Pedro Almodovar on 'The Skin I Live In' -- and What It's Like to Live in His Skin (Video)

Last week, I had the great privilege of spending about a half-hour in New York with the iconic Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodovar, who has been one of the most internationally famous non-American filmmakers in the world for the past quarter-century.

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The 62-year-old two-time Oscar winner -- once for best foreign language film (All About My Mother [1999]) and once for best original screenplay (Talk to Her [2002]) -- was in town to promote his latest film, The Skin I Live In, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, played at the Toronto Film Festival last month, is playing at the New York Film Festival this week, and will go into limited release on Friday.

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The melodrama -- which reunites Almodovar with his Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) star Antonio Banderas for the first time in 21 years, and unfolds like a Douglas Sirk remake of Frankenstein (1931) probably would have -- is different, interesting, and tremendously entertaining. That's a description that fits its filmmaker like a glove, as well, as you can see for yourself by checking out the video of our conversation at the top of this post.

Some highlights of our conversation...

On the subjects of his early Super 8mm films  "[Transvestites, drugs, and other] "things that I couldn't make a movie [about] under Franco's regime -- it was too outrageous for that."

On Franco's death and the creative explosion ("La Movida") that followed  "We were living in Spain under the dictatorship for 40 years," but during the last five years, when Franco was very sick, "not living in a democracy, but thinking about that... and when Franco died, democracy arrived to Spain immediately... A big change like that is incredible, without blood, without violence... it was like a rebirth... I was so lucky to be young at that moment."

On why he pursued filmmaking instead of something else  "I don't know if I have a kind of talent, but if I have a piece of talent it is just to tell stories with images -- this is something that I discovered quite young... I wanted to make movies... my first vocation was basically to write, and I did... but I didn't have -- and I don't have now -- enough talent to become a novelist... [but I found that] I have talent enough to write my own stories and tell them through images."

On his long road to success  "It's not like a Hollywood story where everything happens immediately... [He worked for 12 years, from 1971-1982, as an office assistant at Telefonica, a Spanish telephone company, making little movies in the evenings, over weekends, during holidays breaks, etc. He also took five unpaid leaves of absence to work on films, but would then have to go back to his day job.] I had multiple lives."

On his mother  "My mother loved [the fact that I had a job at] the telephone company because she thought that it was really much more secure work, and even in '87, when I made Women on the Verge of the Nervous Breakdown and it was an incredible international hit... even after that, my mother said, 'Oh, Pedro, I really would like you to go back to the telephone company!'"

On the impact of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)  Women, which came out of something that was "very painful," turned out to be cathartic -- "It's a good therapy just to joke about something that was painful for you" -- and also "gave me the security [of knowing] that 'I can survive with this profession that I love,' so that was very important. Success was that... I knew what I wanted... to keep on making movies in Spain with discreet budgets." Hollywood soon came calling, but he "refused projects with a lot of money, big stars, and so on." Some offers were very tempting because "the projects were very close to my interests," but he's glad that he stuck to his guns because it meant that he "could keep making the movies in my own way."

On his directing style  ""I love them [actors], really, when I'm working with them -- almost physically. It is completely a very passionate relationship with all of them -- Antonio or Penelope [Cruz], Carmen [Maura] or the other actors, or Elena Anaya, in this case. Very passionate... I'm very demanding... I can become a nightmare... I am like a monster, demanding so many things of them... but I have to say that the actors feel very comfortable with that. I mean, the more you demand, the more you watch them, then they can be more courageous and they risk more... I almost prepare the movie with them like a theater play. We rehearse everything -- I mean, the whole script -- and -- something very important -- once I make the choice of the actors, and we rehearse during at least two months, then I adapt the character to them so it's like a suit. I mean, it's like -- a skin!"

On the atypical number of strong female characters that populate his films  "I write more female characters than male characters... in Spain, we have many more wonderful actresses than actors... the male figure is less expressive... [that being said,] I cannot imagine any male actor better than Antonio to express passion and desire."

On the recurring presence of transsexuals and transvestites in his films  "Since I was very young, I knew many transsexual and transvestite persons... they really were like heroines or heroes to me... I wanted to be clear, since the beginning, that it was not a Luddite thing, a frivolous thing... in a plot, if you put a transsexual in the middle, everything changes... so, in that sense, I like it."

On courting controversy  "I knew that Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was not a pornographic film, so, for that reason, we sued them [them being the MPAA, we being Miramax, on behalf of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Peter Greenway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover (1989), around the same time that other studios sued on behalf of John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and Philip Kaufman's Henry & June (1990)]... I think it was successful [because it led Jack Valenti to eliminate the X-rating and create the NC-17 rating], which "doesn't have the stigma of being 'pornographic.' I don't have anything against pornographic movies -- only that I'm not making that genre."

On winning his first Oscar, for All About My Mother  "Of course, I was very happy... you represent your country, and that's a heavy burden, so I was incredibly happy, but because the Spanish people were waiting for that award... it was an incredible national joy."