Almodovar's Latest Muse

Maui Time | November 2, 2006
Almodovar’s Latest Muse

Penelope Cruz Tells Cole Smithey About “Volver�

By Cole Smithey (1255 words)

In 1992, Penelope Cruz first reached international audiences with her powerful feminine presence in Fernando Trueba’s “Belle Epoch.� But it was her 2001 Hollywood double play in “Blow,� opposite Johnny Depp, and in “Vanilla Sky,� opposite Tom Cruise, that elevated Penelope Cruz to international superstar status.

Spanish cinema hero Pedro Almodovar had already played a significant part in grounding Penelope’s Spanish heritage in cinema by casting her in small roles in his arguably best movie “Live Flesh� (1997) and later in his well-received “All About My Mother� (1999).

Pedro Almodovar recognizes Penelope Cruz as his muse and reveals his shameless admiration for her in his latest film “Volver.� “Volver� means “going back� and is set in the director’s hometown of La Mancha. Almodovar reconfigures Penelope’s striking youthful beauty as a vision of peasant stock motherhood in the character of Raimunda. The director has the actress wear a prosthetic ass in the film to give the actress a lower center of gravity and put her in touch with the physical realities of having given birth. The result is a performance that transcends elemental aspects of womanhood as they transfer between eras, cultures, and nationalities of cinema. We see Penelope Cruz connect the tissue of such cinema icons as Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Anna Magnani, and Sophia Loren. With “Volver� Penelope Cruz effortlessly becomes an international cinema icon of femininity.

CS: How do you feel about making the transition between Hollywood movies and European films?

PC: I feel very grateful for the opportunities they are giving me in America. My career has been longer in Europe where I’ve been working for 16 years. I’ve only been working in America for six or seven years. So, I want to get the same kind of characters in English. I don’t like easy things; I want a challenge every time, and Pedro has given me that opportunity the three times that I’ve worked with him. I think with “Don’t Move� Sergio Castellito gave me that kind of opportunity. It was a very demanding character.

CS: In “Volver,� your character covers up a murder. That seems like an interesting part to play.

PC: She becomes a great liar in life. It’s the only way for her to survive and protect her family. It’s been a liberation for me as an actress, as a woman, in every way, because I want to be demanded to do something difficult.

CS: What is the process you go through creating a character with Pedro?

PC: We do it together. We try everything. We rehearse for three months, and maybe after a month and a half we started to find the look of the character. He asks me things like, “Do you feel good with those shoes?� “Do you think she would walk in those shoes?� Everything is there for a reason. So, he really listens to the actors, but he’s the most specific director that I know and he chooses every little detail – down to the color of a chair. Even the food we eat in the movie has to be the right style with the right amount of sugar. Everything is real, and everything is there for a reason.

CS: Critics have been making comparisons between your look and performance in “Volver� with Sophia Loren.

PC: In this case, Almodovar asked me to review a lot of movies from that era of Italian cinema because for some reason, all of those characters in “Mamma Roma� [Pasolini] and “Bellissima� [Visconti] represented motherhood. Raimunda has to have that energy. So he asked me to see them again to find that earthy feeling, that motherhood energy, where those women carry all of their energy down in their hips and in the butt. We made everything down, my voice and everything. But he never asked me to imitate anybody.

CS: You danced ballet when you were younger. Did you use any of that experience for the role?

PC: No, I had to forget about that because ballet puts your energy up higher.

CS: Do you still dance?

PC: Sometimes, especially if I have to dance for a movie. I did it for 14-years, and I miss it.

CS: What do you do to escape your work and all of the media attention?

PC: Sometimes I stay in my house in Madrid for a whole week with my cats and dogs, and don’t go anywhere. I like to walk around in my garden.

CS: You’ve experienced great success as an actress with Pedro. How did you feel at the end of shooting “Volver�?

PC: When they said, “It’s a wrap,� of course I was crying. We shot the last scene in a park, and everybody left and I was still there in the square because I didn’t want to go and take off my clothes for the last time. It was the first time that happened in my life. So, Pedro came and took me by the hand to walk with me all the way to the trailer. He had to put me in the trailer and wait for me outside, and when I came out, I looked at the world in a very different way, and he told me, “Welcome to your new life.� I was unbearable for two weeks. I wasn’t depressed, but I was grumpy and confused about what I was going to do now because nothing compares to him.

CS: Did Pedro have you listening to any specific music while you were rehearsing?

PC: I was listening to the song that I sing in the movie everyday in the car 50 times because he really wanted it to be perfect, or it wasn’t going to be in the movie. So, I trained for two months with Flamenco singers – the hand is doing one thing, the foot is doing a different thing. It’s not an easy thing to do, and he [Pedro] was nervous about it.

CS: Did you any play musical instrument as a child?

PC: No, but music was very important for my family all of our lives, and it’s what helps me the most when I have to get in an emotional state for a film. Music will put me directly in that place. So, I always have my iPod with me before a scene. I have everything from opera (Maria Callas) to Radiohead to my brother Eduardo Cruz -- that's my favorite artist right now. He’s really a brilliant musician.

CS: What other films do you have coming out?

PC: There is a Jake Paltrow movie [“The Good Night�]. I loved working with him. I think he’s really talented and he wrote a beautiful script.

I’m also in “Manolete.� I play Lupe Sino. It’s based on the real character. She was the girlfriend of Manolete. He was the biggest bullfighter in history, played by Adrian Brody who I’m having a great time working with. He’s an amazing actor. He has become Manolete.

CS: How does making movies outside of America affect your career?

PC: With this movie, what Pedro has done by giving me this character will affect my career in America too. So at the end, I don’t feel like I’m living in America. I feel like I’m adding a lot to my career by working on a Spanish movie like this one. Now Pedro has told me about another character he’s writing, so I have hope that I’ll find that one as good as this one.


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