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Before director Pedro Almodovar made his new movie Julieta, he planned to shoot it in English, with Meryl Streep starring in the role of the title character who looks back on her life and the steps that led her to lose her daughter. At that point, he said, the picture would have been called Silence.
“There was a big reason to make it in English, because the original [the underlying material] was in English,” he noted, referring to short stories by the Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, on which his film as based. “Then I thought about someone to work with, and I was in New York, and I asked for a meeting with Meryl Streep.”
Streep, he said, “knew the stories, and we talked about the character of Juliet, and she was very enthusiastic. So we said to each other, very sincerely on my part, that I really would like to work with her one day, and she agreed. It was really something for me, because if you have an instrument like Meryl Streep, even to direct it for me should be different, just to take advantage of having this kind of sublime instrument.”
When Almodovar returned to Madrid, however, he began to have second thoughts. As he worked on the script, he worried about his English and his ability to detect the nuances that mattered to him, especially when he made changes on the fly during production.
“I really tried to develop it, to rewrite the first draft,” he said. “But — this is something that happens to me, always — I felt very insecure about my English. I knew that I could explain it to her, and understand her easily. But there was something deeper.”
Noting the number of changes to the script that he likes to make during the filming, he added, “When I rehearse in front of the camera, a lot of things are completely new, and I adapt to that in terms of dialogue. Also, I rewrite at the locations, and rehearse again with the actors. So, sometimes the actors are saying lines that they were written half an hour before.”
Eventually, Almodovar decided to make the film in Spanish. The film opens Dec, 21.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker, whose other movies include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother and Talk to Her, took part in the ongoing interview series The Hollywood Masters, held at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV.
He said Silence is not the only English-language movie he’s contemplated. Others include a spinoff of — or at least a picture inspired by — Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
“I always think about doing something like science fiction, or something in the future, and actually I wrote something where [I’ve taken] a piece of Blade Runner, what they called Replicants, a world of Replicants in the future,” he said. “I still have not entirely [finished] a script. It should be a kind of comedy, but I have to finish, and I don’t know [if I will] because now I know that there is a sequel to Blade Runner. I have ideas about it, and I really would like to do it.”
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY It’s November 1975, a turning point in Spanish history. General Francisco Franco dies, bringing an end to decades of dictatorship.
PEDRO ALMODOVAR Mm-hmm.
GALLOWAY Where were you at that point in your life and how did it impact you?
ALMODOVAR Well, you know, we were waiting for that thing to happen for at least five years. At that moment, I was working in the telephone company as an office assistant. And then I had to get up very early to take buses because it was very far from the center of Madrid. That day it was raining. And at seven in the morning, when I bought the newspaper, then I just saw in the news that Franco has died. It’s impossible to explain the big emotion that you receive in a moment like this. Because I belonged to the part of Spain that was waiting all our lives to change, to be like and have the same rights as a European country. We were like kidnapped by the dictatorship. Even now — I’m making a program of Spanish movies in London now — and there are a lot of masterpieces that unfortunately nobody could see out of Spain. The whole country was kidnapped, and of course the Spanish movies, too. So I was so moved that I went to a telephone just trying to tell the news to someone, because I needed to speak with someone, just before taking the bus. It was raining, but it was the beginning of everything for me.
GALLOWAY Who did you call?
ALMODOVAR I called a friend to tell [him]. I mean, I’m the result of that death, of the change that Spain experienced after Franco died. And none of my movies could have been done before. Actually, at that moment in ’75, I’d made a lot of Super-8 movies in the country. [Before] Franco died, I couldn’t start much before, [although] this is something that I’d wanted to do since I was an adolescent. So I went to the office, just to keep on working. Happy. Silent. Because we were full of joy, but also with a kind of fear. We were living under this government of Franco, so they could [still] do something, because [the rest of his associates] were alive. We had that inner joy, but we were still watching what was the next step.
GALLOWAY What did you imagine your career was going to be? You were in your mid 20s at that point.
