Pedro Almodóvar
Photo by Brad Torchia

Pedro Almodóvar: “Keep it on the rails”

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Short Profile

Name: Pedro Almodóvar Caballero
DOB: 25 September 1949
Place of birth: Calzada de Calatrava, Spain
Occupation: Film director, screenwriter, film producer

Mr. Almodovar, which part of the filmmaking process interests you the most?

The part during the writing when things appear from the emptiness. You need to write a lot and you need to write every day, but you can get hooked on that experience. The exciting thing for me I always part from reality right when I start writing, like the first page or the first two pages. If I am interested enough, then it’s like a novel, and I keep on writing to discover what happens next. It’s like a big adventure that if you want to know and if I want to know what happens after these two pages, I need to write them. You discover and write at the same time, and this is an experience that I am looking for all the time.

Is the rest of the process just as exciting?

I mean, after that and this is a big period where you start shooting, anything can change because when you write, even about things that you know, the script is something abstract: perhaps I don’t describe this kind of table, this kind of place, the glass, the light, the vistas, there are many things that are not put in the lines. Then immediately it’s like reality; the reality of shooting, in which everything is real, material, physical — and it’s a kind of shock.

“I often describe filmmaking as like being on a train that can derail at any moment, and the job of the director is to keep it on the rails.”

Everything you’ve been imagining while writing finally comes to life.

Right; the actor, the sequence, the part. The actor starts living the part and there is a real chemistry between the actor and the part and there is an interaction that you never thought about and that changes the character.  So you have to pay attention to everything. It is alive, but sometimes not exactly in the same way and that you dreamed of, because the script — even the more realistic script — is almost always an obstruction. But that moment is fascinating too. I often describe it as like being on a train that can derail at any moment, and the job of the director is to keep it on the rails.

Alejandro Iñárritu says that as a director, sometimes you are God and sometimes you are just a creature surviving your own creation.

But at the same time it is a sense of danger, not in the sense of physical danger, but that you feel that this movie is going to be out of your control. That feeling is always there. What you discover, certainly what I discovered working with Antonio Banderas on Pain & Glory is his interaction with the character.

What do you mean?

I felt that I should push him to these new subtle ways of acting without epic and without bravura and this kind of intensity that is his trademark. But he did it by himself since the beginning. So I was very surprised and very grateful. It’s something fascinating because you are the first witness of something wonderful that is happening and you are the first one to watch it, even before the camera, because before you shoot that you rehearse with the actors. And that is, I can say, a magic moment, it’s a kind of miracle that is happening in front of you. And I am completely hooked on that.

According to Banderas, in the eighties, you used to give much more information to your actors about their characters than you do today.

(Laughs) Yes, much more than they needed.

Why the change?

Well, of course the actors are still taken care of with every small element: the light, the hair styles, the colors and the walls. Everything — everything is very important. But without hesitation, the most important thing about a movie is the actors. I mean, they are the body and the heart of a movie. And I always work a lot with them, trying to help if they have any problems and explaining, sometimes even too much, what every line means and what is behind the words and how to do it. I do take care of them like they are the most important thing in my movie, and this is still the same since I started in the eighties until now. But also when I see myself directing someone, I hate myself!

How come?

I say to myself, “How can the actors do work if I am being like this, like a master.” No. I am also too expressive when I direct, sometimes I see my face as too intense, almost scary. When I see myself in photographs, I feel actually surprised and almost scandalized because I didn’t think that I was the way that I look in the photos. I don’t like to see myself when I’m directing, I am not conscious about what I am doing.

“There’s been a lot of glory for me because I have done the films that I wanted to do, all of them, and I am the complete master of all my films.”

What kinds of situations do you prefer to see yourself in?

I must say that I am somebody who doesn’t look at themselves in the mirror! I never look at myself and I never put on moisturizing cream which I should do because skin is very important, it’s our major organ and I made a movie about that. (Laughs) But the fact of liking myself… Maybe the only time I can somehow like myself is very much linked to the process of creation. When you touch some very precise level, something that you couldn’t predict but then you have tried so hard, you have been so far that you end up touching something unexpected… This is something that I can really enjoy. And I can enjoy being myself at this moment, and I have been able to touch this moment with that.

Does that happen very often?

You need a lot of patience! But for me it works like an addiction. I must say that there’s been a lot of glory for me because I have done the films that I wanted to do, all of them, and I am the complete master of all my films. I think it’s very important, even when you make mistakes, to be able to identify to your mistakes and to admit that you haven’t made them due to the actions of others, you made them of your own accord. You have to recognize yourself. Life is imperfect. And in that sense, there’s been a lot of glory in my career as a film director.