Maria Elena and Juan Antonio

When Penelope was a little girl growing up in Madrid she made it a habit to go to bed every night and dream her destiny into existence. Her family struggled to make ends meet, her mother worked morning until night as a hairdresser and her father toiling as a car mechanic at a local garage. Yet her mother was a huge lover of the arts, and always encouraged Penelope to listen to opera and worked extra hours to pay for her daughter’s ballet classes. My dreams felt almost too big… about being an artist… an actress or a dancer – I was dancing since I was four. It was my every night ritual, going to bed and dreaming about my future, and I feel that’s how I created what I’m doing now. 

I dreamed about how I would feel doing these things. And that is how I feel about my life. I feel truly free – waking up every day and doing a job that I love. It was never about being famous. I just wanted my life to be about hard work and feeling creative every day. Though she enjoyed highly public romances with stars such as Tom Cruise while she was pursuing a career in L.A. in the 90s, and then a romance with Matthew McConaughey, Cruz admits that she tended to give far greater priority to her acting career as opposed to her personal life. She would do as many as four fi lms a year, until she reached the point where she knew that she had to reorder her priorities and fi nd something other than acting to fulfi l her and her life.

The turning point came when Woody Allen cast her and fellow Spaniard Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. They fell in love while making that movie and their romance came at a moment when she was suff ering from deep existential despair. She felt that she had been neglecting her life and using her work as a form of subconscious escape rather than merely as a means of artistic expression. Somewhere along the way, Cruz had allowed her natural born obsession for work to suff ocate her very being. Javier and I had stayed in touch but we never really ran across each other except very rarely at awards ceremonies or fi lm events… I’ve always admired him as one of the greatest actors. 

When Cruz and Bardem fell in love on the set of Vicky Cristina Barcelona in the summer of 2007 it was a well-kept secret to everyone involved on that fi lm. They would often disappear together after a day’s shooting and take extreme precautions to prevent the notoriously invasive Spanish tabloid press from photographing them together or otherwise uncovering their then budding relationship. But the torment experienced by their characters Maria Elena and Juan Antonio was off set by the tremendous passion they shared for each other off the set. It was exactly the kind of man she had been waiting for whose own passion was a match for hers.

Being passionate about everything can sometimes be exhausting, Cruz, who is 41, admits. I’ve been addicted to work for most of my life and suddenly I discovered that I needed to take more time for myself, my friends, and my own needs. I didn’t want to neglect my life anymore I see so much beauty in everyday things and more and more I want to be part of that world and take the time to appreciate it. I needed to take some distance and dedicate myself to having a life away from making fi lms. With Bardem, she found the ideal partner and their union produced a baby boy, Leo, and daughter Luna and motherhood has irrevocably changed her way of thinking. From the fi rst second, you feel so much love. It is a revolutionary experience. That’s the best way I can describe it ¦. having a baby transforms you completely. Nature is very wise and gives you nine months to prepare, but in that moment, when you see that face, you are transformed forever. 

With the birth of her children and her life with Bardem, Cruz accepts that her life is very diff erent now and she is no longer obsessed by the urgent need to perform and prove herself. Still, she fi nds herself needing to plan her days more carefully now. Following the birth of her child, Cruz says that you need to organise your days so that you can also have time to work uninterrupted and also give yourself some time for yourself. But in the last few years I had already started to live at a much more relaxed pace. 

Shooting my fi lm with Sergio Castellito (Venuto al mondo) in Rome was hard work. We spent three months on the set but I was careful to make sure that I worked fi xed hours (so that she would have time to put her young boy to sleep at night). I don’t want to spend my life living on a film set anymore ¦ I’m trying to appreciate the balance between the time for work and the time for yourself and your family. You have to live. That’s why I feel that being able to take more time in between fi lms is enabling me to feel freer and more at peace. This month Penelope can be seen on the big screen in the much anticipated return of Zoolander 2, alongside Ben Stiller starring as Melanie Valentina an Interpol agent with a love of motorcyles. The star is winning rave reviews for her glamorous appearance alongside the comedian.

I’ve always had this intensity I could never take a siesta when I was growing up in Spain and it’s hard for me not to be involved in some project. I’ve always had too much energy that I need to burn off somehow. I’m trying to fi ght my nature! I’ve learned to relax and be more comfortable not needing to do anything right now or right this moment. It’s a good feeling. It does not take a quantum leap of faith to appreciate that Penelope Cruz is one of the world’s greatest actresses. Despite some stumbles during her Hollywood years, the raven-haired Spanish beauty has delivered consistently brilliant performances over the past including All About My Mother (2000) directed by Pedro Almodovar, Don’t Move (2004), Volver (2006), again with Almodovar, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

