Pedro Almodovar has gone from being the enfant terrible of European cinema to being its elder statesman. His recent film I'm So Excited is a return to the wacky and wild comedies of his early years in the Madrid of the late 1980s. Of course since it's Almodovar, there is irresistible melodrama, juicy dialogue and a parade of eccentric characters. We talked to Almodovar about the changes in Spain since he began making films during the artistically rich 'La Movida' period to today's economic crisis and scandals involving the royal family. Through it all one thing remains the same: Almodovar is one of the most talented storytellers working in film today.
People now think of you as the new Douglas Sirk, making very dramatic movies. But I'm So Excited is very much a cuckoo-crazy comedy. Why did you do comedy?
Pedro Almodóvar: I never analyze why I write this and why I don't write other things. It's true that I wanted to go back [to comedy], and this time I wanted to go back to make this crazy kind of comedy. But I was also glad that I was able to access comedy during a moment of crisis, given the way things are in Spain right now. It's also true that this kind of comedy identified me in the eighties.
I was surprised Cecilia Roth's character mentions the King and his many alleged dalliances. She literally says, "this hooker fucked the King." It seems like that never could have happened 20 years ago.
It's true. Now there is a big discussion about that. I read the day before yesterday in a newspaper that the same adviser who told Bill Clinton to ask to be forgiven by Hillary and to admit that he had an affair with Lewinsky, that same person is advising the King to do exactly the same. He has to admit to the country that he had an affair and he has to ask the Queen for forgiveness. This of course is very much a part of Spanish reality at this moment and it's not that I want to cause the King any problems, but it's a story that's in all the tabloids. Even the mainstream press is also covering this story and talking about all the various lovers -- especially one who seems to have received state funds. Many people accuse the King of escaping from the body guards, on a motorcycle with a helmet, to visit some girls, some actresses. Everything is out in the open -- people speak directly about these things. And so some people joke about his private life.
How did this script come about?
This is the genesis of my scripts always: I have an idea and then I start writing little parts, sequences. I start just for fun. But it doesn't mean that it's going to be a script -- sometimes it does, sometimes not. First [came] the situation of the two pilots with the steward talking very openly about their relationship. One discovered that the other one hooked up [with someone], and the other one is married. And I thought that it was very funny, so then I continued with these three characters. My brother and my assistant said "why don't you make a movie with these stories?" They were funny, I mean I had like 20 minutes worth of story and it was very funny. But you have to build a story. You have to build real characters and that was the more difficult part for me. I could keep on writing funny things, but for a movie that's an hour and a half, you need something else. You need a story, it has to relate. And that took me four years. The problem was the passengers and creating a relation between them and also some secret that can be funny, entertaining but also, a little bit deeper than just making jokes. So that's how it took me like the last five years. I'm also always writing, so I have more than one script on my desk. So let's say that I always have like three, and they are [all] developing little by little. There's always one that takes precedence, [and] that's the one that I'm going to make a movie of, but I'm always working on all the other ones too.
When you first started making movies in Spain after Franco in the '80s, Spain was very conservative. And now it's sort of a leader of gay rights. Has there been a big change in how the "gayness" of your films, or just how "gayness" in general, is accepted?
It really depends. The country varies from region to region. The North tends to not be quite as accepting, whereas the South is. Even in the times of Franco, you really had a kind of gay life in the South. Now there is more global acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. And it's sort of interesting how lesbians are a lot less visible than men and they encounter a lot more problems [when making] their lesbianism public. I think that it's kind of a residue from the macho culture. And the only problem that I can now see is that ever since the right wing party has taken over, the Church has gained in power. And as the Church gains in power, it speaks against and says horrible things about homosexuality. But it's true, like you say, that there is a big acceptance of gays in Spanish society.
So you've worked on this film with some of your classic actors, like Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas, and Javier Cámara. Tell me a little bit about your casting. Did you write the part of the madam for Cecilia Roth, or...?
I didn't know exactly the actress [I wanted to cast] because I wanted someone a little older than Cecilia that really belongs to my generation. Someone very funny. In the late seventies, they started making films that we call el destape, the striptease. The actors were naked in every movie. I suppose that Cecilia belongs to that. There were actress like that in the seventies, but not now. So I needed a real actress to say that monologue. The only character that I had in mind was Javier Cámara for Ricardo, the steward. Because he's like the master of ceremonies. And also, Lola Dueñas because she's weird. I thought she was the only one for that part. She has simplicity and is natural.
For the rest, I was holding a lot of auditions because when you make a comedy you not only need good actors, you need lots of people that have the rhythm, the tempo of the comedy -- it's very important. When you see The Women or Philadelphia Story, you see that they talk so quick that they -- a human being doesn't have the time to understand what the other is saying. With comedies like that it's 'you talk, I talk.' So that rhythm is something that you cannot teach to the actors. They have it or they don't.
Like Carmen Cervera or Ira von Fürstenberg.
Exactly! You remember. Ira von Fürstenberg made movies in Spain.
Terrible movies but very beautiful.
Very funny, very kitsch. She made movies that even now are very fun. Ira von Fürstenberg made two or three -- actually she made one of the very big gay films with a gay doctor where the actor is not actually gay -- called No desearás al vecino del quinto (The Neighbor on the Fifth Floor). And it was awful because it was really very machista. He pretended to be gay so he could get more beautiful women. And she was in that movie and it was a big hit in Spain.
Someone who I particularly loved was the very flamboyant flight attendant, Carlos Areces. Is he in any other movies? Is he famous?
He belongs to this group of comedians that are on TV, but it's very underground. As time has gone by -- and it's been about ten years -- they get more and more attention. He's quite well-known in Madrid and he also DJs. And so when I say underground, it's really more for the rest of Spain. Madrid is a lot more like New York in that sense. He is very peculiar. And that's why I put him in the movie: that peculiarity that he has, not really physically, but the way of acting that he is very strange.
Tell me about Hugo Silva, the co-pilot who gives the blowjob to the captain.
Yeah, yeah, he's a very famous actor, in TV, theater, and movies. And this was completely new for him because he just built the character -- he's not gay. So it was funny to convert him into someone flamboyant. I almost had to invent my own kind of school for him on how to teach him to be queeny. But a very specific one, one that would fit him and his style.
Paz Vega was interesting to me. She's a movie star in Spain, right?
She should be really like the new Penelope [Cruz] but she's not -- but you can still find her in all the red carpets that you can imagine. But she's a very good actress, I think she deserves better movies than what she was doing. But I asked people like Paz Vega, Penelope and Antonio [Banderas] because they are friends of mine, to be in these small roles. I needed all these good actors even for those very small roles.
I was in Ibiza last weekend and in my flight from Ibiza to Madrid there was a very handsome man with white hair. And then I looked at him again and it was Miguel Molina from Law of Desire. He was the most handsome ever.
That family is so beautiful. Also the sister, she has a lot of wrinkles but [she's] beautiful. That family, I mean what are they, all of them, they are all very beautiful. Miguel now is fifty-something and it's a pity because he should be better. But at that moment, when I took him for Law of Desire, it was when he was blossoming.
He was heaven.
Photo: Will Ragozzino/BFAnyc.com