Penelope Cruz’s talent knows no boundaries. The actress has worked across four languages across her nearly three decades-long career. Over the course of this run, she has one won Oscar (Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) and received two additional nominations. The work doesn’t stop for the busy actress, who stars in Focus Features’ “Everybody Knows,” directed by Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi recently directed two Oscar-winning Foreign Language Features – “A Separation” in 2011 and “The Salesman” in 2016. This film marks the first feature for Farhadi outside of his native country, Iran.
The film centers on Laura (Cruz), a woman who returns home to her Spanish village for a wedding. With her family in tow, Laura looks forward to catching up with family and friends she hasn’t seen in a while. This includes Paco (Javier Bardem), a childhood friend with whom they have shared many wonderful memories. However, on the night of the wedding, a terrible event happens that rocks Laura’s world. She’s forced to confront every member of her family to unravel a pivotal mystery with grave stakes involved.
We were able to speak with the star of the film, Penelope Cruz, about the project and her career in general. Read below for our interview.
Christopher James, Awards Circuit (CJ): I’m excited to talk to you [on behalf of] Awards Circuit for “Everybody Knows.” This film is directed by Asghar Farhadi, who has developed an impressive resume [including directing 2 Oscar Foreign Language Film winners]. This is his first film outside of Iran. How did you get involved with the film? Did you know he was looking to do something outside of his home country? How did he arrive at taking this project to you?
Penelope Cruz (PC): He called us five year before we [shot the film]. We had a lot of conversations during those years. He sent a treatment a year later, and then another treatment another year later. It was a long process. I really respect and admire him because he moved to our country and studied the language to make sure he understood. We didn’t change anything without permission.
CJ: Since you were involved during this five year process, were you involved in the workshopping of the story and bringing the cultural identity to the piece?
PC: Yes, actually, Asghar was very open to ask questions. He was very humble about that. He didn’t know our culture. A director has to answer a lot of questions. I think some of them have more difficulty asking to other departments and other people in general. Asghar has no problems asking and nurturing himself with information and getting to really know the culture. He did that for years. That’s how he managed to have no clichés in the movie. You can see [“Everybody Knows”] and forget he is an Iranian director. It’s a story happening in Spain that could happen anywhere, but he put it in Spain in a village and everything feels real about that.
CJ: I want to talk a little bit about your character Laura, who returns from Buenos Arias to her hometown outside of Madrid. The central mystery involves her going to a lot of family members and doing a lot of investigating. Was there a lot of rehearsal time to build all the familial relationships with the [actors] in the ensemble? How did you go about fine tuning all these different relationships between the different characters?
PC: We didn’t have proper rehearsal because [Asghar] didn’t feel that was the right way to go here, and I completely agree. We had a lot of conversations between different characters or big groups and looking at the past of different relationships. [He also did] a lot of exercises with the children. This was really helpful for all of us to create a background that’s part of the story that you don’t see in the film, but that we all knew and imagined how it could have been. I feel you can always tell that later in the relationships. When you set a movie with so many characters, you really sound like a family. Asghar is responsible for that.
CJ: Absolutely! When you are finished with the role, do you leave it behind or are there parts of the character that stick with you after you finish shooting? If so, what parts of Laura did you take with you following the film?
PC: I just took a lot of compassion for the people that has to suffer any situation [like the one in the film] with a child, in terms of an illness, loss or threat of a loss. … That’s why it was [such a hard role] to do. You are doing a fiction, but you are always feeling for the people that have gone through horrible things like that related to a child. It breaks your heart. That’s the main thing I took from it, along with a great experience of working with Asghar because he is such a master. How much he knows about cinema and abuot life. It’s such a pleasure being around him.
CJ: One of the other great things about this film is that it re-teamed you with your husband Javier Bardem, who you’ve worked with three other times before this (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Counselor,” “Loving Pablo”). What is it like working with your husband as a collaborator on these films? Were you both really involved in discussing your character’s path? What was it like working with him on this particular film.
PC: I love working with him. Of course, in a way, it’s easier because we know each other so well. But at the same time, it’s a tricky thing. I don’t think you want to do that every year with your partner. It’s an instinct to protect the relationship. I don’t that would be healthy to [work together] on every single project, but once in a while I think it can be a great thing.
CJ: Obviously, there are a lot of twists and turns throughout. It sounds like you were very involved with crafting the story. … [Specifically in this film,] Laura doesn’t know everything that you do, as the actress who has been working very heavily on this story. What’s your process for concealing the twists and turns for yourself when playing a different scene?
PC: It depends on the movie [and] the character. If I am working on a different language [or a different accent], I spend a lot of time with a dialect coach. Right now, I’m preparing a Cuban accent and it is not easy. In this movie, I worked a lot of time alone on set. When I was not in front of the camera, I would hide in a room and read and study. I felt like it was a long marathon and I had to graduate my energy to make it to the end. … But then I would go home at the end of the day and never take that character with me, or any character, but one like this even less. Then [I’d] be on set and try to give it 100%. But [I didn’t take the character] home because I don’t think that will make [the performance] better or your life better. That’s not what acting is for me. I prefer to have a long time of preparation to really have the time to digest all the information and then go there and try things and try to give [my] all. Some days things will happen, some days they won’t.
CJ: [It seems] you had a lot of time to prepare with the 5 years [timeline] of Asghar bringing you the film. With such a long prep time, how long was the actual shoot?
PC: Four months.
PC: Yeah. It was long.
CJ: Penelope, you’ve done so much great work in Spanish cinema with Pedro Almodovar and so much great American work as well. When you’re choosing your projects, how do you balance doing films in Spain and doing films in the U.S.? Is it a conscious decision when you’re picking projects?
PC: No. I’ve never planned it that way. I’ve been very lucky do movies in four different languages. So I’ve been able to [put to] use all the time that I studied [those languages]. … I love that and I’m proud of that because it’s something I always wanted to do. But I don’t do a strategy of “ok, now it’s going to be 2 in America, 1 here.” No. I read and I’m so fortunate that I can choose material. It was not always like that for me, or anyone, at the beginning. It wasn’t like that for many years. So I try to say yes to whatever makes me feel something. [I like projects that] inspires me, something that is challenging and new. I feel very grateful that they give me all this trust with all these different characters. Very very grateful.
CJ: Thank you so much for talking to me. This has been a pleasure interviewing you. It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to. Congratulations on “Everybody Knows.”
PC: Thank you! You are so kind.