Director Pedro Almodóvar's 20th film, “I’m So Excited!,” is the director’s first full-fledged comedy since directing 1993's “Kika.” Featuring many actors who have worked with Almodóvar in the past like Javier Cámara (“Talk to Her”), Lola Dueñas (“Volver”) and Cecilia Roth (“All About My Mother”), the movie is about a flight crew and its passengers who stuck in the air thanks to a technical failure. While they are stuck in the air, the passengers and crew members try to forget the anguish of their impending doom by distracting themselves with confessions, alcohol and sex. I had the opportunity to speak with Camara and Blanca Suárez (“The Skin I Live In") when they were in town promoting the film as they talked about meeting with Almodóvar for the first time, their first exposure to his films and working with him in a different genre.
How did you come to meet Pedro Almodovar?
Javier Cámara: The first time I met him was in his office. I saw him several times in the street. I've never talked to him because I didn't want to bother him, but I admired him a lot. I remember that they called me from El Deseo, his office, and they told me, “Almodóvar wants to meet you, he wants to speak with you,” and I said OK. I was really scared and I don't remember anything at all. I can tell you I was smiling through the whole time, with this [points to his face and grins] stupid face, and he was talking and talking and talking about “Talk to Her.” I didn't understand anything at all because he was telling me the whole story but, performing, and doing the things, and jumping and doing a lot of things, and I was, “Oh my God, it's Almodóvar doing all of these things,” and when I came home and I read the script, I was absolutely in shock, because I loved the story and I was crying, and I was like, “What's that? And my character's name was Benigno, and, oh my God, I have a big role.” I recognized that it was a great, great opportunity for me. The first time I met him, I'm sure that I looked like a stupid guy, but he transformed me.
Blanca Suárez: I meet him on “The Skin I Live In,” directly in the rehearsals. I made an audition, and the casting director chose me and I was very nervous in that moment.
What was your first experience with him as far as cinema, outside of meeting him?
Suárez: Consciously, maybe in that period, “Talk to Her,” “Bad Education,” hmm...
Cámara: I remember me and my dad and my mom, the first connection with Pedro Almodóvar was “Law of Desire” and I remember it watching it on TV with my dad and my mom. I was like, “Oh my God, what's what” and I was 14 or 15. It was absolutely shocking. This is a Spanish movie. They were speaking in Spanish, but it's so... You know, I was living in a little town in the north of Spain, and it's a very conservative place. And my dad was smoking, watching Antonio Banderas and Eusebio Poncela having sex, and I was like [laughs], “Oh my God.” Mom was cooking, peeling potatoes, and I remember myself watching it, absolutely thrilled about this amazing and astonishing idea of Madrid. For me, Madrid was like a Xanadu because I was living in a very little place. For me, Madrid was a very dangerous place. Now, I've been living in Madrid for 30 years, but back then, I couldn't imagine being an actor and I couldn't imagine living in Madrid. This is my first connection with Pedro Almodóvar.
Let me jump in. So, for those of you that don't know, “Law of Desire” was actually aired on Spanish TV with no cuts whatsoever. And this was before Spielberg showed “Schindler's List” on TV in the U.S. with no cuts. But what has changed since then? “Law of Desire” was a very transgressive movie that showed some things that was geared towards a specific audience, but I think “I’m So Excited!” it's geared towards a more mainstream audience, so what has changed from then to now for you as a viewer and as a performer?
Cámara: Sometimes it reminds me of Picasso's moments. I'm not doing a comparison with his genius. I'm talking about the moment when Picasso has the pink moment or the dark moment or the blue moment. Pedro is having this kind of moments, the melodrama moments and the tragic moments and when he mixes comedy with drama and melodrama, when he's trying to change in another way. If you see his 19 films or 20 films together, you can see like in a very curled way, starting with comedy, which was really dark, but the dark becomes melodrama and the melodrama becomes tragedy, and the tragedy becomes “The Skin I Live In,” and “The Skin I Live In” jumps to “I’m So Excited!” “Women on the Verge” was a celebration and this is another celebration, but I think it's more light. It's a light celebration in a very dark moment in his country. For the first time in his life, Spain has lived in a very dark moment of conservative people fighting to break the law with the gay marriage or the abortion or whatever. Pedro was like, “OK, I need to make a very light film for everybody to understand that we've conquered a lot of things and we can still be laughing about it.” Maybe, I don't know. It's my perception.
Javier, you have this extravagant sequence with your costars...
Cámara: Extravagant? I think you mean flamboyant or what?
No, but in terms of how it was shot and especially in a confined environment, like a plane.
How long did it take you to nail down the choreography for the dance sequence?
