Oscar winner Penélope Cruz was the subject of a BAFTA Life In Pictures event in London last night.
In a wide-ranging session, the Spanish actress discussed her frequent collaborations with director Pedro Almodóvar, her inspirations and advice for aspiring actors.
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The Volver and Vicky Cristina Barcelona actress was also passionate in her support for the theatrical experience, despite acknowledging that her own love of film was borne out of watching movies on Betamax because there was no cinema near her childhood home.
Of her fertile collaborations with auteur Almodóvar, whom she described as “a genius”, she said: “We have this supernatural connection that, I don’t know, it’s been like a magical friendship. It’s much more than a director I work with, he’s somebody that I adore and that has taught me so much and I feel like the luckiest person to have been in seven of his films and I hope many more. And it’s a great adventure to be with him on the set and to have him in my life, you know, with even a lunch or a dinner with him. You never know what he’s going to say next. He’s full of surprises and he’s so honest, brutally honest if you’re his friend.”
Cruz was asked at one stage which actor she would most like to collaborate with that she hasn’t yet had the opportunity.
“Meryl Streep,” she answered unequivocally. “I’m always begging my agents to take me to her set, just to bring her coffee or anything,” she joked.
“Every time I see her, I run to hug her. And she’s so patient because every time I act like this is the first time I do it. The other day she received a very, very important award and then she named me in the speech and I could not believe it. And I watched it twenty times to make sure. It was like she knows that I exist, you know? She is my number one number one hero and would love to work with her.”
Among those at her dream dinner table, the actress said would be Streep, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Truman Capote, Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando.
The actress also discussed her own feature directorial debut, which is in production: “I always wanted to do that. I remember conversations with Pedro [Almodovar] when I was twenty, saying to him I really want to direct and produce and he would tell me ‘Why wait? Do it, do it now. Don’t wait for anything. Just try to do it as soon as possible'”.
She continued: “Now I’m directing a documentary that unfortunately I cannot share yet what it’s about, because it’s the most important project that I have and I don’t want to talk too early. The most important thing for me during COVID, when we were all in lockdown and it has nothing to do with COVID, but during COVID, I realized that I didn’t know, nobody knew, what was going to happen so there was a real fear of, like… And I remember having this thought of I have to be here. Nothing can happen because I want to raise my children. And the other thought that I had is because I haven’t been able to do this documentary yet and I need to do this in this lifetime. I need to do it. And that’s what made me start, and I’ve been now working on it for like a year. And I need two more years. It’s not a short or easy thing, but it’s happening.”
Cruz’s producer credits include Ma ma and En Los Márgenes and she has a production company under the Media Pro umbrella.
She added: “[Producing partner] Laura Espeso and myself are developing like five things right now. We don’t want to do a lot because we want to put time into things and we are very happy with the projects that we have. We have two amazing books and a great TV show that is a comedy, then my documentary and one more thing that my friend Juan is writing with what is a very important subject, a movie that we will do and something that I wanted to do for a long time. So you know, we’re developing things, but we want to go small….we have projects that are in English and projects that are in Spanish.”
Cruz, who most recently co-starred with Adam Driver in Michael Mann’s Ferrari, touched on the ongoing gender imbalance in the film and TV industry when describing her formidable character Laura Ferrari: “Did you know that she was one of the first investors. They just wanted to make less of her. I saw her apartment. The amount of sadness that I experienced when I was there with Michael [Mann], the wallpaper that she had chosen, like to hide that deep depression that she was living in for so many years. And she was a woman that had lost a child out of an illness and that had also broken the relationship, and I saw that there was no compassion for her. Probably because she was involved in the business and that was not welcome. It was in those years very difficult for a woman to have a voice in a company like that…But I’m sorry, I feel it’s still today the case in so many places around the world. I mean, it’s just look around and you will find women living in the shadow of men and I don’t like when, you know, it’s always said like in our profession they ask us ‘it’s great how much things have changed’, because it is a lie. Things have not changed that much. Maybe a little, not that much.”
At the end of the session, Cruz was asked by a young actress what advice she would give someone starting out in the industry.
Cruz noted that versatility was important, professionally, but also had some more maternal words for the teenager which were greeted by laughter and applause by the audience.
“When somebody your age asks me about advice, I get very nervous because I feel like who am I to give you advice? But at the same time you are asking for it and what I’m going to say might sound strange but what I can tell you from my heart and what I know, I know that if I tell you that I can’t go wrong, which is don’t do drugs. I think that is a very good advice for a 17 year-old. Because then you can focus on your work. But don’t touch that shit. That’s my only advice to you.”
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