The Cruz Factor
by Paul Fischer
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Penelope Cruz walks into a Beverly Hills hotel room wearing a stunning red dress, looking ravishing. Quietly reserved and ferociously guarded, Cruz is receiving strong reviews as the tempestuous ex-wife in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cruz is also starring in the erotic adaptation of Phillip Roth’s Elegy and is about to join the star-studded cast of the musical Nine. Cruz talked to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: At the press conference yesterday Woody Allen talked about, and it was very funny to hear him talk about the arguments that you had with Javier in Spanish, scenes where you’re arguing with Javier in Spanish, and he had no idea, Woody Allen had no idea what you were saying, until you went back to his, to edit the film, and get someone who could translate what you were saying. How freeing is it for you as an actress to be able to do stuff like that, without even worrying or caring what the director thinks?
Penelope Cruz: No, he cares a lot, but he was trusting us, you know, he was trusting all the actors to improvise sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, he didn’t do it only with the Spanish—sometimes he would say okay, now with this, and just turn it around and you know what’s the message that the character’s has to send, of course, but just use the words that you think she would use in that moment, so once in awhile he would do that or he would ask for us to, he said, do what you think Magdalena would do going back from the English to the Spanish, whenever you feel it’s natural, and I did a lot of swearing and [laughs] sometimes too much, and I was a little bit worried about what he was going to think when he discovers some of [laughs] the things that were said, and then, but we did no looping, there was no ADR, so I think he was happy. And normally, he does just a couple of takes. I mean, sometimes, if he doesn’t get it, he will do up to five or seven, but the median is two, sometimes just two takes, check the gate, and you’re doing a scene that is five pages of dialogue, and it’s for one shot, there is no coverage, and he knows exactly—I mean, you have to be very secure, you know, and he knows exactly what he wants, he has the whole movie, the whole map in his head.
PF: So, would you ever say, “I want to do it again”? Did you ever say, “Can I do it one more time”? When you were shooting takes?
PC: Every single time. [laughs] I drove him crazy with that. [laughs] 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 [laughs], but the last take, the last day, I really—I could not stop because it was the end, and it was a difficult scene, and I said, “Please, one more.” “Okay, do it one more,” and then we finished the last take, and we were going to check the gate—I think it was like the scene before last, before ending the movie, and he was nowhere in sight, [laughs], he said, “Okay, cut,” and I was looking for Woody and he was hiding from me [laughs].
PF: Now, is that insecurity on your part, because your still finding your way in American films, or…?
PC: I’m always—I’m like that on the set, as soon as I finish the take, I come up with something that I think is better that I should have done but I didn’t, and if I don’t get to 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. So I have like a machine, the Avid, the editing machine in my head [laughs] and I don’t think that’s good for my health, or for my work [laughs]. But always, everything like that.
PF: Can you improve that, can you get rid of it, can you—I mean, Almodóvar, I think, has talked to you about that too, trying to get you to free yourself from…
PC: I do the same with him. I always ask for one more take, but…
PF: Where did that come from—I guess, that need for you to really do more and more and better yourself that way?
PC: Since my first movie, I’ve been like that, probably all with the insecurity of the actor and what happens when you relax after the take, then always you come up with something that you couldn’t see when you were tense because you were in the middle of it.
PF: You and Javier have a relationship that has gone on for years and years and years in the picture that we don’t see. Did you guys get a backstory together, did you discuss it? I mean, how did you work with…?
PC: You mean Juan Antonio and Magdalena? What happens to them before the movie? It’s all what Woody does with the actors, you know, and he’s very open to whatever method the actors can have, very respectful, but sometimes I would go up to Woody with a book of notes on the past of Magdalena [laughs], and he would laugh at me [laughs], but not in a mean way—he’s very respectful—but I had, like, I’d drawn monsters and things and all the past [laughs] of what happened when Magdalena was told she was a genius, and who told her that, and how that ruined her, and how that has made her live for so many years stuck in this victim role, because she thinks she’s too special to be happy, and she thinks that if she stops suffering, she won’t be as talented, because she needs to be the tortured artist and self-destructive. So I had a whole thing about all these theories, and he would look at it and, “Let me ask you this”—over the notes, he said, “I think it’s great that you do this, but really, things are going very well, I think you don’t need to [laughs],” and—but he’s so charming and adorable and kind, and…
PF: Is this your first time to work with Javier?
PC: No, second.
PF: How was it working with him this time, because you guys have to speak English [unintelligible] joined you guys [unintelligible] in this film?
PC: It was great, and he’s an amazing actor, and I think always it comes from the director you know, to, for, this is a very [unintelligible] movie and a how do you say, ensemble, and it’s always whatever the director creates you know, the atmosphere the director creates for all the actors, and Woody’s is very—I mean, he’s different from everything else I know, but I love his system because you never, even if there are no rehearsals, you never feel that he’s not there for you. He sees everything, and you feel that your director is taking care of you.
PF: He actually wrote this for you, in a way, didn’t he…?
PC: I don’t know…
PF: He said yesterday that you approached—you heard he was going to make a film in Barcelona, and you wanted to be involved, and he kind of thought of you when creating this character. Are you surprised by that?
PC: He has to tell me that story because I don’t know [laughs]. I think my agent called him and said, “We heard you’re shooting in Spain. Do you want to meet Penelope, because she would love to work with you?” Something like that happened, and then we met in New York and we had a 40-second meeting…
PF: Forty seconds?
