Viva Volver! Talking with Pedro Almodovar & Penelope Cruz

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Pedro Almodovar and his Volver leading lady, Penelope Cruz, give us a classic ABBA pose.

Next Friday (November 3rd) Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, Volver, opens in the U.S. It’s pretty great, up there with his best work, like All About My Mother and Talk to Her. Penelope Cruz is (surprise!) totally impressive in her role as Raimunda, a mother who goes to great lengths (we’re talking life and death here) to protect her teenaged daughter, while at the same time is dealing with other family issues of her own—including the ghost of her mother who’s lurking around.

The film is funny and poignant, vibrant with color and music and drama (like any good Almodovar film), and it’s a blast to watch. And again, Cruz is completely radiant. Her buxom, glamorously middle-class housewife recalls Sophia Loren in her prime. Expect to hear her touted for recognition come awards season.

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Almdovar, and his cast of fierce females. From left, Blanco Portillo, Penelope Cruz, Almodovar, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas and Yohana Cobo.

Volver is all about mothers and childrens, correcting old wrongs, bringing forth truth, making amends, facing death, and the strength of family bonds. A dead body ends up in a freezer, a ghosts hides in a car trunk, spirits move around windy Spanish towns, and women get their hair done. What’s not to love?

I attended a press day for the film recently, and here are few choice quotes from the openly gay filmmaking legend, as well as from his kickass leading lady (really—she rocks in this movie). Almodovar talks more about his life and his choices in life (and art), and Cruz gushes about working with her award-winning mentor, and how the right shoes (and a fake ass) make all the difference.

Want more? Go read Almodovar’s awesome shooting journal, the diary he kept while making the movie. It’s artfully insightful—and dishy! And watch the film’s trailer here!

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Almodovar, directing and such.

PEDRO ALMODOVAR

First, not so much in this film, but many of your movies feature gay or transgender characters. These are such loaded topics these days—and Spain even now recognizes gay marriage—will you revisit this themes in your work again?
I don’t think I can answer that question precisely. I presume they might come up, especially, because for me transexuals or transgender people are really just a fact of life. They’re a part of life. So they have come into my movies, just as a fact. I’ve always made an effort not to underline the fact of “the transexual issue” or “the gay issue.” I have no way of knowing if they’ll reappear, but perhaps… And in fact, there is a new law in Spain that allows homosexuals to marry—and to adopt children—so what this is going to do is it will add another reality to Spanish life, and to homosexual life. And this, of course, will provide for dramatic situations, so I’m sure I’ll pick up on this at some point and deal with it in my films.

You create such vivid characters. How do you go about observing people or studying the human character?
I am above all a curious person. And I’m curious about women. Women arouse my curiosity more than men, and it has something to do with the fact that they are richer and even more fun to think about. Really, this movie is based on the women I was surrounded by when I was a child, and I remember myself being very little, just watching them and listening to them. And women represent life, because they are always doing things. But also, they represent fiction—the original fiction, because when I was a child they told a lot of tremendous stories and tragedies that I was very impressed and amazed and surprised by. And I’m not trying to say that woman are of a different species, we’re all of the same species, but I find women much more expressive, they’re much less hermetic, and they have a lot less of a sense of shyness or embarrassment.

I think if I were a novelist, I might write more about men, because I think the process of writing a novel is a much more internal process, and so the author is forced to project himself in a much more direct way. But as a dramatic subject, for a script specifically, I find women much more attractive, and so I pay more attention to them.

And I’ve known in my life, very deeply, three or four women, very deeply: my two sisters, my mother, and one girlfriend who I lived with for four years, and I really do think that those four women have been the inspiration for all the women I’ve written about.
And I’ve just met the creator of the series Desperate Housewives, and he’s a gay man who lives with his mother. He said something that is very clear, and I understood him very well, that if you know one woman, you can write about a thousand different woman, a thousand different characters.

Your films are about mothers and their children, and those relationships. Have you thought of having children yourself?
I have thought about it many, many times. Curiously, when it would have been possibly biologically in my youth, I hated the idea of having children. It was the 1970’s in Spain and it also accompanied the idea of not wanting to bring new beings into a world like that. Then, when I turned 40, I began to feel almost this fierce necessity to have children of my own blood. And very interestingly for me, it wasn’t even about creating a family, but more just about having children.

I think ultimately I have the vocation of a single mother, and I feel very jealous when I see my sisters and my brothers with their children. And of course, I am very well aware that I’m not that old, but to that child, I do need to offer him a family. So, in fact, having a child for me would be a very selfish act, so I’ve tried to avoid it. Or it’s just one of those contradictions that you have to live with.

But I’m a very good uncle. I think.

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Penelope and Pedro serving Spanish glam.

PENELOPE CRUZ

About approaching this role with Almodovar:
I don’t like things that are easy, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be in projects that scare me a little bit. Like this one, I was terrified by this one, because I felt a lot of responsibility with this character, and I felt like Pedro was having so much faith in me, and putting so much trust in me… And I was aware that this character was extremely difficult and emotionally demanding, so I was excited because this is the kind of character I want to play, but I was also very scared. I was in my bed crying the night before, and I was calling my family crying, and they were “You’re crazy! You’ve done 35 movies, why are you so scared?” But this was different, because it was this character and with him.

It meant a lot to me and I knew what it could do for my career, and I really didn’t want to disappoint him. My mission was to make Pedro go home happy.

What makes Pedro so special?
He’s just a genius. I grew up watching his movies, admiring him so much, dreaming that maybe one day if I became an actress I would get to work with him, and this is now my third movie with him, and the reality has been even better than what I dreamed about. He’s just a very special human being and a great storyteller.

And he’s a man who has done a lot for my country in many ways, through his art. When I was growing up, my country was changing in so many ways. Franco died the same year I was born, and when I was like 8 and 9, I was amazed by the changes I saw happening. People were so hungry for freedom, and that hunger was sometimes mainfested in a way that was kind of tacky, but then there was Pedro, who was able to show that in an amazing way that wasn’t tacky at all. There was the artist that I wanted to be, who I wanted to hang out with.

When he called me when I was 17 [to work with him] and I heard his voice on the phone, it was an amazing feeling, like talking again with an old friend. I felt like I already knew him so well. We had an instant connection and it’s only gotten better and better.

To play Raimunda, Almodovar has mentioned that you wore some ass-padding to fill out the housewife body, and that this movie is “about women with big asses.” What did you think when Almodovar told you you’d be wearing butt padding to fill the role of this character?
I didn’t think anything different than when we deciding the right shoes for Raimunda, or the right makeup. That came after two months. And he wanted the hips of a woman who gave birth when she was 13 or 14, because that’s what happened to my character. And that’s a different body than the one I have. So that was the reason for that. And there’s always a reason for everything in his movies. Nothing is gratuitous, even if it would be tempting. Everything is there for a reason.

[The butt] was really just another part of my character. It’s like, if I don’t have the right shoes for a character, that can really take you out of a scene. It’s amazing how all of those things affect you.

See!?? It’s all in the ass!

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Cruz gets a whiff of her fresh Volver role.