Published in the print and online version of Exit Weekly.
Penélope's not Cruz-in' on Easy Street
by Christina M. Hinke
Nov. 8, 2006
"Volver" star Penélope Cruz could forge a career with her exotic good looks and the "most spectacular cleavage in world cinema," claims the film's director Pedro Almodóvar, who has directed her in two other Spanish features. But the 32-year-old brunette beauty chooses to veer off of Easy Street for a road that offers challenges with more diverse roles and opportunities beyond acting.
She has formed her own production company, "88" (the same number tattooed on her ankle) with plans to produce and possibly direct movies. She bought the rights to the best-selling Spanish memoir, "Pasión India," the true story of a 17-year-old flamenco dancer who agrees to marry an Indian maharaja. Relatives of the maharaja have started an effort to stop the movie's production.
In "Volver," Cruz plays a strong willed mother, Raimunda, who holds three generations of women together. Despite poorly received performances in "Sahara" and "Head in the Clouds," her multi-faceted role as Raimunda could be her breakthrough in Hollywood.
Is it easier to perform in Spanish?
It's always a relief to go back to work in your own language. But then of course here we have to do an accent. I'm working in four different languages now. I love that talent. I don't like things that are easy. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be in projects that scare me a little bit, or a lot, like this one. I was terrified with this one.
Why were you so terrified?
I was aware that the character was extremely difficult and emotionally demanding. I was very excited because that's the kind of thing I want to do. I was in my bed crying the night before the shoot, I was crying for hours, calling all my family, while no one understood. They said, "You are crazy. You've done 35 movies. Why are you so scared?"
What was it like to take on that challenge of singing a flamenco song?
I knew it was an important scene for Pedro. I was very nervous about that one. He is demanding and I love that he's demanding. To be able to express all of the flamenco positions in that chair, that was not easy. I had to take a lot of lessons. That was a couple of months of intense preparations. I was scared of that scene. I was scared about the scene when I discovered finding my mother under the bed. That was the most difficult scene I ever had to do in my career.
Because if I tell you, "Ok, you think your mother is dead, but she's going to come back to life and you are going to discover her under the bed. Not only that, but you have a lot of angry unsolved issues with her and act all of that with two lines of dialogue. Then in the matter of ten seconds start crying and have a huge attack of emotions. All of that in one shot." I was terrified of that moment. After getting to that place, we could not get out for a couple of hours. I was almost throwing up because the things you get in contact with are so scary and so difficult to talk about because they feel very personal. He (Almodóvar) helped me so much. I would look at him and felt this peace. I could jump because he was my net, my safety. He really wants you to jump high.
What would it mean to you to have this film win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year?
It's better not to expect anything and not to think about it too much, even if it would make us very happy. Of course I want Pedro to get everything he deserves. My main mission on the set was to make him happy, and never make him regret that he gave me an amazing character that was going to help my career.
Recently A.O. Scott of The New York Times said he was almost going to give up on you. Isn't that frustrating?
I read it. It's always good that people expect more from you. It helps you to stay in the game, which means for me learning and growing as an actress. I value any opportunity they have given me. I would not change any of that. The kinds of characters I want to do are characters like this one and that demand more of me. The things I'm reading now are more in that direction. I think I should get more time for myself. Do a couple movies a year instead of four. Spend some more of my energy on other things, so that I can feel creative and active doing something that is very real and teaching me a lot. But not just movie to movie as an actress. That I have been doing for 15 years.
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