Penelope Cruz is headed behind the lens…
During a masterclass at the Nouvelles Vagues Festival in Biarritz, France, the 49-year-old Spanish Oscar-winning actress revealed that she’ll soon make her directorial debut with a mystery documentary feature.
Cruz, a guest of honor of this inaugural edition of Nouvelles Vagues, took part in a Q&A following the French premiere of On the Fringe, a commentary on Spain’s eviction crisis, which she produced with Alvaro Longoria.
Set over the course of 24 hours in a working class neighborhood of Madrid, the film follows several marginalized characters whose fates are intertwined as they struggle financially and face eviction.
Cruz said she set up her production company, Moonlyon, with Laura Espeso and Spanish powerhouse Mediapro Studio in 2022 to pursue “meaningful” projects as a producer and director.
“I was telling my friend Pedro Almodóvar that ‘I really want to do this. Do you think I should?’ And he always told me, ‘Don’t wait! You should do it. If you have this feeling, you have to do it,’” said Cruz.
“I’ve been waiting for the right time, but for now I am producing and directing a documentary that is really my passion project and it will take me like a total of two more years,” said Cruz, who pointed out she had started developing it a year ago. “This is one of the things that we are developing and that I am directing, and it’s like my No. 1 thing that I have to do.”
She went on to say the “subject is very important” to her, but wouldn’t give further details about the documentary besides the fact that it “requires patience, time and a lot of locations.”
“Unfortunately I cannot share it yet, but once I will be able to I will be like talking non-stop about it because I have a lot to say about it,” she said.
On the Fringe marks the feature debut of actor-turned-director Juan Diego Botto, a childhood friend of Cruz, who also stars as her husband in the film. The film, whose cast also includes Luis Tosar, played at Venice in the Horizons section and received five nominations at the Goyas, including best actress for Cruz, actor for Tosar and new director for Botto.
Cruz said the project took years to get made. It was a “financial puzzle,” she said, partly due to the pandemic, which put pre-production on hold for two years. Cruz brought the project to Morena Films, with whom she had worked on Julio Medem’s Ma Ma, which she had also produced.
She also praised Botto for his “level of truth and honesty” through the making of On the Fringe, which gathered a cast of non-professionals, many of whom had first-hand experiences of eviction.
“This is a reality. It could happen anywhere in the world. People in the film are real people who have had these situations, one of them had four children … and suddenly something went wrong and they were in the streets with four kids,” said Cruz, adding that the film also highlights how solidarity can help the most vulnerable people overcome these difficult situations. “We know this movie isn’t going to change the world, but we hope it can inspire and open debates about important subjects,” Cruz continued.
During the masterclass, an audience member broke down in tears as she thanked Cruz for the movie and said her relative had also been evicted. Cruz gave her a heartfelt hug on her way out of the venue.
During the conversation, Cruz also reminisced about her childhood and realizing she wanted to be an actor at a young age. “It was like a light inside of me. Getting into the shoes and the skin of somebody else and feeling somebody’s else’s experiences… I though that was the most interesting thing,” Cruz said.
Growing up, she said her family “didn’t have a lot of money,” but she discovered a passion for movies after her parents bought a Betamax video cassette recorder. “I asked for a membership to the video store, and that’s when it started. I would watch anything, good movies, bad movies. When I liked a movie, I would watch it five times in a row and that’s how I got to know my favorite actors and directors, and that’s how my obsession with Almodóvar started,” said Cruz, who felt a “very strong, instant connection” with the Spanish director upon meeting him.
She revealed that she became obsessed with Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons when she was about 14 years old. “I got to know that film shot by shot. I thought it was perfection and I was very intrigued by the whole story, Valmont and the drama,” she said. Coincidentally, the first American movie she auditioned for was The Hi-Lo Country, a U.S. movie directed by Frears.
As a producer, she said she strives to “give a chance” to talent entering the industry. “One of the reasons why I started this adventure of a production company is to try to support and to help,” Cruz said.
Pressed to give some advice to young people aspiring to work in the industry, Cruz’s No. 1 tip was “to stay away from drugs,” drawing laugher from the crowd. “With that advice you can never go wrong!” she quipped.