Pedro Almodovar has traversed the entire world but creating unique singular motley landscapes with the sense of the absurd and distinct characters grounds his forte. With a long list of films that bear his signature from “Tie Me Up Tie Me Down” to “Volver” to “All About My Mother” to his latest “I’m So Excited”, there is always a sense of chicanery to his methods. Inside Reel sat down with the legendary director to his discuss his influences, genres and the aspect of notoriety.
Emmanuel Itier: So many people admire you. What directors do you admire?
Pedro Almodovar: Many directors and many writers. When I think of directors, I have hundreds of them. Since this business was invented, there were people that were full of talent. Because there were so many, I tried to think about this movie and this era—screwball comedy. I’m a big admirer of all the writers and directors of the 1930s and 1940s like Ernest Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Mitchell Leisen, George Cukor…
EI: Any Spanish directors?
Almodovar: Yes, of course. I don’t know if you are familiar with Luis Garcia Berlanga. His “El Verdugo” (“The Executioner”) is an absolutely masterpiece.
EI: For this movie (“I’m So Excited”), did you write the role of Norma especially for veteran Argentine actress Cecilia Roth?
Almodovar: I didn’t think about her when I was writing the script. In fact, this was one very special character for which I didn’t get the right actress. Originally, it was written for someone older than Cecilia.
She was supposed to be around 63, good-looking and had undergone a lot a surgery. She was like the madams I had in mind in Spain. But I remember the type of actresses who used to work (in the late 1970s) when there when there was the sexual revolution. Censorship was lifted. I realized there were actresses in Spain that could play that role but they were not good. They had the physical requirements of the role but they were not right for the part. So I decided to adapt the role for Cecilia. Also, there was a phenomenon, after the dictatorship (was over) of an invasion of Argentine artists in Spain.
Cecilia was just the opposite of the type of actress I’d originally thought of. She was just the typical model girl. She’d done important, very interesting movies in the early 1980s. This is an actress I’d admired very much. She grew up after living in Madrid in the 1980s. As we started (our careers) at the same time, I was very proud of her.
EI: You won an Oscar with her?
Almodovar: Yes. For “All About My Mother.”
EI: What was it like to win the Oscar then?
Almodovar: To win an Oscar is always wonderful. (chuckling) But there are so many things to do before that. I had to go to five different parties every day. By the time you go to the show, you’re exhausted! But it’s wonderful. I didn’t work just to get an Oscar. It was like this one: I just wanted to make a movie. For me, my ambition is for the audience to identify with the movie. For the good things and the bad things. Of course, (“All About My Mother”) is kind of unique. In Spain, before me there was only one other Oscar (winner).
[However] there is a moment when your mind just blows. You have a moment of extreme happiness, and then you just return to reality, as usual.
EI: Do you like the translation of the movie to “I’m So Excited!”?
Almodovar: We needed that translation, because here “Los Amantes Pasajeros” doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in Spain. It means someone is traveling and something is fleeting. In France and Italy, it had the same title but here [in the US], we needed a new title. I think “I’m So Excited!” is good for this type of movie. In Spain, to be “excited” also means to be “horny”.
EI: This film is much more of a farce than your previous movies. How was it having these straight actors playing over the top gay flight attendants?
Almodovar: The actors are not gay, I have to tell you. They trained very hard over a long period of time to get as flamboyant and “queenie” as they became in the film. The thing is, in this movie, is the first time I’ve had three very effeminate, queenie characters. In the past, I didn’t need to put in any specifically gay characters because for me being gay is something completely regular. That’s why I didn’t have obviously gay characters in my past films. For this specific movie, a light comedy, I think the queeniness, the flamboyant quality, was funnier. Also, these characters serve as kind of “masters of ceremonies” of everything that’s happening. And I needed something very precise about these effeminate characters. So that was a result of their wonderful work.
EI: How would you describe this film in general terms? I’ve seen it described as political, sexual, bisexual…
Almodovar: It depends on the audience. In Spain, everyone recognizes that this is a specific reality. The film is a clear metaphor of Spanish society [and] about the uncertainty we feel…the necessity that Spanish society needs. The emergency landing is very risky. We don’t know how it will come out. I’ve said in both Spain and France that they are close together and we need each other. I don’t say that here because I cannot expect people to know what is happening in Spain (economically and socially). I’m just trying to just make a fun movie. It’s like I’m doing burlesque.
The movie is a comedy but it’s also about fear and loneliness. The fact that these people are not connected to anything yet there is this contemporary loneliness. They are condemned—for better or worse—to be with each other. The best thing for them to do is talk. Talking is the best thing to entertain themselves so they can forget about fear. It’s a movie where death and sex is very present.
EI: What was the inspiration of the bold bright colors in this film?