ALMODOVAR Yes. Democracy didn’t arrive that day, that rainy day. We had to wait two years more. Naturally, they didn’t want to give the power back to the people in an immediate way. So it was a moment of uncertainty. Because Spaniards were living in another period. We could see on TV the same faces, the same ministers. But in ’77 — I remember everything — there was one day that unconsciously, because it was something spontaneous, we [could] go out to the streets without fear. You know that you’ve lost the fear. It’s very clear — not just for me, it was a majority sensation. There were many millions of people thinking and feeling in the same way. We were under a government that was right center — it doesn’t mean that we were completely to the left. But even with that party, it was something unstoppable. At that moment, the really right [wing] parties felt fear of us, because they didn’t know if there could be a kind of violent explosion in the street. But it was nothing like that, because fortunately the Spanish people were in silence thinking about that moment. We needed freedom in every sense. And that was what we really enjoyed from ’77 on.
GALLOWAY Your early films are really an expression of freedom. They’re very liberated, sexual, anti-authoritarian. Do you still think of yourself as anti-authoritarian?
ALMODOVAR Yes. I mean, I behave another way because I’m almost 40 years older now — no, 41, actually. (Laughter.) You don’t express yourself in the same way. But the ideas are completely the same. I was someone on the left. So I keep on being [that, although] I don’t belong to any party. Because I don’t like this kind of discipline of the parties, and because I’m still anti-authorities. I prefer to be independent. But absolutely on the left.
GALLOWAY You spent 10 or 12 years working as a clerk for that phone company. Was that difficult?
ALMODOVAR Well, I had to get up early, very early in the morning. And not for pleasure. (Laughter.) No, it was tough. Fortunately, I left at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. During the whole afternoon I could write. I could hang around. I could also start shooting my small movies in Super-8 and also having my own life. Because I went to Madrid very, very young. I made myself independent from my family when I was 17, because I couldn’t live in a small [town]. That was the only moment that I had an argument with my father and my mother.
GALLOWAY That was the only moment?
ALMODOVAR Yes, the only moment that we fought.
GALLOWAY I know they didn’t want you to go to Madrid. They wanted you to work in the local bank.
ALMODOVAR Yes. And then I was not agreeing. That was not in my nature. The rest of my life I had a very, very good relationship with them. But I had the feeling that I was living in the 21st century and they were living like in the 19th century. It was a separation of periods.
GALLOWAY You grew up in a tiny village in La Mancha. Then you moved and your parents sent you to a Catholic boarding school. How did that change you?
ALMODOVAR I was 10 years old and very curious about the main problems in life. I didn’t know exactly the meaning of life and why we are here and what’s supposed to be done and if there is any reason beyond life, or before or beyond. The priests, of course, they promoted very intensely the idea of God. And when you are a child, you talk to yourself in those terms and you can talk also with God in that very simple way. But I was not believer.
GALLOWAY You were not, even then?
ALMODOVAR Then I was not. I didn’t feel faith. And then I remember one day when I was 10, I said, “God, if you exist, I really don’t believe in you. I really don’t feel it. I mean, you were not really generous to me.” Because faith is a gift that I didn’t receive. So, as I didn’t receive that, I said, “I ask you to give me any kind of sign. Just try to demonstrate to me that you are a reality, in any way you want.” And I waited for one year. (Laughter.) It’s incredible — when you’re a child, you dare to do that.
ALMODOVAR I’m serious. This is exactly how I behaved and what I did. Then the following year, I decided that officially, I was not a believer. I was telling you [earlier on] that my life is full of paradox: The paradox at that moment was that I became a big star in the school singing masses.
ALMODOVAR Yes. I was a religious singer. And then my intellectual part decided that I was not a believer. I was an atheist. But my more theatrical part thought that singing at these beautiful masses was wonderful. As a ceremony. Since that moment, I’ve believed much more in the rites, in the Catholic rites. And you can believe in that without believing in God. I believed much more in Mozart, that I sang sometimes. And it was an incredible pleasure for me to sing during these religious events without being really a believer.
GALLOWAY Have you changed your views on religion since then?
ALMODOVAR Have I changed?
GALLOWAY Are you still an atheist?
