Most folks will recognise gifted Spanish actress Elena Anaya from her starring turn in Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In, where she appeared as the mysteriously alluring prisoner to Antonio Banderas’ obsessive plastic surgeon. But how many keen-eyed types spotted her teensy cameo in the lauded director’s Talk to Her almost a decade earlier?
Anaya will be a guest of this year’s Spanish Film Festival, which features her latest role as an agoraphobic former ‘80s pop star coming to terms with the death of her brother in Beatriz Sanchis’ kooky feature debut, They Are All Dead. We took 20 minutes to chat about the new film and some of her career highlights. Van Helsing did not come up.
We thought They Are All Dead (2014) was a charmer, dealing with death in an off-the-wall and ultimately hopeful fashion. What drew you to it?
Elana Anaya: When I read the first draft, I completely fell in love, which is magic. It’s honest, it’s beautiful, it’s an ode to life. This is a movie that talks about love and the ghosts of the past. It’s made with so much care and felt very fresh and wild. I love all of the characters, but especially Lupe, who I had the fortune to play. She brought me to life. She kicked my arse. After playing her, I felt more alive and more able to deal with death. I am turning 40 this year. Wait til you see me, I have wrinkles all over my face now. I’m growing up with the characters I’m playing, but this special one Lupe gives me a different point of view.
What was it like working with first-time feature director Beatriz Sanchis?
EA: I’ve seen all Xavier Dolan’s movies and they are absolutely amazing, and I know I shouldn’t say this, because I’m an actor in her movies, but I think Beatriz is absolutely someone to follow too. She’s a workaholic who loves what she does. During rehearsals, we spent a month in the house where we shot, while the art department were building the set around us, wearing our costumes. She knew what she wanted and she was very demanding, and it was absolutely a luxury to work with her. As actors, we go through panic attacks and crises, but she was there being the chief, taking care of everyone, bringing this story alive. Cinema is absolutely her passion and she’s very talented, so I think she has all the tools to make us very happy with her art.
Let’s jump from a brand new director to arguably Spain’s finest, Pedro Almodóvar. Tell me about getting the call for Talk to Her (2002).
EA: When Pedro called me, he was very embarrassed, because the part was so, so tiny. I told him, “Pedro, you can call me to play a broom and I’ll be so happy.”
Almodóvar picked up the phone again for The Skin I Live In (2011) to play the world’s most glamorous guinea pig, Vera Cruz. Better than a broom?
EA: That was one of the biggest things to happen in my life, not only as a professional actress, but also as a human being. It made my family very happy. I had, in front of myself, one of the best directors ever, one of the most intelligent, funny human beings on earth, a living legend. He taught me so many things and shared with me all his passion and love. It’s a big prize, the best award an actor can win, to have someone like him holding your hand.
What is it about Almodóvar’s movies that have such universal appeal?
EA: He knows human beings so well. It’s true most film directors are male, most stories are told by men. They kind of forget what’s behind the beautiful face of a woman sometimes. Sometimes women are more powerful, strange, strong and dangerous. We could turn the world upside down in half a second. Pedro is one of the most amazing people.
We suspect Banderas would be fun on set?
EA: Antonio is one of the funniest people ever, but very professional and tough with himself and his work. He was on a diet for this movie and ate about half a salad every day. But when he plays, he’s a boy. He loves to make fun and makes the most of every moment of life. He’s very generous, tender and one of the best partners I’ve ever worked with. He’s marvellous, what can I say?
Sex and Lucia (2001) was your first collaboration with Julio Medem, and it’s quite racy. Was that confronting?
EA: Honestly, this was not easy to play 15 years ago. When Julio sent me the script, I was sitting at my desk and was not able to pronounce a word for two hours. I was in shock. The fact was, I knew Julio was one of the most artistic, talented directors in my country and I loved all of his movies, all of them. I asked to have a coffee with him and told him, “I love the script, but you have to help me.” He was a perfect friend who held my hand and walked me through all the stages until we got to the moment we were shooting. I prepared so much for that character. I was very courageous. It’s wild. I’m very proud of what I did.
What did your parents think?
EA: I had to confront them and say, “Listen, this is a tough movie, you can watch it or not, whatever you prefer. But I tell you this movie will go round the world and people are going to like it.” And that’s what happened. I have the best family ever. My parents are so supportive and they were very happy with my success.
You worked with Medem again on Room in Rome (2010), co-starring Nathasha Yarovenko, and it was another sexual sizzler. Was that also challenging?
EA: Playing Alba took me to a dark place full of pain, loneliness and it was tougher than I expected, being there for a while. It was a love story with only two actors. I think it's one of my strongest films. I gave the most of myself and I think I was very generous with my performance, and with Julio. I lost so much weight to play that movie. If there had been one more week of shooting, I think I would have disappeared.
Fred Cavayé’s thriller Point Blank (2010) was your second French flick after Jean-François Richet’s L'instinct de Mort. Was the fast pace chase aspect fun?
EA: My biggest memory of that movie is that I don’t speak French. Fred called me and told me, “I need your eyes for this movie.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You’re going to be the most human part of this movie. I want the audience to go through a panic attack, struggling about you, your baby and your partner, and that’s because of your eyes.” That was fun.
We think Savage Grace (2007) is an underrated gem. What was it like working with Julianne Moore and seducing a very young Eddie Redmayne?
EA: I’m glad you saw that film. I was at the Oscars this year and I ran into Eddie and Julianne. She was so funny, saying, “Oh Elena, maybe now after Eddie and me won the Oscar, people are going to watch Savage Grace.” I adore Julianne, but I could never imagine Eddie was going to be so talented, and so unique. The scene between us is weird. It was based on a true story and life is stranger than fiction.
The Spanish Film Festival kicks off in Sydney on 21 April, before opening in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Byron Bay and Hobart. Visit the official website for more information.