«I torture myself because I demand a lot from myself»

The couple formed by Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem makes history. The two have a statuette, but this Sunday night (early morning on Monday in Spain) they will attend the 94th Oscar gala nominated for best actress and leading actor. She is the one who has the best chance of winning the award for her role as Janis in ‘Parallel Mothers’, a photographer who becomes pregnant while fighting to exhume the remains of her ancestors. The performer already won it in the supporting category for ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ (2008). In this edition, experts believe that the best actress title is the most open of all due to the merits of its main candidates. On the one hand, Jessica Chastain has won the Screen Actors Guild Award. Nicole Kidman won the Golden Globe, Kristen Stewart received the New York critics’ award and Penelope won the Volpi Cup in Venice. Considered a big star within the industry, Cruz was also crowned best actress at the recent Santa Barbara Film Festival, where she was interviewed in this interview.

– Your creative relationship with Pedro Almodóvar is one of the strongest in modern cinema.

– With Pedro the connection is so strong that I can never lie to him, neither on the set nor in life. I discovered him after watching ‘Átame’ and it was a decisive moment in my life because, with the intention of trying to participate in one of his films, I went to cinemas or bars where I suspected he would be. Now I am very grateful to him for pushing me, for his trust, for imagining me doing things that I can’t even imagine doing. That’s the best a director can give you.

– Do you enjoy success? An Oscar nomination is a reward for effort made.

– I am very grateful and I feel lucky for everything I have achieved, but I also torture myself because I demand a lot from myself. What I enjoy most is the investigation and the mystery of discovering who the woman I am going to play is.

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– Do you work with the same dedication as when you started?

– My rhythm is different at this stage of my career, but I still have the same excitement as when I was 4 years old playing with the neighbors. I knew I wanted to be an actress since my parents enrolled me in classical ballet classes, when I was 6 years old, and the teacher asked me if she could play the role of Carmen. Shortly after, my parents bought me a Betamax machine and that’s where I discovered artists like Meryl Streep, Billy Wilder and Al Pacino.

– Was the ‘Parallel Mothers’ project created during the pandemic?

– Yes. In this case Almodóvar told me the idea of ​​the film at a dinner about twelve years ago. It’s something he does. He has an idea and tells it to me, and then a few years later he sends me a script of that idea. It can happen in different ways, all magical to me. The first time he shared something with me about this story we were in New York, doing press for ‘All About My Mother.’ He told me some things about the story that then changed, evolved a lot into something else. But that was the root of the story. Then, when we were confined in Madrid, we made one of our calls, a facetime, and he told me: “By the way, I have taken this story out of the drawer and I am thinking of you for the character.” Imagine, he told me this in the middle of confinement, when we didn’t know how long we were going to be stuck at home or what the future was, or what kind of future. We didn’t know anything. His script gave me an injection of hope and emotion. Knowing that he had a plan on the horizon encouraged me. The project gave me faith in going out again and leading a normal life, although we didn’t know if it was a plan for a year or five years later. We had no idea. But I will always remember that first phone call. Then followed others in which he shared his stories with me in extreme circumstances and those calls became my favorites. His calls were a lifesaver.

– Do you think Pedro adapts his characters for you?

– I am not with him when he writes, although he is always writing. Even when we travel for promotion, he writes. He always has three scripts in his head. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s been that way since I met him. However, Pedro is happier when he is filming and I understand it, because the same thing happens to me.

– It seems that you are finding it increasingly difficult to work.

– I have a life that makes me very happy, but still, even though I have children, who you know obsess me and are the best thing I have in my life, I enjoy my work. I am a family oriented person. I’ve always been like this. I value my family time very much and educating my children is my priority. I’ve been working since I was sixteen years old and I still enjoy that feeling of getting up in the morning and going to the set. That makes me feel complete. We actors can have that feeling two or three times a year, but for a director it is different. In Pedro’s case, he is much happier when he works. I always tell him: “Every summer we have to shoot a movie.” He writes in winter and we film in summer. He likes to shoot in the summer.

– How do you prepare a character?

– In order to put myself in a character’s shoes, I always try to understand them thoroughly, even without necessarily sharing their moral decisions. I never wonder if we have anything in common.

– Would you say that this is the most political Almodóvar?

– Pedro touches on certain topics in a way that goes far beyond the need to open a political debate. He is not what he is looking for. As the character Janis explains to someone from another generation: “I have this mission in life to be able to honor my relatives, I simply want to be able to give them a dignified burial.” It’s impossible not to understand that. I think the way he touches on that topic is very beautiful and very accurate because it goes beyond where each character is, or what side each one is on in politics. Pedro talks about the basic needs of dignity that any human being in this world deserves.

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