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A Minute With: Pénelope Cruz on not playing it safe on set

Penelope Cruz in the film “Twice Born.” (Courtesy eOne Entertainment)

Penélope Cruz plays a barren wife in one of her new movies and a doomed fiancée in another, but her own family life is strictly off-limits.

The 39-year-old Spanish mother of two has played the dark-haired beauty for directors Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen, toyed around with Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and engaged in intimate scenes with Michael Fassbender as his fiancée in the Cormac McCarthy-scripted “The Counselor.”

Apologizing profusely, Cruz delayed an interview at a London pub focusing on her other new movie, “Twice Born,” which opens in the United States this month, for a half-hour so she could rush home to feed her infant daughter.

Later, when asked how she and husband Javier Bardem share child-minding chores, she said: “I don’t talk about them, in interviews, my kids. I don’t talk about them because I really try to protect them from that other part of the business.”

The Madrid native does talk about the roles she is taking now that she is on the young side of middle age, roles that may surprise fans.

“I love not feeling safe when I get to the set,” said Cruz, wearing a dark-colored parka to counter the pub’s chilliness.

The “not safe” role she wants to discuss is her portrayal of Gemma, an infertile woman, in “Twice Born.” The film had mixed reviews after its opening in Europe last year.

Based on a book by Italian author Margaret Mazzantini that Cruz says she loved, the film portrays a love affair between a daredevil American photographer, Diego, and Cruz’s academic researcher set at the time of the 1990s Bosnia war.

In it, Cruz embodies just about all possible versions of herself — as the 22-year-old who falls in love with Diego during a boisterous, drunken gathering of young artists and intellectuals in Mostar, as the married woman coming to terms with her infertility and as the woman in her late 40s raising the child that she and Diego enlisted a surrogate mother to carry for them.

Cruz pulls off all three stages of her character convincingly. And she is firmly of the opinion there is life for actresses after 40 — especially in Europe.

“In Europe it’s very possible and also because it’s not my main ambition. You know I love my job and I feel lucky when I can work because I need to work, but it’s not my number-one priority — that is family, and then my job that I’m very lucky to have.

“But I think Europe is a little bit different from maybe growing up in L.A. or working just there, especially if you’re a woman. . . . The actresses I look up to in Spain and in the rest of Europe, they work if they want to work.”

Here’s what else she had to say about what drew her to play Gemma, her experiences in Sarajevo and her views on movies that glamorize violence — though she says “The Counselor” doesn’t.

This is the second film version of a Mazzantini novel, after “Don’t Move” in 2004, you’ve appeared in. What drew you to Gemma and her growing awareness of her infertility?

She’s a complicated woman, not politically correct at all, and that’s what I love about her. She just doesn’t have any mental filters; she says everything she feels and talks about a subject that’s difficult and very important to any woman. I read this book and I was fascinated by the way she talks about motherhood or about the conflict that this woman goes through — knowing it is not possible for her to have children, she becomes obsessed with it. . . . When I closed the last page, I was 100 percent sure I wanted to play this character.

The film is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war, the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II. Did that history have any resonance for you during the filming in Sarajevo, which was one of the worst killing fields of the war?

This story . . . describes a war that was complex, like anywhere, but even when you talk to a Bosnian and a Serbian and a Croatian, they all tell you we wish we could explain to you how this got so out of control but even for them . . . it’s hard to explain how things got to be so atrocious. . . . I’ve talked to many families who have gone through horrible stories, especially one woman [who] told me something she saw I will never . . . be able to get out of my mind. I don’t want to repeat it here but, it was really like one of the most horrible things I ever heard . . . something she saw that happened to a child. That conversation will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The “other” Cruz movie, “The Counselor,” out now in the U.S. and Europe, also is violent, but in a different way.

I like the movie; it is really interesting and smart, but I have doubts about the violence. There is one scene that I still have not seen, the one with Brad Pitt where he dies, the way he dies. I think violence should not be glamorized. . . . I haven’t been part of many violent movies, but if I was going to be part of one, I wanted it to be one that doesn’t feel like a videogame. . . . It is a tricky line, how to make something interesting especially with such brilliant dialogue from Cormac McCarthy. But the darkness is not glamorized. It doesn’t make it cool, you know.




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