In 2006 while at the Cannes Film Festival I attended a press lunch for Volver (Pedro Almodovar); Almodovar and his lead actress Penelope Cruz would be answering questions from the press seated at a lunch table festooned with plates of seafood and prosciutto. I was running late. The lobby of the Carlton Hotel was swarming with well-heeled clients laden with shopping bags from Hermes and Tourneau.
I was surveying the room when my gaze caught Penelope Cruz standing near a table, talking with someone; did I say my knees got weak? Oh yes, they got weak. I slowly turned around, pretending I was at the wrong address when I noticed Pedro Almodovar sitting near the buffet. He looked downtrodden, strangely enough (after all, here we were on a sunny day at the Cannes Film Festival). I started feeling better. Was Almodovar annoyed by the prospect of being interviewed by reporters? Rough partying, last night? He limped over to the press table, aided by a young woman whispering to him in Spanish. I took a deep breath and made my way towards them; Almodovar’s forlorn face had a calming effect on me; plus, I wanted to find out what had happened to him (I never quite did, and his mood improved significantly during our conversation anyway).
I found a seat next to the editor from indiewire and a thin but sweaty Roger Ebert. Penelope Cruz, a terrifically talented actor and one of the world’s most beautiful women, would be joining us shortly. I was surprised by how minutely she answered our questions, taking time to emphasize key points. She explained how grateful she was for the opportunity to work in Hollywood; her roots are in Spain, she reminded us, and she’ll continue working in Europe. Her humility did not seem false, I might add. Almodovar joined us shortly thereafter with his translator. The words “consummate professional” come to mind when trying to describe Pedro Almodovar. He managed to convey the finer points of his trade in detail, his verbose replies dragging beyond what we had hoped for.
Almodovar told us he came from a region in Spain called La Mancha, a difficult terrain to navigate, especially for Almodovar is gay. But even though he professed never wanting to go back to La Mancha to live, he saws Volver as a reconciliation with his barren homeland (Volver is set in La Mancha). I found Almodovar and Cruz disarming, their humility and professionalism their most memorable in-person features.