Cámara: Here in America, every single actor since they were little boys, they sing and dance and perform like angels. We don't do that. We are actors who work in a theater in very classic performances or plays. Now, with the big explosion of musicals, a lot of actors are more prepared than my generation, but I've never danced in my life and I've never sung in my life. It was a great opportunity. We had Blanca Li. She's a great, great choreographer. Now she's working for Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue and other stars. She worked with Pedro in “High Heels”. She performed the choreography in jail. She came in and we were working for one week, and it was really funny. Carlos [Areces] is a very lazy guy. He’s a very spoiled child. Raúl [Arévalo] and I acted so professional. Pedro – and that's the gift of Pedro, that's the passion of Pedro – he uses that, because he wants to try that we were perfect dancers, but Carlos is so lazy. He's always behind and he doesn't remember the choreography. “I'm sorry, Pedro, but what is that?” That's comedy to him and he goes, “Don't worry, Carlos. You are doing really well.” It's unbelievable and that's how Pedro works. He's looking for the comedy and Carlos has a lot of comedy because he's a very funny guy.
How much character does Pedro gives you and how much character you're expected to bring for him because he's kind of controlling about that, isn't he?
Cámara: Yeah, yeah, he's really controlling. He knows more than you in four lives about a character. He's wandering around these characters for years. I remember that he told us once, “I've written another script in two weeks,” and he begins to tell us the story. I said to him, “Pedro, how could you do that?”, because we were shooting every single day 12 hours. He replied, “Yeah, I need to write". He's writing the whole time.
Suárez: He needs to be doing something all the time. He is always writing something whenever he has time. He never stops.
For “I’m So Excited!”, was Pedro less demanding in terms of the control he had over your character?
Cámara: He's really demanding, every single moment.
It doesn't matter that this is a light comedy?
Cámara: Yeah, it doesn't matter, doesn't matter. You can't relax. You can't do that. It is always demanding the best of you, not only for the actors, but also for the crew. It's a kind of religious set. It's like now we are doing something sacred. The energy is different from “Talk to Her” and I was absolutely unconscious in doing “Talk to Her” about what kind of film we were doing. Now that we are doing a comedy, you are laughing. The result is very good because when we were performing, some of the people on the crew were laughing. The connection is quicker. It's instantaneous, but in other films, like melodrama, you need music, you need time, you need the cut, you need the edition. Comedy is (snaps fingers) quick. It works. If it doesn't work, Pedro changes it.
Working with Pedro, for the last 10 years the work has been very dark. Is the mood on the set working with Pedro the same depending on the genre that he's working on?
Cámara: I remember Pedro when he entered once in the set and, because we were laughing, we were doing the choreography for the dance sequence, and everybody laughs with Carlos and he said, “What are you doing? We are doing a very serious film. We are doing a comedy.” We went, “Yeah. Sorry Pedro.” He needs to have the control. He is like a lion tamer. The energy in a comedy is very serious. Somebody said comedy is a tragedy plus time. When you have a tragedy, for example, like this, like, “We're going to die,” and you have time, like five hours to die, it becomes a comedy. If you have a group of actors in a theater, and there is a war out of the theater, like in “To Be or Not to Be”. You're doing a comedy, but they are suffering a lot. You have this…I don't know the title in English. It stars Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.
You mean “Some Like It Hot”?
Cámara: That’s it. In that film, they were going to die because they saw gangsters killing other people. “We have to dress like women because they are going to kill us.” That's comedy. It's a tragedy plus time. It's like, “Oh my God, somebody is behind us, and they're trying to kill us” and that's comedy. Pedro knows the rules, but then he needs to control all the atmosphere, and sometimes actors.
I was wondering what you both think about the marketing here in Hollywood for "I'm So Excited!". Hollywood films are pretending to be kind of like a burst of sexuality, where in this film, sexuality is the center. What do you think about what's going on with America? How do you guys see it from the outside?
Suárez: Pedro is a natural transgressor and constantly breaks barriers. He talks about what he fancies to talk about, from sexuality, drugs, politics and many other things.
Cámara: It is true that I would like the movies here to be more accessible to certain forms of love rather than certain forms of violence, certain forms of violence that are so absurdly accepted, and certain forms of violence that are very violent. But there are certain forms of love that are not accepted, and that surprises me in a film industry as big as this, especially as influential, because -- pedagogically-- American cinema is very educational, not just for culture, but for many young filmmakers. To not show sex, show no love or not show the varied sexual relations, it surprises me.
Suárez: It’s also true that this movie is about life.
Cámara: It’s funny to see a film in Spain with a lot of violence because we don’t have a lot of violence. Well, of course, we have violence, some murders, some terrorism and a lot of things. We have suffered a dictatorship and we talk about the civil war constantly. Modern films, like for example terror films, which deals with a lot of deaths and killers and bullets and whatever, we don’t have that because we don’t have that. For me, it’s a real shock to see American mainstream films. I can’t see these films because it’s always the same thing to me. This is very American. Violence is very American and I can’t understand these films. Why do they use violence? To show what? Masculinity? To show fear? Defense? What are you showing with all this violence? What are you trying to tell me?