spends a lot of time with every department choosing every single thing that is going to be part of a frame — every object, everything with the set decorator, every piece of clothing for every character — everything is chosen by him. That’s why every shot is so personal and, in a way, easy to identify.
EI: Do you have any theories about the color though? It is such a vibrant hue; do you think it has anything in terms of the story?
PC: It’s something that has been very present in his career — that color. For me, the fascinating thing about Pedro is the amazing balance of the great aesthetic, that he has such a specific or particular aesthetic. He has a very, very special eye but, at the same time, he has a huge depth in his stories. And the ones that have those two things are the ones that are so special and so hard to find. Those are really the greatest, and he has that.
EI: Do you have any favorite moment in shooting this project?
PC: For me, something happened in this movie when we were rehearsing; we’d rehearse for a couple of months. When we were trying to find the look for Lena and Fena, we were also rehearsing in the mornings, but we were doing both things — rehearsals in the morning, finding the look in the afternoon. That took a long time because it was for the three characters — for the two Lenas and one Fena — and there was one moment when we discovered the blonde wig, and Pedro started to play Mateo. He and I had a beautiful moment when he was taking pictures through the mirror, and something happened to both of us when we looked at each other. In this second, we just understood so much about the relationship between Mateo and Lena, and I understood a lot about who this woman was in that moment. Just the magic of this work, sometimes things like that happen, and out of the blue you can get a bunch of answers that you were really trying to find. It’s like a little angel comes in the room and talks to you, and it’s something that should not be put into words because it’s a very abstract thing, but it’s very real at the same time, and that happened for us that day. I think from the whole period of rehearsing and shooting, that is my favorite moment because it also had to do with my relationship with Pedro. It was also a very personalized thing, but it was also very much about Lena and the story.
EI: Because you have worked with Pedro so many times, how do you keep the acting fresh, or has the habit just become routine?
PC: Nothing can ever become routine with him. I feel when I walk into a set with Pedro, I don’t feel more relaxed. Just because we know each other and really love each other as friends, I don’t bring the guard down. He’s as demanding with me as the first day, and as honest, because I really ask him to be honest with me and tell me when something is good and when something is not. And believe me, he’s a very honest person that way, and 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. That I really don’t like at all. So we have that, and 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.