Woody Allen knew he was making a comedy when he was shooting Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Spain. Penelope Cruz approached it as a drama.
“I felt like I was doing the most serious drama that I had done in my career,” Cruz says now, with the sexy romantic comedy set for release tomorrow across North America. As a slick return to form, and looking like a gorgeous travelogue despite its modest $15-million budget, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the funniest Allen comedy since Mighty Aphrodite in the 1990s.
“When I saw the film in Cannes,” Cruz says of the world premiere in May at France’s glamourous Riviera filmfest, I said, ‘Why are they laughing?’
“I understood that when I read the script. But preparing Maria Elena (her tempestuous Spanish temptress) and then playing her for those few weeks, I forgot. I was suffering with her. And I think probably Woody was laughing about that, too, about how seriously everyone was taking everything. Because all the characters are suffering and struggling.
“And I think that’s why those scenes are so funny, because Woody managed to make all of forget that we were doing pure comedy. For us, we were doing drama.”
Cruz’s character is the on-and-off lover to Javier Bardem’s playboy artist in the movie (in real life, the two are reportedly involved romantically, as well, but wisely never discuss their privates lives).
Cruz and Bardem plunge into romantic chaos when he separately beds both Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, two American friends going wild on a holiday in Spain. Among other sexcapades, Cruz ends up in a threesome with Bardem and Johansson, with Cruz planting a big kiss on Johansson’s ripe lips (another thing Cruz won’t talk about because she thinks talk will cheapen the scene).
Cruz was impressed with Allen’s preparation and filmmaking instincts. The director knew exactly what he wanted and knew when he had it, usually after just one or two takes. The actress, however, always begged for more.
“Every single time!” she confesses. “I drove him crazy with that! The last day I think he ran out of patience because he was so sweet and so kind and he always said yes to one more take. But the last take, the last day, I really could not stop because it was the end and it was a difficult scene. I said, ‘Please, one more time?’ ”
Allen accommodated her. Cruz, of course, wanted yet another. But Allen had disappeared. “I was looking for Woody and he was hiding from me,” Cruz says with a sheepish grin.
The “one more time” syndrome is insecurity. Cruz says she has suffered from this throughout her career, in Spain and in Hollywood. “If I don’t do another take, I torture myself for the rest of the day. And then I remember everything, from every take, from every scene, I remember all the takes.”
She believes she has the mental equivalent of an Avid editing machine in her head and is constantly trying to find perfection. “And I don’t think that’s good for my health or for my work. But, always, everything (is) like that!”
Allen’s insecurity is seen in his auditions and interviews with actors, not on the movie set. He confesses to feeling uneasy with small talk. So, when Cruz came to see him in New York, because she heard he might do this film in Spain, the meeting lasted 40 seconds.
“There is no bulls–t with Woody, which I love,” Cruz says. “He did say, ‘Good morning, it’s very nice to meet you,’ ” she explains, but as soon as she started going on about her love for some of his movies, such as Deconstructing Harry, Allen quickly ended the conversation.
“I left the meeting smiling,” Cruz says, “because I thought he was really himself and really honest and charming and, when I said, ‘I would love to work with you!” he said, ‘Well, of course!’”
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