Almodovar: I do it based on my own intuition. I actually designed everything in the interior of the plane, except the floor and the glass. Everything else I designed myself. On the one hand, I wanted to make the interior look different from anything that existed in reality so no one could accuse me of making something that resembles a real airline, which would never permit sex, drugs and all the stuff that goes on in this aircraft. I don’t want anyone suing me. But I think the actual interior of planes are hideous. They use the worst hues of browns and grays. I didn’t want those colors for my movie.
For example, there is a development of gray and it’s way onto blue, and then there is a brown on its way down to orange. Then there’s a red hue that sort of serves as a highlight on the seats and on the signage—the arrows and the things that form the interior of the plane. To make all this I do it like a painter. I have many fabrics and then I put the different combinations together. I’m like a painter working in three-dimensions. That takes into account the actors in the foreground and background.
EI: Can you talk about the inception of the screenplay? Did any of this come from your own personal experience flying?
Almodovar: I didn’t have sex on a plane. I dream of that sometimes, but not lately. I didn’t do drugs on a plane. I think it’s the only place that I didn’t. (chuckling) It was very popular in Madrid in the 1980s. I also don’t drink. This is something I never did, even in the 1980s. But the main thing is all these things are prohibited. The comedy here is meant to betray the rules. Basically, in this case, these people are frightened, nervous and becoming crazy, and so they drink alcohol to relax. All of this is linked to the ways in which they can let go of their inhibitions to some level because of the drinking and the state of excitement. But it also is because they’ve forgotten what’s at the base [of their tension] which is fear. For these bunch of passengers who are facing death, this is the one way to celebrate life—to turn to the senses, specifically, sexuality and sex to say goodbye to life.
EI: Did you hesitate to have anything about the King of Spain in the movie? Do you have any comments about the scandal that currently is rocking the royal family? (Spanish Princess Cristina has been indicted on charges of complicity in fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and embezzlement in connection with charges filed against her husband.)
Almodovar: I don’t want to give more problems to the King than he already has. My opinion of them has changed in the past two years. It started to change when a book about the King (“The Solitude of the Queen” by Pilar Eyre) came out a few years ago. The queen was so discreet (about her husband’s alleged infidelity over the years), which we used to think was because she was intelligent. I was disgusted to discover his homophobia and opposition to gay marriage.
I’m very unsatisfied with that as well as the case of corruption that the royal family now has. The Spanish people are mature enough to talk about it now. Everyone talks about it every day. What we need is more collaboration in what happens in our lives. I think we should have a right as Spaniards to ask for a referendum regarding what the opinion is about whether we should have a parliamentary monarchy or not. I have an empathy for the King, though. They were very nice to me, always. I don’t want to give them a problem with this but everybody thinks that the king has had many love affairs, so I felt it was OK that I could imply it in the movie—though no one actually says it.
EI: What do you think Mexican audiences will think of this film?
Almodovar: I hope the Mexican audience isn’t offended by this movie that the killer-for-hire is Mexican. (chuckling) I don’t think Mexico is full of killers-for-hire. No one should take the film literally, not even the Spanish King. I hope, because we share the same language—obviously this film’s not going to be subtitled in English in Mexico— I hope that audiences there have a lot of fun with it. I hope they don’t come into the film prejudiced against it in some way. I also hope for the homosexual men, who have never left the closet or the bisexual men who will never admit it, that they’re also not offended by the way I deal with these situations in this film.
EI: How did you come with the idea of Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz for the opening sequence of this film?
Almodovar: I wanted good actors for all of the characters. It was also because I wanted to be with them. We enjoyed working together even though it was only for one day. Also, this is my return to a genre that is familiar to me. My earlier movies were comedies so I came back to that genre. My idea was to have two actors that belong to my family. They’re part of my artistic and emotional family and they’re basically welcoming the audience to our new movie of Pedro. He’s going back to comedy. It’s kind of like a feeling of something familiar.
EI: Were you angry with Antonio when he came to Hollywood several years ago?
Almodovar: No! Absolutely not! Always, Antonio and Melanie (Griffith, his wife) were for me like my American family. I only was angry once with a Mexican actor. That was the only case. I’m not going to say who. That’s in the past. Antonio always has invited me and I stay with him when I come here.
EI: “I’m So Excited” opened the Los Angeles Film Festival. How exciting is that for you?
Almodovar: I love it because it’s a good venue for the movie. We’ve only previously had two screenings with an American audience in New York so for me it’s very important to listen to how people breathe during the screening. Thatwill give me a lot of information how this movie is going to be seen by the American audience, because I don’t know (yet). This is an American audience, which is something very new. I’m excited because I’m here with three of the actors. It’s always fun to have a party and celebrate a movie with people
By Emmanuel Itier