“I wouldn’t describe myself as the most stable person,” says Penelope Cruz, who has played some of the movies’ more explosive, damaged and exciting women of the past decade. “I try. Who can say they’re stable? Maybe someone who’s enjoying a lot of mental peace, but I don’t know them.”
Calling from Madrid, where she is currently shooting director Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, Cruz sounds somber. There is only a hint of the warm, passionate quality that she naturally exudes in face-to-face conversation, a quality that not surprisingly attracts her male co-stars and then, if a romance starts, the paparazzi.
The 34-year-old actress is tired of being more famous for her boyfriends – her exes include Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey – than her work. So she is in lockdown mode, poised to deflect questions about her current boyfriend, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who earlier this year won an Oscar as best supporting actor for his work in No Country for Old Men (2007).
The situation is particularly complicated because Bardem is her co-star in Woody Allen’s latest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a romantic comedy that presents them as Jose and Maria Elena, artists and lovers who have a tempestuous relationship. Not until an American artist-wannabe (Scarlett Johansson) arrives and they embark upon a menage a trois do things calm down.
Would Cruz be willing to share a man?
“When I’m preparing a character, I don’t ask myself, ‘What I would do in this situation?’ ” she says evasively. “I don’t feel I have to be like them. I just need to understand them.”
What can she say about her kissing scene with Johansson?
“I’ve been asking Woody to give me some interesting lines,” she jokes. “I don’t have any funny stories, just that the set was more crowded than ever that day!”
Cruz flourished under Allen’s direction, she reports.
“It’s very interesting to see how, in most of Woody’s movies, comedy can come from real pain,” she says. “That’s always the irony of life. When I read the script I laughed, but when I was preparing the character and shooting I completely forgot about everything that could be funny. I felt I was doing a drama.
“Woody was very clever in making sure that none of us were aware of the moments that could be funny,” she adds. “Maria Elena suffers so much. I was very surprised when I saw the movie with an audience, and saw how much people laughed. All the characters are struggling and trying to resolve deep problems and big questions, and it’s very funny.”
Until recently Cruz’s most critically praised performances have been in European films such as Live Flesh (1997), Open Your Eyes (1997), All About My Mother (1999), Don’t Move (2004) and Volver (2006), for the last of which she was nominated for an Oscar as best actress. Initially such English-language films as The Hi-Lo Country (1998), All the Pretty Horses (2000), Blow (2001), Vanilla Sky (2001) and Sahara (2005) used her beauty more than her acting abilities, but she credits her increasing command of English for her ability to play more complex English-speaking characters in recent films.
“Now, after working and living for part of the time in America for a few years, I feel more free and relaxed,” she says. “You need the language to survive. That’s how you learn.”
In her film Elegy, playing in theaters in larger cities, Cruz plays a student who falls in love with her college professor (Ben Kingsley). The film is based on Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal (2007), and investigates the power of love and the effect that beauty can have on a relationship.
“I love the complexity of the characters,” Cruz says. “My character ignores (her beauty) out of respect for herself. She’s not allowing it to be an issue. He’s so afraid of falling in love with her because, in many ways, she’s more the adult. She has her own fears, but he has many fears that stop him from being brave enough to try to be happy.”
Until this year Cruz has had to content herself with less challenging work in American movies.
“I don’t want to complain about the ones I did earlier,” she says, “because I had a lot of opportunities to work with wonderful people. But the characters I’m being offered now in English demand more of me emotionally and at different levels.
“I couldn’t have played Maria Elena five years ago,” the actress explains, “because I had much less control of English. Many times Woody asked us to improvise and go back and forth in English and Spanish.”
Although Maria Elena is on screen for less than half the movie, she is hard to ignore.
“I was fascinated by Maria Elena,” Cruz says. “I don’t think I would want to be her in real life, but she was very attractive to play. A lot of it had to do with understanding her mind and the pain that she’s in 24 hours a day. She lives in a dark space and is very tortured. Her head is her prison.
“She’s the most extreme character I’ve played in English,” the actress says. “Every time she comes into a scene, she brings chaos. She doesn’t do it on purpose – it’s the only way she can relate to another human being.
“I didn’t want to treat her like a crazy person. I wanted to create a reality and find all the justifications she uses to behave like that.”
Cruz has been creating alternate realities since she was a child growing up in Madrid. The eldest of three children of an auto mechanic and a hairdresser, she studied acting informally at her mother’s salon.
“I used to get quiet there to be able to observe the women,” she recalls. “I’d wait for them to relax as much as possible so I could see them in action, the way they were with my mother, all their different behaviors. Women are complex. It was a very good school for acting.”
Which was good, because her real school wasn’t going so well.
“I’m strong and opinionated,” Cruz says bluntly, “and those qualities brought me a lot of problems since I was a little girl in school, saying, ‘I don’t agree,’ and fighting with the children.
“It’s OK,” she continues, “because it’s part of my curiosity for life. I don’t want it to change because of fear of what people think. I’m a Taurus, so I have the combination of temper and stubbornness. I think it’s helped me a lot in my career to be stubborn.
“I developed discipline as a child by studying ballet,” she adds. “I worked hard for what I wanted. I never expected things to come by themselves.”
Cruz made her film debut at 17 in Jamon, Jamon (1992) and has worked steadily since, gaining international acclaim with her three Almodóvar films, Live Flesh, All About My Mother and Volver. Broken Embraces, their fourth collaboration, is every bit a match for its predecessors, she says.
“What Pedro wrote is beyond beautiful,” Cruz says. “I play three characters in one. She’s an actress, so in the movie we have the character she plays, and then she also leads two different lives in her private life.”
Also upcoming for Cruz is her first venture into animation, as she voices a guinea pig named Juarez in Disney’s G-Force, due out next year.
“She has a very big temper,” Cruz says. “She’s also very funny. I don’t think she looks like me, but she has some of my expressions.”
In the fall Cruz will begin rehearsals for Nine, a film musical based on the 1980s Broadway hit that was itself adapted from Federico Fellini’s movie “8½” (1963). She will play Carla, the mistress of the Fellini-esque film director (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is the film’s protagonist.
“I studied dance for 17 years,” Cruz says, “and I’m really looking forward to dancing and singing. ’8½’ is one of my favorite movies. I watch it once or twice a year. It’s perfection from beginning to end.”
Which leaves only one question to answer: What can she say about Javier Bardem?
There is a long silence, before Cruz finally speaks.
“He’s an amazing, talented actor,” she says carefully.
For any further insights, you’ll have to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Source: Reading Eagle
Leave a Reply
Note: All comments must be approved by the webmaster before being publically displayed. This is merely a preventive measure against spam/advertisements - there is no need to resubmit.
Please keep comments appropriate and on topic.