There are no fl aws to be found anywhere in her portrayals here. Her work resonates at the highest level and occupies so many registers that she can transform herself seemingly at will. Penelope is an alchemist as an actress: a chameleon who can change colour, appearance, and her very body chemistry with each role. In person, she is an ebullient force of nature who revels in her insecurities, contradictions, and fears. Despite her palpable genius at reinventing herself from one fi lm to the next, Cruz is in a constant state of turmoil. She holds herself to impossibly high standards and strives for a level of perfection that is necessarily an illusory notion in a profession where everything is open to highly subjective examination. Every time I am making a movie I feel insecure, and I feel scared, and that’s part of the way I work, explains Cruz. It’s my nature to be fi lled with self-doubt. I have always been very hard on myself and I am constantly trying to be better and not being satisfi ed with where I am at any particular point in my life. I have spent a long time trying to overcome this so that I can take happiness in the moment and not worry so much. Lately I am really trying to be more open and relaxed not just with myself but in terms of how I interact with my friends. 

Not surprisingly for an actress whose emotional register knows no bounds, Cruz likens herself to a trapeze artist who needs to experience a certain amount of tension before making the leap. It’s part of the kick that comes with throwing herself into characters and certainly explains how she is able to deliver startlingly, aff ecting and convincing performances, especially in her films.

Explains Cruz: Actors are always living that kind of tension. We are performers and we need attention and we want to show what we can do. That is the nature of the profession ¦.Perhaps I should be more secure and less nervous before each fi lm, but it’s a psychological thing with me. It takes me time before I get settled in and feel comfortable with the environment on the set and not worry about anything except my work with the director and the other actors. I’ve learnt in recent years to be less of an emotional wreck while preparing for a role or during the shooting process when there are diffi cult scenes to play. But some roles are very scary and that’s why acting is risky because you have to be willing to throw yourself into diffi cult situations emotionally. 

Away from the big screen and her life with Javier Bardem and her family, Penelope is also enjoying her work as a campaign spokesmodel for Tr sor, the hugely popular Lancome perfume. Tr sor was my fi rst perfume that I started using. My mother gave it to me as a gift when I was young because I was a great admirer of Isabella Rosselini who did the campaign with Peter Lindbergh. It’s ironic that I am now doing promotional work for a perfume that brings back so many memories for me. I will always have a special relationship with Lancome. Her memories of that fi rst bottle of perfume that her mother gave her are intimately connected to her life growing up in a small, downtrodden apartment in a working-class suburb of Madrid. The Cruz family (Penelope has a brother and lookalike sister, Monica) loved fi lms and music, and to this day Penelope listens to music to inspire her.

In my house there was always opera playing as we cleaned the house on Sunday. We were all a little bit hippy. I remember cleaning the house listening to Bizet or Prokofi ev. It was full of life. We were all artists in a very Bohemian way. We would be cleaning the house on Sundays while listening to opera. We would listen to Bizet or Prokofi ev and then watch Italian movies at night. Even though we didn’t have much money, we were one of the fi rst families in our neighborhood to have a video machine, and so we rented lots of movies and I grew up watching a lot of great Italian movies from directors like Fellini and Rosselini.

As a child, though Penelope loved watching old classic fi lms, she had no ambition to be an actress. She wanted to be a dancer, and studied classical ballet for over 10 years. She still has a passion for it, and believes that the discipline she learned from her intense training as a dancer made her a far better actress than she would have been otherwise. If I hadn’t had the discipline of all those years in the dance world, it would have been much, much tougher, she explains Cruz was determined to become a ballerina up until the age of 14. That was the year she saw a movie called Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down by the then-controversial Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

I’ve never felt so inspired and (I knew) this is what I want to do, she says. And that week, I looked for an agent. And I did an audition, and she sent me home and she said, You are too young. Come back next year.’ But I came back the week after. And she sent me away again. And then I came back the week after. That’s evidence of my chronic stubbornness. Being stubborn is something that has been my best friend and my worst enemy at times. Whenever people that really know me really well they tell me that I’m stubborn, I always fi ght them and say, That’s not true. That’s a myth.’ But of course I really am. 

In conversation, Cruz displays a tantalizing combination of star aura and girlish enthusiasm as she leaps in conversation from one topic to another. She has no trouble expressing her deep love and admiration for her mother, Encana, however. Cruz credits her mother as being the driving infl uence behind her work ethic and sense of responsibility as a mother. She was a working mother and that’s the kind of mother I see myself as being. I always admired my mother’s ability to work six days a week (as a hairstylist – ED) and still make breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. She was always tireless and selfl ess when it came to her children and she had no help and still she never complained. She felt it was her responsibility. I want to be the same way. I’ve loved playing a mother on the screen, and now I feel I have plenty of time to be a good mother in real life. I’ve always had a tendency to become a mother of everyone around me.

