Paz Vega Makes Peace With Shanghai

The Shanghai International Film Festival's only foreign female juror talks about China's 'concrete jungle.'

SHANGHAI – Spanish actress Paz Vega arrived in China this week feeling lost as one of two women and the only foreign talent to take a seat on the competition jury at the 14thShanghai International Film Festival. 

Vega, the new face of L’Oreal and a co-star in the 2004 James L. Brooks film Spanglish opposite Adam Sandler, wondered aloud how she’d make heads or tails of China’s biggest city and its most established film festival.

“It’s a concrete jungle here! In New York you can move around the island in a few hours, but here, I ask ‘Where am I?’” Vega told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview.

A jurist at the Festival International du Film de Marrakech in 2006, Vega says the experience judging 16 films from around the world in Shanghai this week is, in essence, the same – talking with fellow jurists such as Hollywood director Barry Levinson and Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu and rediscovering that “people always see things completely differently.”

“It’s about taste, of course, but the challenge here is that some jurists don’t speak much English, so I’m not sure if the information is lost in translation,” Vega said just before running off to the latest film in a three-screenings-a-day schedule.

Zhang, incidentally, speaks excellent English, said Vega, in her own halting version of the tongue: “She’s so funny. She sometimes sounds like an Englishwoman.”

“We never get bored. The movies are from all around the world. It’s interesting to see these lives from places I may never go unfold on screen.”

Growing up in Seville, in southern Spain, which she left 15 years ago, Vega learned about China in textbooks, about the spice trade and China’s hand in inventing fireworks and paper. Few Chinese films ever screened in the Spain of her youth and all of them were dubbed, a practice that persists today. She saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, but not much else.

Now based in Los Angeles with her husband and three children, Vega will start work in August on The Jesuit from Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader but says she’ll always leave the door open to working in Europe and, perhaps, now Asia, too, where she can see a movie boom is on.

“I would love to work in China -- it’s one of the reasons I’m here -- if I can find the right character or plot. It has to be organic,” she said, noting with excitement and consternation: “I’m sure the movie industry is going up but I would love to see more Chinese films about contemporary Chinese about the problems of life on the street.”

“Asian people have a unique way about them and a different sense of beauty. It’s exotic to me. I like they way Asians project their feelings. There’s a hardness to the culture, but at the same time there’s a delicateness.”

After working with Schrader, Vega will start work in October on the debut film by L.A.-based Peruvian director Claudia Sparrow, a mother-daughter drama called When You Close Your Eyes.