Penelope Cruz unleashes her passionate side
Posted June 20, 2012
It's love, Italian style, between Penelope Cruz and Woody Allen.
The steamy Spanish actress and the finicky American director may seem, at face value, like the consummate odd couple. And yet, together they can make magic. Their first collaboration, 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, earned Cruz her first Oscar for her turn as a tempestuous, unstable artist. And it was on that set that she began a relationship with her co-star and now-husband, Javier Bardem.
To Cruz, Allen represents the pinnacle of what she admires in a person: someone who lives and operates on his own terms and doesn't pander to the whims of others.
"I would love to work with him 20 times. I'm fascinated by his personality. Even a day of press, which is not my favorite part of this job, he makes it so interesting and so fun," she says. "I love his sense of humor. He only types on his typewriter. Sometimes I've gotten e-mails from him and I say, wait a moment, were they fakes? And he said, 'No, no, I dictate to my assistant.' I love that he's doing things his way."
Allen, simply, calls Cruz "one of the great movie stars of the world."
And this Friday, Cruz and Allen make more cinematic amore in To Rome With Love, starring Cruz as vibrant, brash and passionate prostitute Anna, who teaches a naive newlywed the pleasures of the flesh. Allen cast Cruz because he appreciates her gifts. "She's just a wonderful, natural actress, full of fire and vitality and humor when she wants to call upon it. She is very intense as an actress and does put a lot of effort and work into her role, which I try to dissuade her from doing because it's not necessary in her case, but I suppose it makes her feel comfortable or more secure, although what she could possibly be insecure about is beyond me," he says.
Cruz is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Italian, and she filmed the role entirely in the language of love. She worked with an acting coach to lose any traces of Spanish and otherwise relished getting a little loose on-screen.
"I love playing someone that has no mental filter, that says everything that she feels. It's very liberating. I'm not very much like that, a little bit more controlled," says Cruz, 38. "I loved it because she has the personality of a child. She doesn't care about the consequences. She's a horrible liar. I wanted her to take her job very seriously. She's convinced that she's necessary for society."
For all the passion and heat Cruz generates on-screen in Rome, she's cerebral in person, especially when she's doing press. She's methodical, thoughtful and modulated, until she gets to know you — which is when she'll dole out hugs and share little stories (never for publication) about her son, Leo, 1. She's slender and almost dainty, all smoky eyes, cascades of hair and voluptuous lips, her stiletto-clad feet curled up beneath her on a couch.
Those who know her say there's a lightness to her, a warmth not immediately apparent to strangers.
"Penelope's very friendly and affectionate, with great energy," says Allen.
"As an actress, she has a great natural quality that leaps off the screen, and she is unusually photogenic. She's serious on the set and focused, but she might be more playful if I wasn't the director, because I'm no fun on the set. Perhaps with another director, she'd be exploiting her natural great personality more between takes, but I'm serious on the set, and I think that trickles down to the actors, or, should I say in her case and Javier's, trickles up," he says, referring to the on-set romance that blossomed between Cruz and Bardem on the set of Vicky.
Like Anna, Cruz doesn't take her job lightly. She says she's still terrified of being fired from every film she's on, a trepidation that pushes her to work harder. And like Allen, Cruz doesn't waver on certain principles that are dear to her. Cruz will dazzle at galas in Dolce & Gabbana or Armani Privé. She'll gamely promote her projects, sticking only to work-related topics. "If your actions are constantly sending out the message that you don't want to commercialize your private life, then that message is clear from the beginning. What else can you do?" she says.
Cruz, when she's not shooting one or two movies a year — now her max — still works with acting coaches in Spain and takes classes. She goes to the grocery store. She continues to study English to master the language. She reads as much as motherhood allows; Margaret Mazzantini is a favorite author. And she takes nothing in her life for granted.
"She's so grateful that she found her way into this business, and she pinches herself all the time that she's part of that," says Rob Marshall, who directed Cruz in Nine (for which she scored her third Oscar nomination) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. "She has humility. So many actresses are good, close friends of her, which is amazing in this business. I never feel a sense of competition from her, and she never says a bad word for anybody. She's ambitious in her own way, but never at the expense of others."
She and Bardem, who are mostly based in Spain, try to live as normal a life as possible, believing firmly that a rich, well-rounded existence can't be lived in front of cameras, paparazzi or otherwise.
"You can't go and not do something because of the fear of being recognized. You need to go out there and be one who's looking and learning and being inspired. That happens in the street. That doesn't happen on the red carpet. It happens in your everyday life. My life is very much like that," she says. "There's two or three days a year where I go to a premiere, and that's part of my job, but the rest of the time, it's just life, people. I will never change that, because if you don't have that, you have nothing."
That includes sharing details of her marriage to Bardem. The two refrain from capitalizing on their relationship and secretly got married in the Bahamas before their son was born. Cruz doesn't whine about the invasiveness of fame; she will repeatedly tell you how blessed she feels to be able do her job and have her pick of parts.
There is, however, one topic that gets the intensely private and soft-spoken star worked up.
"I don't care if they take pictures of myself. Children's privacy should be respected. It should be illegal to publish pictures of children, unless it's the decision of the parents. For the people who want to give their children the privacy they deserve, it should be illegal. A child needs to be able to go to school and feel like one more in the class. This is my opinion about it," says Cruz with finality. "I ask for the right to protect the privacy of that child."
Scour the Internet, and you'll find a few long-distance shots of Cruz and Bardem, out with their son. That's all by design. Cruz and Bardem venture out mostly for work.
Cruz can be almost fearsomely serious and intense in person, deliberating over every word she utters until she feels comfortable around you. Yet on-screen, there's a wildness, a looseness to her, coupled with fierce intensity. Perhaps it's why Allen, Pedro Almodóvar and Marshall keep coming back for more.
"She's so beautiful, and people assume that's what her focus is. But that's not the focus of her life. The focus of her life is her beautiful baby and her husband and her life and her family," says Marshall. "She's very close to her brother and sister and parents. She really lives a very full life. If people sat with her, you'd see immediately how down-to-earth she is. She never plays the celebrity card, ever. She would sit down and talk to anybody, from my mother to a person on the street. "
Cruz, after years of either being miscast in forgettable shlock or rising above the material she was given, has finally found her acting groove. She alternates between European cinema and Hollywood; in August, she starts filming Ridley Scott's thriller The Counselor with Bardem and Brad Pitt.
"I try to listen to myself and do things that feel fresh, where I don't have to repeat myself and do a character I've done before. Of course, my priority is my family, so that will affect every decision in terms of work or a trip," says Cruz.
"The amount of movies I was making five years ago, I changed that because I was always on set. I don't want to be on the set all the time. I changed that before (I had my son), and now it's even more important to find that balance."
Latest in Entertainment