ALMODOVAR Yes. I didn’t change. I didn’t find any kind of God or faith that manifested itself strongly enough. And it’s a pity, because I feel worse than people that believe in religion. Because time is passing, of course, and for me it’s more desperate. Or at least I live in a more desperate way than my sisters, who are Catholic. It’s a big support for some of them. I’m not saying anything new. It’s a big support that I would like to have. But I didn’t receive that gift in any sense in my life. So I make movies.
GALLOWAY Yes, thank God. I actually I wanted to get to this later in the interview, but because you mentioned —
ALMODOVAR No, no. You are the owner of this game, so you can ask me whatever you want.
GALLOWAY Well, I’ll ask it now. I sensed in some of the things you’ve said recently that you have more of a sense of your own mortality.
ALMODOVAR Yes. And day by day more, you know. In the last 16 years, with the new century, I’ve really experienced the existence of time. I was working a lot and completely absorbed with writing, shooting, promoting — and sometimes sex. I didn’t really have a single moment to think about anything else. But when I was 40 or 40-something, it was the first time that I looked back. And as a result, I made two movies where my childhood was very present. One was Bad Education. That talked about these things that we were talking about, faith and all that. And the other one was Volver. Because, even if you didn’t see a child there, [I] was very close to Penelope Cruz and everything she did in the movie, because my life in La Mancha was basically spent on the patios, listening to women living, talking, gossiping — watching it close, everything.
GALLOWAY Why always women and not men?
ALMODOVAR I’m talking about the ’50s, a long time ago. And Spain at that moment was living a very dark, post-war period. And in the ’50s, the kids always lived with their mothers and there was no money for a nanny. So if my mother couldn’t take me with her, she would leave me with the other housewives, the neighbors. As a kid, I went everywhere they did. Even when they went to the river, to do their —
GALLOWAY — laundry —
ALMODOVAR — yes, yes. That was a big party, because those women, they are the origin of the women in my movies, they were so strong and celebrating life in a moment when life in Spain was really very dark and really very tough. And I think they made it possible for the country to survive that awful war, just because of them. And also, men were men. They were outside working. They could only come home in the evening. Men, they were outside. And we didn’t see them. And men represented authority. I remember my father or my grandfather, when they arrived at home in the night, they had a big chair sit down in like a throne. They were working the whole day, but once at home, they were the king of the family. A mother is like every minister, governing the house. The mothers, they govern life. But men were a symbol of authority, and I never identified with that. So everything that I learned was what I heard from them [the women]. Sometimes it was very enjoyable, like singing. But sometimes also they mentioned all the tragedies happening then in the village. The story of Volver is something that I remember from that moment, someone hanging themselves on the second floor.
GALLOWAY Oh wow.
ALMODOVAR Because the people from La Mancha, they were very special people and very dramatic. And also the opposite of sensual.
ALMODOVAR They didn’t allow sensuality in any sense. In food, in life, in nature. I felt I was the opposite of them. So when I went to Madrid, I had very bad memories of my childhood. When I was 40-something, and for the first time I was conscious about time, I looked back. Then I could discover that period was awful, but they [the women] were great, very baroque and full of joy. And Volver is the result of that feeling.
ALMODOVAR And Bad Education was the result of thinking about my life with the priests.
GALLOWAY And yet your early films are almost like an explosion of joy. I’m going to show a clip from the first one that became a global hit. Let’s watch a clip from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
GALLOWAY It’s an extraordinary, magical and anarchic moment when that record is thrown out of the window. At that time, I saw you as the heir to Luis Bunuel. Was he an influence?
ALMODOVAR Yes. I mean, this is really flattering to be compared with Bunuel. We belong to the same family, just because we are Spanish. And I’m a big, big admirer of Bunuel’s work. Bunuel or Hitchcock are always in my mind even without thinking and without trying to take them as references. I’m a big admirer of all the movies from the different periods of Bunuel. But when I was an adolescent, he was less celebrated in Spain than he was in Mexico. [His work there from the 1950s] was one of my favorite periods of his career. I pay him a tribute, but I prefer not to be compared [to him]. He’s God to me. (Laughter.)
GALLOWAY What’s interesting, though, is that Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown had its origins in a play by Jean Cocteau.
GALLOWAY What was the genesis of this story?
