That international stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas have never spent more than two minutes together on the big screen is a startling truth.
They made a brief appearance together in Pedro Almodóvar’s “I’m So Excited” (2013), and although they both star in that director’s 2019 film “Pain and Glory,” their characters have inhabited periods different and therefore did not share any scenes.
That changed with “Official Competition,” now in theaters, a biting satire on the film industry and the creative process of Argentine directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn.
Cruz, 48, plays eccentric, curly-haired author Lola Cuevas, while Banderas, 61, is Félix Rivero, a meaningless and egocentric actor opposite the seemingly modest but committed Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez). As the trio rehearse for Cuevas’ next film, each of their unscrupulous and selfish motives comes to the surface.
Together via video call from New York, where they attended the film’s U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Spanish actors discussed their crossover roles and their thoughts on the awards. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Were there any other projects you had planned to work on together before that didn’t happen due to schedule or other mishaps?
PENELOPE CRUZ: No. It’s the weirdest thing. There weren’t any things that were offered to both of us that one of us was able to do and the other couldn’t. pedro [Almodóvar] sometimes tells us about his ideas of things he would like to do with us. He teases us by mentioning the possibility of making a remake of “Italian Wedding”. We would like to do that with him, but we never know if he is joking or if it is a possible reality.
Antonio, between fame-obsessed Félix and condescending Iván, who would you rather be?
BANDERAS: Felix is arrogant and frivolous, but he’s also smart. If I had to choose to be one of the two actors in the film, I would probably still choose Félix. Iván is sneaky and pretends to have this purist ideology about art, but the second you get distracted, he might steal your wallet. He is a dangerous character. When Iván pretends to receive an award in front of the mirror, he represents how people, in the film industry but more so in politics, can become what they criticize.
Have you ever met someone like Lola and her tactics in your career?
BANDERAS: The arts, and in the film industry in particular, are a subjective world where there are many imposters. It is easy to hide behind the subjectivity of the field. For example, in major acting schools like Stanislavski’s or Stella Adler’s method, the techniques that help actors perform come from decades of testing. But there are plenty of scam artists out there who try extraordinarily bizarre schemes and tell you that the truth about acting lies behind the teachings they sell. And there are naive people who buy it.
Penelope, who did you channel or mimic in your portrayal of capricious Lola?
CRAZ: I can’t say their names, but I was inspired by a few people, although not all of them came from the film industry and not all of them women. The directors and I had watched a lot of video interviews of these people to take notes on the outrageous things they were saying. [laughs]. I created a Frankenstein character based on them and what we all shared about the weirdest things that happened to us on set.
How useful was the eye-catching wig for your transformation?
CRAZ: The wig helped me a lot, because when Lola walks into a room, she wants to be seen. She always believes that what she has to say is more interesting than what anyone else has to say. She is not good at listening to others and feels very alone because her ego is eating her up. She’s insufferable, but it was so much fun playing her.
In one scene, Lola tortures her actors by destroying their precious trophies. What do you think about the importance of rewards in relation to this scene?
CRAZ: I had a great time with this scene. But since some of them were our real rewards, I didn’t want to go crazy and accidentally break them for real, because we worked hard to get them. They have value and we should be grateful for that.
BANDERAS: But if you think about it, the trophy is the materialization of something that has already been granted to you. This means that if you win an Oscar, you can put it in your country house or on top of a tree or lose it, but the fact that you received the Oscar will go down in cinematic history. Our attachment to the materialization of a moment is extraordinary, and what Lola does is perhaps one of the most consistent scenes in the film saying, “Untie yourself, man!” It is symbolic. Even if I destroy this, you are already the winner of all that was. It’s funny how we like medals and shiny things.
CRAZ: I don’t think Lola analyzes that way, Antonio. She destroys her own awards but at the same time is able to shoot the whole movie again only with Felix playing both characters. She knows exactly what happened to Iván. But she doesn’t ask questions because she doesn’t want to know the truth. The only thing that interests him is to advance his film. She will continue to care about rewards more than anything else in her life.
Do you keep your rewards in a particularly special place?
CRAZ: No, just at home. But when I had just won the Oscar, I took him to the beach with me for a few days.
BANDERAS: So he can sunbathe [laughs].