PC: Yes [laughs], and somebody, he told me, “I saw Volver, and I loved it, and I’m writing something, and if it keeps going in this direction, it could be great for you. So I’ll let you know in a few weeks.” [laughs] Thank you very much. [laughs] There is no bullshit with Woody, which I love, you know. He’s like, he did say, “Good morning, it’s very nice to meet you,” and as soon as I started getting to the “Oh my God, I loved Deconstructing Harry [laughs], I love all the movies,” he said, “Mmmm…” No, he’s so honest, he’s the most honest person I know, somebody asked him in Cannes about a country, I’m not going to say which one, but somebody asked him about a country, and he didn’t like the time he spent in the country, and he told us the funniest story. It’s so honest—I mean, you always feel like, “Did he really say that?” And he’s like that all the time, and I mean, that meeting—but I left him, and I left the meeting smiling, 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 [laughs], and then a month later, I was in Paris, and I got this phone call that said, “Woody wants you to make the movie,” and I was very, very happy, and happier when I read the script, and I said, “Oh my God, he’s giving me such a treasure,” you know? This is such a really beautiful character and complicated, and with a subject that I’m very, very interested in and with somebody who is very, emotionally very unstable, and I wanted to explore that and try to understand Magdelena’s reality and not just play her like a crazy person, and she’s defending her reality, you know, and for her is equally important as the one of the person in front of her and I wanted to do it from there.
PF: We heard that when you were filming in Barcelona there were many, many people watching you guys, could you talk about filming on location in the city and the crowds of people?
PC: People were very nice and very helpful, and they allowed us to shoot in locations that are very, very difficult to get permits, and yeah, there was a lot of expectation because of Woody coming to Spain, people wanted to see him and people really love him there. But everyone was very nice and helpful.
PF: Did you show the Americans a good time in the nightlife of, cause he finishes pretty early at the end of the day right?
PC: No, no. Woody came to the wrap party, and that was a big deal, that he came to wrap party, but…
PF: What about the American actors in the movie?
PC: Honestly, everything went so fast there was not a lot of time, and I felt like I was doing the most serious drama that I had done in my career, and then when I saw the movie in Cannes [laughs], I said, “Why are they laughing?” [laughs] And I understood that when I read the script, and preparing Magdalena 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 us forget that we were doing pure comedy—for us, we were doing drama.
PF: Magdalena and Cristina have—they like the same guy, but she still mentors her with the photography, I thought that was really, course they’re all attracted to each other, but I thought that was really nice, and I wondered if in your life, you’ve mentored a sister or someone who wants to, advice on career, or how do you relate to other women I guess that might want your help, advice?
PC: It’s always, I don’t like very much giving advice, especially in interviews, because it always sounds like who are you to give advice to anybody you know, but (laughter), I always with things that are related to the acting, if I have to get specific, it will be always about saving time to study to prepare your characters, to have your time for months for trying to understand who that person is, because that’s when I feel the happiest about the work, the part that gives me a lot of happiness is the preparation time and a few years ago I was just going from set to set, like four movies a year, and I don’t enjoy that anymore, I’d rather do one a year or maybe two if they are not too long, but I have my time to prepare.
PF: But I meant a woman in your life, like a younger sister or someone that you have helped with their career. Have you done that or?
PC: No, because in my family, we all help each other with everything, we are very close and but I don’t have like the role of the old sister, in how annoying I am, yes [laughs] with them, yes, because I am the oldest and I’m always am very protective with my brother and sister but with the rest, with the work and all that, everyone knows what they want to do.
PF: Speaking of preparation, how are you preparing to play in Rob Marshall’s new film?
PC: God, I am so excited, about the movie. I did many auditions for the movie, singing and dancing and I trained for seventeen years, dancing in my life and now I can get to use it in a movie and I love the character and will be singing many hours a day and training and we’re going to record with an orchestra and I think that’s going to be an amazing experience for me because I love music.
PF: How’s your singing?
PC: They say it’s good and they gave me the part so now I have to do it. [laughs] But I have to work very hard, we’re going to be training very hard, I’ve already been taking lessons but now it’s going to be many, many hours a day.
PF: Do you sing one song in the movie, or more than one?
PC: More than one.
PF: Did you see the play?
PC: Yes, I saw the play, Eight and a Half is one of my favorite movies of all time, because Nine is based on Eight and a Half, and I love Carla, I love this character.
PF: But you have a very, very huge cast for that movie. I think Daniel Day Lewis is in it.
PC: Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judy Dench, Sophia Loren…
PF: When do you actually start filming? I mean do you go straight into that right now in the rehearsals and…
PC: I have to promote both movies, Elegy, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and then I go into the rehearsals for Nine, in London.
PF: How different a character is this one from the character in Elegy, because I know that’s obviously opening here soon, as well.
PC: So different. Consuela is very put together, she’s very mature for her age, she’s very centered, very focused, she knows very much what she wants [unintelligible] have in common is that she can also feel everything very much, the good and the bad, but I really like the movie, I was obsessed with the book, I love Phillip Roth, and I was blown away by Ben Kingsley, I think he’s an amazing actor…
PF: And what does he bring to the table, what qualities did you see in him that excited you on the set?
PC: Just times of truth, all the time, there is nothing he does that is fake, and I don’t imagine anybody else playing that character, I was attached to the project for five years, many other people before all the directors and I don’t imagine anybody better than Isabel and Ben. It’s a very honest movie, I think.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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