ALMODOVAR The genesis is always something very mysterious. I receive an inspiration from outside, something that I hear inside a bus or something that I read in the papers. Something from a novel, a play. Always from outside. And then what is important to me is that idea that pushed me to write. After shooting Law of Desire with Carmen Maura, I wanted to do something with her alone. So I thought about a monologue. And I thought about the human voice of Cocteau. And it was only 25 minutes. So then I thought, well, I have to write at least one hour more. (Laughter.) So I went like 48 hours before the telephone call, the lovers’ telephone call. A woman is nervous, in despair. And there’s a bag full of clothes of someone. So that is how I started the piece.
GALLOWAY You mentioned being inspired by novels and plays. Do you read a lot?
ALMODOVAR Yes, since I was really young. After La Mancha, the whole family went to Extremadura, which is another region. And in Extremadura, I started asking for books, for novels. And in a very disorderly way I started reading and since then I’ve kept on reading all my life. And many times, when I’m reading, I’m thinking, “I really would like to make this into a movie sometime.”
GALLOWAY Do you have a favorite writer?
ALMODOVAR Well it depends on the period. I discovered Proust when I was exactly 18 years old.
GALLOWAY Remembrance of Things Past.
ALMODOVAR Yeah. I mean, it took me a year to read the whole thing. Curiously, I never went back to Proust. And another kind of master, Henry James, is someone I sometimes re-read. I feel very close to making a movie based in one of his novels.
GALLOWAY Which one?
ALMODOVAR I prefer his short stories, because I would never adapt a big novel in terms of its quality, but also because you have to make the choice of a small part. And it would be very unfair and very unfaithful with a [full-length] novel. So the novels of James that I’d rather make are Washington Square, The Turn of the Screw, and The Aspern Papers.
GALLOWAY I would love to see you make those films.
ALMODOVAR One day, I will make one of the three. Because when I read [them] again, I receive the same feeling I did the first time.
GALLOWAY Tell us about your writing process. Do you lock yourself up for weeks? Do you write longhand, with a computer?
ALMODOVAR Generally I’ve written on a typewriter, and felt quite apprehensive toward computers.
GALLOWAY Oh. (Laughs.)
ALMODOVAR And those of us who have written on typewriters since we were very little —I had the fear that if not being able to control the machine, that the text would disappear. And especially at that point when you’re at the beginning the story — where the text itself is still too fragile — if I were to lose it, I would not be able to recuperate it. But I succumbed and started writing on a computer.
GALLOWAY There’s a twist in the story.
ALMODOVAR [Novelist] Paul Auster is a good friend of mine. And at least three years ago, he didn’t use a computer. There are authors in their 40s or 50s who started too late to allow the computer. I write with computer, but what I do is immediately print what I wrote. And I rewrite all the time. And during the rewriting, I make the corrections by hand. And the handwritten corrections, I then pass them onto the computer once again. So, in reality, I sort of use them both equally. I write by hand and I also use the computer.
GALLOWAY Do you write in a brief period or do you stretch it out over a long time?
ALMODOVAR A long time. The stories stay with me over many, many years. I’m always working on four or five stories at different stages of the process. They’re never sort of at an equal stage. I might have one that I’ve only written 10 pages of, and I might have another one that I have 100 pages of. For example, if I have an idea I immediately have to put it in the computer. Then I have to let it sit. And then if the idea keeps bugging me through the day, I come back to it and I keep writing. You could say I take notes about different stories. But then there does come a point where I have 100 pages, which is enough material to maybe do a movie and its sequel. (Laughter.) So at that point I really try to turn it into a script. And in fact in the ’80s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, was the script that I probably wrote the fastest. In the space of three months, it was written and rewritten at least five times — while Bad Education probably started 30 years before.
ALMODOVAR When I was a teenager, I actually wrote a story about a young man who returns to the school where he studied, dressed as a woman, in order to steal from the priests. The story back then already ended with this older man who has returned and bumps into the priest who abused him as a child and only now as an adult can he confront him. And the priest doesn’t have any words and has nothing to say as these two take away all the silver and everything that’s worthwhile from the church. That piece was very campy, very light in mood. I mean, this kind of drag-queen idol like Marlene Dietrich could go to a convent speaking and behaving like that.
