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Penelope Cruz: Montecito Award, 37TH SBIFF

12 March 2022
  • Written by
    Darren Smoot
  • Photographed by
    Steve Kennedy
Penelope Cruz

It was International Women’s Day, a more than fitting night to celebrate one of the greatest actresses in modern cinema, Penelope Cruz. At the Arlington Theater on Tuesday night, Ms. Cruz was honored with the Montecito Award, for her role in Pedro Almodóvar’s critically acclaimed film, Parallel Mothers.

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In the role, Cruz plays a middle aged photographer named Janis, who is pregnant with her first child. While at a maternity ward in Madrid, Janis forms a bond with another expectant mother named Ana. The women are both single, their pregnancies are both accidental and unplanned, but while Janis is happy about the circumstance, Ana is not. The movie follows the two women as a bond grows between them. Cruz’s performance in Parallel Mothers, has garnered rave reviews from critics, and has garnered her fourth Academy Award nomination, for which she is nominated for Best Actress.

This was Cruz’s second appearance at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the evening’s host and SBIFF executive director Roger Durling could barely contain his excitement and adoration for Cruz. “Penelope is glamorous, a little bit vulgar,” Durling exclaimed with a smile, “and one of our true flesh and blood screen goddesses! Viva la Penelope!”

Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Cruz radiated beauty and glamour in a striking, scarlet red dress. Despite all the acclaim, Cruz was humble in the presence of Durling’s and the audience’s effusiveness. “I feel very grateful that I can make a living doing this,” said Cruz, “but I always torture myself as an actor. As actors, we are always starting from zero. You’re never in a position of control and yet striving for it. I’m a control freak!”

The majority of the night’s conversation focused on Cruz’s work with Spanish director Almodóvar, with whom Cruz has made seven movies. Cruz explained that Almodóvar’s films were critical not only to her success and development as an actress, but also helped inspire her to become an actor. “After seeing his film, I told my parents I wanted to act professionally and go into acting, and they were surprisingly supportive, but they said I needed to have a backup,” explained Cruz, “so my plan B was to be a dancer, and I studied ballet for years.” As a teenager growing up in Madrid, Cruz detailed her attempts to put herself in to close proximity to Almodóvar by finding out what types of bars and restaurants he frequented, even going so far as to visit locations around Madrid where he was shooting his movies. “So you were stalking Almodóvar?!” Durling asked teasingly. “I was around the sets, I never bothered him or caused any trouble!” Cruz responded causing the audience to laugh uproariously.

The persistence paid off, and Almodóvar eventually gave Cruz the opportunity to audition for one of his films when she was only 16 years old. But they both agreed that she was too young to play the role, “he told me he was going to write a part specifically for me in one of his movies.” That led to Cruz’s film debut in 1992’s Jamon, Jamon, which also saw her act alongside her future husband Javier Bardem, who was present in the Arlington audience and is also a SBIFF honoree this year, and Academy Award best actor nominee, for his work in Being the Ricardos.

Durling highlighted a recurring theme in Cruz’s collaborations with Almodóvar, in which she plays the roles of women who are forced to bend the truth or outright lie due to complex circumstances, a motif that Cruz agreed with. “I am not a good liar in life,” Cruz explained, “so when I have permission to do that on film, I enjoy it immensely!”

Cruz described the part of Janis in Parallel Mothers as her most demanding and complex role to date, and that she worked in preparation with an acting coach for four months prior to filming. The hard work has obviously paid off as Cruz is now considered a front runner for the Best Actress Oscar. If she were to win, it would be her second Oscar after winning for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. That movie also has tremendous importance for Cruz as she was reunited on set with Bardem, whom she married in 2010. With Bardem’s nomination for Best Actor, will he and Cruz be the first married couple to win Academy Awards in the same year? Only time will tell.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street