Penélope Cruz has gained worldwide acclaim for her ability to portray fascinating characters in a myriad of languages - most notably Spanish, English and Italian. Her most recent Spanish-language film, Everybody Knows (original title Todos lo saben), is currently out in theaters and marks yet another complex and emotional role to add to her collection. It was also a seminal experience for her, in which she played opposite her real-life husband Javier Bardem in a movie by award-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. The actress shared her experiences crossing cultural boundaries with her work, as well as her thoughts on the blurring of lines between reality and fiction.
Screen Rant: The director, Asghar Farhadi, mentioned that you and Javier were onboard from the start of the story, and that you were more involved in the process of writing than any actors he's worked with before. So what was it that captured you so much about the script?
Penélope Cruz: I don't feel that we were part of the process of writing, but he made us involved. He was very open to asking questions from the beginning and, because he's not from here, he would always call us and ask, 'What about this? Or what about that dialogue?' Or a translation for different things. He was very humble about that, and that makes me respect him even more. Because for some directors, it's hard for them to ask questions. It's easy to answer questions, but they have more difficulty asking questions. He doesn't have that, and that says a lot about him.
Screen Rant: It sounds like you had a lot of opportunities to teach him about Spanish culture or even language with some translations, but was there any opportunity for him to give back? Did you learn anything about Iranian culture working with him?
Penélope Cruz: Well, I already liked the poet Rumi before, but working with him, we were talking about Rumi every single day because I was a fan and his work is very important to Asghar. So we were always using some of the poems as inspiration for some of the scenes. That was a beautiful connection that we had.
Screen Rant: You've said before that Asghar wanted the film to be like a documentary, and that he was demanding in a good way. How did that make the preparation for Everybody Knows different for you as an actress, as opposed to other films?
Penélope Cruz: He's very honest, and I always prefer to have that on the set. Because you don't want somebody that is always telling you that everything you're doing is great. And Asghar is never rude, he's very kind, but he didn't want to see movie moments. He said, 'Guys, forget this is a movie. This has to feel like a documentary.' And I want as much truth as possible. And that's what we all want as actors. We want somebody to tell us what works and what doesn't, what feels real and what doesn't. And he was great at that. You never knew who was going to get a comment like, 'What you did on that take, I didn't believe. Your eyes were lying,' or things like that. He would say those things in such a sweet and kind way. The words were strong and very honest, but he's so kind that you appreciate [it]. Tell me the truth about what you're feeling and what you see, and then you can try to give someone your best when they're honest.
Screen Rant: Speaking of the realism of the story, did you feel a special connection to Laura as a mother yourself? Was it ever harder to play certain scenes because of your own experience?
Penélope Cruz: It was very hard to play her. It was the most difficult character that I've had to play, because of the state that she's in for most of the movie. Some mothers and fathers have to go through either a loss of a child or the threat of a loss through illness, through any situation, so it was a really challenging character. But, of course, I'm very grateful that Asghar believed in me for something like that.
Screen Rant: What was it like working with your real life partner? Did you and Javier make a conscious choice to separate yourselves onset, or did that just come naturally as professionals?
Penélope Cruz: We didn't even talk about that. We act normal, we didn't plan out that, 'On the set, we're gonna act...' No, we were focused on our work and enjoy very much working together and the relationship with Asghar also. We didn't even have that conversation, everything was natural. It's not something that we want to do all the time, working together. But once in a while, it's a great thing for us.
Screen Rant: You've done films in Spanish, Italian and English throughout your career. So what do you think is the most universal aspect of filmmaking, no matter what language you're performing in
Penélope Cruz: That you are telling a story about human behavior, and it doesn't matter in what language you are telling that story. I think the important thing is that people can identify with it or understand it, and not judge it. I've made movies in four languages, and I feel very blessed that all that hard work has paid off to be able to work in all these different territories. But I think it never has to be a limitation to watch a movie with subtitles. I go to places where people still complain about watching a movie with subtitles because it's in whatever language, but I feel like you need the whole experience. If you are not watching an original version of that film then you are watching something else, but you're not watching the movie. If you get used to watching the original version, then you will never go back to seeing it any other way.
Screen Rant: As widespread as your filmography has been, there are some directors like Pedro Almodóvar that you've worked with again and again. Talk about the synergy between you two. What draws you back to working with him so often?
Penélope Cruz: Well, I think he's a genius, like Asghar. They are both two geniuses, and they're unique. Their personality is amazing. It's fascinating. And you just want to be around them. And with Pedro, it's been so many years working together that he's like somebody in my family. I know him and love him so much. So when we are on set, it's almost like we know what the other one is thinking. This is very addictive. If he's writing [a new script] and he's thinking of me, he would tell me. And then I would get very excited about it, of course.
Screen Rant: You've limited your work a little bit to focus on family, but also so that you can research your characters beforehand. What is the importance of the research process for you?
Penelope Cruz: The research gives you a lot of happiness, because it's when you are a student again. As actors we have to study life, human behavior, the complexity of that. You never get to a place where you feel like, 'Now I know. Now I have it under control.' That doesn't exist. [In acting], you just have to be so open to learning and to surprises and to zero control. That's why you need so much preparation, because then you get there to the set that day and everything could be different from the way that you have imagined it. And you have to be open to that process, to what the other person is giving you. It's a very fascinating process, and when I was making four movies a year, I didn't have time for that research. I was very sad about it because without that, I feel the experience is not complete.
Screen Rant: You've also recently gotten a lot of praise for your turn as Donatella Versace in American Crime Story. Did that experience inspire you to step more into the world of television, or to play one character for a prolonged period of time?
Penélope Cruz: Yes. It's really interesting. Once you do it, do you want to do it again. And once you work with Ryan Murphy? I love Ryan, and working with him is an amazing experience. We have plans for things together. Not like a specific thing that I could tell you, but we want to work together again. It's a great, great experience to have a character and be able to spend longer time with it, getting to know it so well. I love that.
Screen Rant: What are you working on right now? I know you've got a film with Almodóvar (Pain & Glory) coming out, but what else is in the works?
Penélope Cruz: The movie with Almodóvar comes out in the spring, and then I am working with Olivier Assayas, the French director. In a movie with Edgar Ramirez and Gael García Bernal. We are making this movie called Wasp Network, about Cuban spies. So right now I'm immersed in preparations, and the Cuban accent, which is not easy. I spend many months [on the accent], because I feel like that is the only way to be really comfortable with it and be able to improvise with it later if you have to.
Screen Rant: You've starred in various genres and done a wide variety of roles. Is there anything you haven't had a chance to try yet?
Penélope Cruz: Well, directing. I have directed publicity, commercials. I have directed a documentary for children with leukemia, but I want to direct more. I've wanted to since I was a little girl, and at some point I will try to do that. I'd been asking questions on the set since I was a teenager. So you keep your eyes open, you'll have the best school there.
Screen Rant: My last question is about the Time's Up movement, because you've advocated for women in industries outside of Hollywood. What made you want to expand beyond the film and television industry?
Penélope Cruz: We get asked that question every time on the red carpet, but I always feel like when we speak, we speak also for other women like teachers or nurses or different professions. Different women around the world that can be in situations like that, and nobody's putting a microphone next to them or asking them what they're going through. And I like Time's Up because it's something that has been done to help women and men. Because I feel like we have to be more united than ever in this thing if we want real change. And it has created this fund of money that people could use to get legal help, both men and women. Anybody from anywhere in the world can contribute to this fund, as a specific thing that I think can help others.