ALMODOVAR Twenty years later, I read it again and I didn’t like the style. It was a story of revenge. It was too “queeny.” And then I thought that really could be the seed of a bigger story. Changing the mood, the style. It was a very complex structure in cycles.
ALMODOVAR The story’s still about many different people that pretend to be someone else, and also the movie that they were shooting. So it took me around 20 years to write it. That doesn’t mean that I wrote it day after day. It was over a period of time. When I finished a movie I’d say, “Well let’s try again with Bad Education.” And then I improved it, because I was not satisfied with the material. It is necessary to have a feeling that everything is built. If you don’t have a script that is —
GALLOWAY — ironclad.
ALMODOVAR — ironclad, for me that is not a way to start a movie, even if I change it a lot. Because when you shoot, reality is completely different. All the abstractions that you thought while you were writing — you know, you have the actors — Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, the director of photography, the production designer. Everything is very real and very alive. And your own material in contact with the different members of the crew or actors or makeup artists or just the DP becomes something different. And you have to take advantage of that difference. It’s alive, it’s fresh. But then sometimes it is not exactly what you thought about.
ALMODOVAR And you have to adapt. You have always to adapt when you are shooting. But always from one very solid, ironclad script.
GALLOWAY Tell us how you created one of your great films, All About My Mother, which is extremely layered and complicated.
GALLOWAY Let’s just take a look at a clip from that. It’s also a point in your career where you’d really started to turn towards darker and deeper material. It’s very interesting, because the film is dedicated to Romy Schneider, Bette Davis and Gena Rowlands —
ALMODOVAR Gena Rowlands, yes, you’re right.
GALLOWAY — and I think the John Cassavetes film Opening Night was an influence.
GALLOWAY So, let’s take a look at this scene where we discover Penelope Cruz is HIV-positive.
ALMODOVAR I was so lucky just to find these actresses. I was very, very, very lucky. When I see them — because I don’t see my movies [when they’re done], I’m always impressed by them, and I feel really, really grateful.
GALLOWAY A lot of your films refer to other films. This one refers to, obviously, All About Eve, and also A Streetcar Named Desire. Which one did it begin with it?
ALMODOVAR There is a third one that you mentioned before, Opening Night. Well, at the beginning of everything, if I can go so far, this movie [began with something] I read in El Pais, in the newspaper. In the National Transplant Organization there was a psychologist that actually worked with doctors in order to prepare them for how to deal with the family members, when asking them to donate a person’s organs. And, it was almost like a small, theatrical production where the nurses would play the grieving mother, or the relative, and of course, the doctors just played themselves. And it was very curious because the nurses were fantastic in that little theater play, and the doctors representing themselves, they were very bad. So that was the origin. Then, I thought — always coming to the patios of La Mancha — that my mother, and the neighbors, the female neighbors, had an incredible talent for pretending, for performing something that was not true in front of my father, or their husbands. Like a lie.
GALLOWAY You once said that you were fascinated by how they were always lying to your father.
ALMODOVAR Yes, yes, yes. They lied to them about things that were happening during the day. I mean, lying with that intention not to create problems. Lies relating to us. And they did it very well. You know, I’m a big believer in matriarchal [society], because they really governed the house in the shadows. The men didn’t realize that they were treated like that. So, I wanted to make a movie about someone that can act very well in life — well enough to be on a stage. And then I thought about Opening Night, which was essential at the beginning. So I had this woman who was one of these nurses who worked for the National Transplant Organization, who took her son to go see the play of A Streetcar Named Desire. The inspiration was when Gena Rowlands gets out of the theater and people are there trying to get her autograph. It’s raining, and then one groupie, crazy with a hot head, tries to ask for an autograph, and she goes directly into the car, and immediately there’s an accident, when the groupie died because of the car. This is what I did, more or less. More or less, because I put it on a rainy day. Actually All About Eve is the origin of this title. There’s really three origins that are superimposed, one on the other. So there’s the scene where Anne Baxter goes to see Bette Davis’s character. And also from A Streetcar Named Desire, the scene with the diva who plays Blanche. And I put it all together just to make my own tale. This nurse could act very well, and she in one moment became like Eve Harrington trying to help the actress that is performing Blanche DuBois, but the diva has her own problems. She drinks a lot. She has a lot of problems with a lover and all that. That structure — in English it’s a nightmare for me to explain it.
