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Penelope Cruz on Returning to Almodovar


Penelope Cruz as Raimunda in Volver wears thick black eyeliner. Her hair is swept up loosely so pieces tumble around her face. She dresses in low, tight sweaters and skirts that cling to her curves. When I spoke with her today, she said the look is an intentional homage to the strong women of 1950s Italian cinema. All of it, she says, is key to her character.

Ms. PENELOPE CRUZ (Actress): She's dressed like that for a reason, you know. She's a woman that has no money, no time, but she can always find 15 minutes in the morning to create the image of herself that she wants to put out. And even if she's going to go and clean the floors of the bathroom of the airport, she's going to have her makeup done.

And I think it has to do more with her dignity than with her ego, because also the sensuality and the sexuality of the character were in so much danger when she was a little girl and things happened to her that we cannot reveal in an interview.

BLOCK: You don't want to give it away.

Ms. CRUZ: I don't want to spoil for the audience. But things happened to her that could have crushed her sexuality. And it didn't happened, and that's one more symptom of how this woman is such a fighter and refuses to become a victim.

BLOCK: I think there are a lot of woman who would think it's cosmically unfair that you needed to have your rump padded for this movie - accentuated.

Ms. CRUZ: Why unfair?

BLOCK: Unfair because a lot of us would say we would want exactly the opposite in our case, whereas you needed a little help in that department.

Ms. CRUZ: No, well, for what Pedro wanted, which was a body with the hips of a woman that gave birth when she was 13, and he didn't want her to be too thin.

BLOCK: Did you find that you moved differently when you were padded behind?

Ms. CRUZ: It's difficult to talk about that without sounding - how can I say -it's never like just one thing, you know. It's a lot of things and then when you have the character inside you and you completely understand that character, you know when you're wearing the right shoes or not. It's difficult to explain it.

Sometimes you can have a fight with the director about that and say really it's not that I don't like the shoes that I'm wearing, it's that the character is already living in me and is refusing the shoes. And I mean, I even choose I different perfume for each character. And I love directors that don't treat you as if you were crazy because of that.

BLOCK: What was the perfume for Raimunda?

Ms. CRUZ: I was using - because Raimunda didn't have money to buy expensive perfume, I imagined that she went and asked for a sample in a perfume store, like pretending like she was going to go back and buy it. But just because she seen some ad of this perfume called Cinema -

BLOCK: What does it smell like?

Ms. CRUZ: I like that one because of the name of it and it again made me think about all of those Italian movies from the '50s. And it was strong, but very good. I kept using it, but I only used it for those six months. And last week I used it again and I got all these memories from the set and the rehearsing, and it's so interesting for me what a smell can do and bring you back to all of those emotions. It's a little bit scary sometimes.

BLOCK: Yeah. It's a powerful thing. Pedro Almodovar has said about you, you have a relationship with pain that is very intimate. And I had a sense watching this movie that even in scenes where you're happy and smiling that your eyes are almost brimming with tears. You look like you're constantly on the verge of crying. Does it strike you that way?

Ms. CRUZ: Well, that was one of the challenges of this character. Also because it was - in one shot - he loves shooting like that in a (speaking foreign language) - I don't know how you say that in English - but it's a little bit like doing theater. And he puts a camera on you and you do four pages close up on your face.

And Raimunda, my character, her mood changes every five seconds. She's crying, then she's laughing, then she's angry, then she's crying again, then she's laughing again, or laughing and crying at the same time. And she has to almost look crazy sometimes. Of course, to reach that state, it's scary, but he built an atmosphere that was very safe.

So many times, like, he knew I was scared. I didn't even have to tell him. But he would not go to the monitor. He would stay like two meters away from me while I was doing the scene. And just to hear him breathing - he was so close to me, I could hear him - and that was like my safety net, you know. Just not too many words, but I would look at him and he was like, ok, I know you're scared and I know it's a lot what I'm asking you to do.

But he can look at an actor and know what the actor can do before they ever did it. And that's a blessing for us to have directors like that, with that level of imagination and trust.

BLOCK: Penelope Cruz, it's good to talk with you. Thanks so much.

Ms. CRUZ: Thank you. Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Penelope Cruz stars in Pedro Almodovar's new film, Volver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.