My family, my brother, my sister, they’re always complaining that I’m too protective and I’ve always been like that. I believe in family, in love, in children. But even with a family, I could never see myself putting my career completely on hold. It would not be fair to me, my husband, or my children. That’s how much I love acting. I need that to be happy and I feel I can manage both family and work I want to be a working mother like my own mother. I want my own family to have the kind of love that my father and mother brought to our house when my sister and brother and I were growing up. My parents taught us to care for and appreciate each other. That is why I believe having a close family is very important; it gives you this sense of belonging and love that can last your entire life. I want that for my family now. 

How’s your mum? asked an old friend, innocently; standard small talk when you bump into someone at the supermarket whom you haven’t seen in a decade.  She’s well, I lied, Keeping busy ¦ Â  The truth is socially unacceptable: I have absolutely no idea. We haven’t spoken in a year. Do you mind not mentioning her name? I might start crying right here in the cereal aisle. Â  My relationship with my mum can at best, be called patchy , and at worst, totally estranged.  We can go a year without a phone call, even longer without seeing each other. Our text message history comprises a series of hollow excuses, sent months apart, as to why we haven’t been in touch.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up, I took it for granted that – unless tragedy struck – Mum would be a constant in my life. Yet I’m not the only adult child who has a severed relationship with the woman who gave birth to them.  New research from Cambridge University and Stand Alone, a charity that off ers support to adults who are estranged from their family, explored the common triggers and long-term side eff ects of such relationship breakdowns among 800 adults, aged 18 to 60. The report, Hidden Voices; Estrangement in Adulthood, discovered most are predicated by emotional abuse, mismatched expectations about family roles or clashing personalities .  Interestingly, most occur when the son or daughter is between the ages of 24 and 35 – I’m 33 years-old.

It is often thought the most turbulent years of mother-daughter relationships are the terrible teens, and that from that point on, things can only get better. But I actually got on quite well with my mum when I was an adolescent, despite the odd disagreement about boys and make-up. Our relationship didn’t sour until I moved out of the family home, aged 20. There was no one incident which tore us apart. We never had a real argument, which is worse in a sense. Instead, we drifted slowly apart like a couple who realise they have nothing in common; who still love each other but don’t really like each other anymore.

At fi rst, I’d visit once a month and call every Friday, but I frequently walked away from our interactions feeling drained, tired and despondent. Had Mum always been so negative? Had I always been so reactive?  We began to bicker in a way we never had before; fi rst over small disagreements, such as whether I should cut my hair into a pixie bob, but then about life-shaping decisions. When I ignored her advice and decided to end a relationship with a boyfriend she wanted to become my husband, she refused to answer the phone to me for six weeks. It seemed our dynamic had only worked while I was dependent on her – now I was an equal, we were locked in a power struggle. If we were friends, I’d say we had outgrown our relationship and drawn a line under it; but you can’t give up on your fl esh and blood.

It didn’t help that Mum was entering the menopause. I think that’s the problem with many mothers and daughters  one of you outgrows teen angst, just as the other starts to battle their own hormones. I tried to be supportive by emailing links to articles about hot fl ush remedies, but she’d either ignore them or tell me I had no idea what she was going through.   Gradually, the stretches between our interactions became longer fi rst weeks, then months – as we both made excuses. One night, after texting me to say she was too busy to call, she accidentally sat on her phone and dialled my number. I listened to her watch an entire episode of Come Dine With Me with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I decided to not phone again until she called me. In hindsight, it was a childish move, but I waited and waited, and waited.  It was 18 months before we were forced to reunite for my older brother’s wedding. In the same room, surrounded by family and friends, we acted as if nothing had happened; laughing and joking like a happy family. But immediately afterwards, the silence started again.  I should point out my parents are still married, and my dad and I have a very close relationship. It hurts, sometimes, that he doesn’t step in to fi x things with Mum, but I’ve never asked him to and he isn’t the type to interfere.

Instead, we’ve adapted our own relationship to work around it; I only call when he’s at work and meet up on his lunch break. We never talk about my Mummy issues . Every now and again, something triggers a moment of grief. It breaks my heart to think that if I ever have children they may not know their grandmother. When I see mothers and daughters shopping or chatting together, I feel a deep, aching longing for something I’m missing. But I don’t let myself dwell on it, I don’t know where that sadness will spiral. When I met my boyfriend, four years ago, I explained that Mum and I have a cyclic relationship . At the time we were, luckily, in a good patch so she got to meet him and we had the most wonderful family dinner, which I’m grateful for.  Despite everything that’s gone on between us, I know Mum loves me, even if she doesn’t like me. For the past few years, I’ve kidded myself that our estrangement works in my favour, making me a stronger, more independent woman.

Maria Elena and Juan Antonio

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maria_elena_and_juan_antonio.jpegJuan Antonio in a psycho fit with Maria Elena (Penelope) as always.

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