GALLOWAY No, no, this is great.
ALMODOVAR This is cathartic when you’re writing, but it takes time. I mean, it’s layers by layers. It takes a lot of time to develop.
GALLOWAY Did you ever meet John Cassavetes or Gena Rowlands?
ALMODOVAR No. But one of the times that I came to L.A. I met her daughter, and she came to me, very reverent and I asked her: Did your mother see the movie? Is she pleased or sick of me? And then she invited me to go to see her mother and father the following day, but I couldn’t.
GALLOWAY This was a massive global hit, and it was three years before you made your next film, this masterpiece, Talk to Her.
GALLOWAY Just for the record, we watched a clip from the beginning of Talk to Her when two nurses are preparing what we think might be a dead body, but in fact is a woman in a coma. I just find that extraordinary filmmaking.
ALMODOVAR I was very moved, really strongly, watching this, because Pina Bausch, this was the first and the only time that she danced in front of a camera, and I was lucky to have her. You know, talking about the mysterious way of proceeding when you’re writing, I wrote — and it was not very quick — I wrote the whole script about these two ladies that were in a coma, with these two men. They don’t know each other, and they are watching something that is so moving that one of the men cries, and the other looks at him and discovers that he is crying. I needed something amoving to demonstrate that it was not crazy that someone was crying from emotion, and that took me almost a year until it appeared to me. Then I thought about Caetano Veloso, because I remembered that when I listened to him singing his personal version of “Cucurrucucu Paloma” for the first time, I was crying. So we had him, but I needed two moments of big emotion, and during that period I thought about flamenco singers. They can be as deep as this, but it always happens like at four in the morning when we are drunk with many drugs, in a private party at home with singers, when they do things that they never do on stage. In that mood I saw Café Muller by Pina Bausch. And of course, I cried, and I was so hooked. I was moved because Pina was the biggest genius in dance that I was lucky to meet personally, and become a very good friend of. But also because that choreography represents in an abstract way, the women in a coma. We don’t know exactly what happens in those minds that, according to the scientists, are dead — but they are not. They wake up sometimes, from a long time of coma. These two movies that I did — Talk to Her and All About My Mother — I don’t know, I really miss that moment. You don’t know when you are working, but I think that they are the apogee of [my work as] a filmmaker, 1999 to 2002.
GALLOWAY Oh definitely, yes.
ALMODOVAR It’s a pity that you don’t feel it when you are doing it. And I miss it, and I’m afraid that I’m not going to make anything better than that.
GALLOWAY Well, Julieta is a very interesting film. Here we go.
GALLOWAY This is based on three short stories by Alice Munro, and you were going to film it under the title Silence in English with Meryl Streep. What happened?
ALMODOVAR That’s true. There was a big reason to make it in English, because the original was in English. Then I thought about someone to work with, and someone that I’d really love to work with, and I was in New York, and I asked for a meeting with Meryl Streep, and she knew the stories, and we talked about the character of Juliet, and she was very enthusiastic. I’d met her before then. So we said to each other, very sincerely on my part, that I really would like to work with her one day, and she agreed. It was really something for me, because if you have an instrument like Meryl Streep, even to direct it for me should be different, just to take advantage of having this kind of sublime instrument. Then I went home, and really tried to develop it, to rewrite the first draft. But — this is something that happens to me always — I felt very insecure about my English. I knew that I could explain it to her, and understand her easily. But there was something deeper about the language, because I make a lot of changes during the shooting, and sometime, when I rehearse in front of the camera, a lot of things are completely new, and I adapt to that in terms of dialogue, and things like that. Also, I rewrite at the locations, and rehearse again with the actors. So, sometimes the actors are saying lines that they were written a half an hour before.
ALMODOVAR It’s not like, “Say what you want, and we’ll see.” No. I get the necessity of changing little things. I do it, I communicate to the actors, and then we rehearse again. We’ll rehearse again in front of the camera until the moment that they know how to [do it]. That is very important for me when I’m shooting. And I know that in English, I cannot do it. I need someone, like a twin, translating at the same time. So I felt very insecure. So I kept the script. We called it Silence, because once of the shortest words is silence. There is moment when you say, is it possible or not? I tried to experiment to see if the same story could be done in Spain, which is much smaller, and in our language. And then I included something that I didn’t from the original stories of Munro, and that is a deep sense of guilt. Just thinking about my culture, and my country, even if we are a non-confessional country, the reality is that Spain is a Catholic country, that you can have any kind of credo, but a majority is Catholic. But my character, Julieta, was a secular woman, someone that was young in the 80’s with this explosion of freedom in every sense. And this is the story of Julieta, that she’s feeling guilty in a very human way. And [that guilt] infects her daughter. Then everything —
GALLOWAY — came together?
ALMODOVAR Yes, came together, and I did it in Spanish.
GALLOWAY Did you have to call Meryl Streep and say, “Sorry, Meryl, not this year?”
ALMODOVAR No, you know, I didn’t.
GALLOWAY Oh, shame on you. (Laughs.) Questions, and please, remember to introduce yourselves.
QUESTION So, the question is, to what extent do you allow your actors to take over the role without the need for your direction?
ALMODOVAR What I can tell you is my actresses, or the actors, they never do something for the first time in front of the camera. Theoretically I leave them freedom to digest the character, and to express in their own way, but this is theory. In practice, I give a lot of information, and sometimes I give the tone that I want. The actors are really the first persons to give the message of the movie, but I’m in their skin. I’m like a second skin. I’m like a dictator with the actors. I’m demanding a lot, but it’s mixed.
QUESTION I was wondering how do you create a balance between yourself and the ideas of your production designer?
ALMODOVAR I’m a nightmare for them (Laughter.) because I participate in everything. When I want a color, then I put the color in front of the camera. I personally decide the colors of the walls, the visual part of a movie. What is in the floor and what color and what material — because it is seen a lot onscreen. The walls too, because also they take a lot of room in the frame. And the furniture and the clothes. I use those four elements like a painter. The production designer needs at least 10 different tables in the same style, and also a lot of chairs, and then I decide everything together. I behave really like a frustrated painter by using bodies, furniture and all the surfaces. But I work very much in contact with the production designer.
QUESTION How easy or hard is it to go from drama to comedy and vice versa?
ALMODOVAR I don’t know if it’s difficult. Fortunately, I work with actors that are very good in both styles. For many of them, comedy is a little more difficult than drama, talking about the performances. In comedy there is a kind of rhythm, the rhythm of the way you talk, the tempo, that is very different from drama acting. And, this kind of tempo, you have it or you have not. There is not a way for the director to teach the actors how to be funny with this kind of rhythm. This is something that the actors have unconsciously. So, for example, Shirley MacLaine is a model of how to be very touching, and at the same time very funny, and in the same movie, The Apartment, for example. Carmen Maura has these kinds of qualities. It doesn’t mean that you need to have a sense of humor — of course you need that, but you need a sense of humor to survive. I mean, to watch Donald Trump on TV. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you’ll kill yourself.
QUESTION Would you ever consider doing a period piece, past or future, or just a film without any clear links to present-day contemporary culture?
GALLOWAY You were at one point talking about doing something like Creature from the Black Lagoon.
ALMODOVAR I always think about making a period piece, on one hand, and also doing something like science fiction, or something in the future, and actually I wrote something where [I’ve taken] a piece of Blade Runner, what they called Replicants, a world of Replicants in the future. I still have not entirely [finished] a script. It should be a kind of comedy, but I have to finish, and I don’t know [if I will] because now I know that there is a sequel to Blade Runner. I have ideas about it, and I really would like to do it. Thinking about the future, I would like to make something cheap. I don’t want to be involved in a big-budget movie — and perhaps this is the reason that I didn’t make it before — because I want to be as independent and as free as I am. Always with a big budget, you have many compromises. And like I mentioned at the beginning, I’m thinking about Henry James, one of these small novels. I think my career [will end] when I make a movie in English. But I have to dare to do it.
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San Sebastian International Film Festival
They Cloned Tyrone