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Penélope Cruz: “Being a Mother is a Huge Responsibility, and My Biggest Mission is to Do That Well”

As she sets foot in Dubai this month, Penélope Cruz opens up about her loves and life’s work.

Penélope Cruz wears accessories by Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021

It is hard to believe that for an actor who has earned an Oscar, a Bafta, multiple Goyas, and a César, among many other awards, winning a prize still makes a big impact. However, for Penélope Cruz, emotions took over when she received the call that revealed that her performance in Parallel Mothers, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest movie, was to be awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the 2021 edition of the prestigious Venice film festival. “I was shocked when I was contacted by Pedro’s team, informing me that I was the best actress in Venice this year. I couldn’t believe it and I started to cry,” she confides. “My daughter was with me and said, ‘Mom, why are you crying if you are getting a prize?’ I had to explain to her what this award meant to me. I love this festival; it’s so significant, and I attended it for the first time 30 years ago. To win with a movie by Pedro’s side was an incredible dream.”

With her Volpi Cup for for best actress at this year’s Venice film festival. Photo: Getty

The partnership between Cruz and Almodóvar is one of the most celebrated in cinema history. Cruz, from Madrid, was a young but already known actor in Spain, when she teamed up for the first time with the iconic director in 1997. Live Flesh was the first of eight movies they’ve since done together, all incredible successes, such as All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006), and Broken Embraces (2009). In Parallel Mothers, their latest venture, Cruz delivers one of her best performances to date, in the role of Janis, a pregnant photographer who meets another mother-to-be in a maternity ward–a less prosperous teenager–with whom she becomes close. The acting is raw and powerful, and shows Cruz in a completely new light, as noted by the stellar reviews so far. “I feel grateful with all the characters Pedro gave me, as they allow me to do things I’ve never done before–this happens over and over again,” she says. “We’ve worked together eight times and it’s always a big and complex challenge. Janis was the most difficult character of them all, as so many difficult things happened in her life, almost like climbing a mountain every day. I loved every second of it and my end goal was not to disappoint Pedro and his trust, making sure he was happy. Just going through this experience and learning by Pedro’s side was already an award itself, so winning on top of it was more than I could dream of.”

Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz at this year’s New York Film Festival. Photo: Getty

When asked to select her favorite Almodóvar movie, Cruz cannot choose. However, she reinforces that he is her “main teacher,” and although they consider each other “family,” the relationship on and off the movie set is quite unique. “We have a close relationship, but we separate things. If you see us having dinner, the tone is completely different from when we are on a set. Even without planning, there’s some sort of distance. I think we created this to protect our work and relationship. But at the same time, it’s a distance full of trust, and full of love and respect for each other.”

Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, shoes, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021

We are now in a photography studio in the center of Madrid, not to meet Penélope Cruz the actor, but Penélope Cruz the fashion muse. The Spanish star is coming to Dubai for the third time this November, this instance to attend a replica of Chanel’s Cruise show, making it the perfect opportunity to grace Vogue Arabia’s cover. At the age of 47, Cruz is petite and impressively beautiful, moving with full ease in front of the cameras of Luigi and Iango, wearing Chanel and a few looks from regional brands to pay a thoughtful homage to the Arab world. When we sit to chat, she tells me how she became an ambassador of Chanel, a journey that started decades ago. “The first time I went to a show for Chanel was in 1999. Then, years later, I was told that Karl Lagerfeld wanted to see me in Cannes, so I went for dinner with him and Virginie [Viard]. During the meal they started speaking in French about offering me a campaign. I pretended I didn’t understand, but I got it,” she laughs. “The next day, they called me to confirm.” It was after a first campaign for the 2018/2019 Cruise collection that Cruz was appointed ambassador of the brand, becoming extremely close to Lagerfeld. The actor reveals that they loved to talk to each other, and had hours-long discussions about everything, not only fashion. “I feel I was always connected to the brand, as I’m Chanel’s biggest fan. Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of wearing their clothes.” This dream became reality, with Cruz delivering spectacular Chanel fashion moments at the Oscars in 2008 and 2020, at the 2019 Met Gala, and at the 2018 opening night of the Cannes Film Festival. “I’ve had all these magical moments with Chanel being part of my life, with dresses that were created for me, always so one-of-a-kind,” she reflects. “I even remember sketches that I have from Karl, for a dress he made for me for the Oscars, or the dress that I wore at this year’s Venice Film Festival, designed by Virginie two years ago, but that we felt was so special, we wanted to wait for the right opportunity for me to wear it.”

Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021

Another moment of major importance but reflecting a less happy moment in the brand’s history, was when Cruz walked the runway for FW19 ready-to-wear, a collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld, but showcased after the passing of the creative director. “It was really difficult not to cry while walking. I remember the runway was very long, and that feeling that I had to make it until the end…” she confides. “After I finished, I saw Marion Cotillard in the hallway behind, and we just hugged each other and burst into tears. There were so many people there that loved him and worked with him for 40 years. It was magical, and it felt like time had stopped.”

Walking the Chanel FW18 runway. Photo: Getty

Although the bond between Cruz and Lagerfeld was so strong, the actor could not be more satisfied with his replacement, Virginie Viard, who had worked with the German designer since 1987. “I think she is the best possible person to continue the legacy of the brand, and to continue Karl’s work. They spent more than two decades together, and she completely understands the essence of Chanel, while adding her own personal touch,” Cruz notes. “She is very rock’n’roll, and very modern. She is also practical, cool, and elegant, and thinks of what women want to wear. On a personal level, I also love that she is a real family person, always so amazing with my kids, and very straight-forward. She is a no-nonsense type of woman.”

As 6pm approaches, Cruz informs us that she needs to leave the studio on time, as she wants to pick up her children from school. After living in Los Angeles, London, and New York, the actor is now fully based in Madrid, where she resides with her two children, 10-year-old Leo and eight-year-old Luna, and her husband, actor Javier Bardem.

Cruz with her husband Javier Bardem at the 2018 Cannes film festival. Photo: Getty

The pair met on the set of the 1992 film Jamón Jamón and also starred together in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), the Woody Allen movie that earned her an Oscar. Having her life based around her family in Madrid means Cruz can also be close to her mother and sister, in a “good place to raise children.” When I ask how Spain’s cinematic royal couple maintains a certain normality at home, far from the glamour of premieres and the red carpet, the actor reveals that her secret is a clear separation between work and personal time. “I don’t take the characters home. Imagine a role like Janis, who made me cry on set for 12 hours straight, for so many weeks… I try to jump in and out of fiction as many times as possible in one day, but when I go home, I’m there a hundred percent for my family,” she shares. “I also don’t shoot all the time. I work on a movie for maybe a couple of months, and then I have a lot of time until I’m doing the next one. And I do maybe one or two movies per year. I also avoid doing movies away from home if it’s not in the summer. If it’s winter, I just do it in Madrid. My focus is being a mother, so I’m blessed I can work while keeping my family the priority.”

Cruz wears jacket, top, pants, accessories, shoes, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021

As a family woman and actor, one of the things that concerns Cruz and that she is vocal about is the negative impact of social media on everyone’s lives. And she seems serious when she tells me that she “wished that we stayed in the Nineties, when there was a great equilibrium between technology, pen and paper, and a timing that was more logical for the human brain.” She continues, “I just use social media for my work or for charity, I do not use it for other reasons, it just doesn’t go with me. I feel it’s crazy what is happening in the world regarding children and teenagers using social media. To me, this is big and it’s urgent to be looked at and regulated. It all starts at home, with what each family allows, but it’s difficult to manage if the regulations are not in place. It becomes normal to see a 12-year-old using social media. It’s not normal and it’s not OK. It’s not right for the development of any child. In my house, there is none of that for sure. I am strict and careful, but I don’t see the same when I look around.”

Cruz wears top, pants, accessories, Chanel. Photographed by Luigi and Iango for Vogue Arabia November 2021

Before Cruz bids adios to the studio, I ask her if she feels the weight of being a role model for so many girls who dream of her success and want to be like her. Not only is she Spain’s most international actor, with a vast portfolio that includes comedy, action, and more intellectual movies, but she will also always be the first woman from her country to have won an acting Oscar, from three nominations (Bardem was the first actor, winning in the best supporting category for No Country for Old Men in 2007). She is also the face of Chanel, and one half of her country’s most acclaimed power couple. “When a young girl stops me on the street, I always say I’m no one to give advice, as I’m not very good at that. But if it’s a teenager who dreams of acting, I always tell them to prepare. Study, work on your craft, and have a plan B, just in case you don’t succeed, exactly like I did. And never do drugs,” Cruz concludes. “I don’t think of myself as a role model for anyone other than my children, as they see me every day, and the actions of their mother and father are the most important to them. This is a huge responsibility, and my biggest mission in life is to try to do that well.”

Read Next: “Coming to Dubai is a powerful achievement,” Chanel’s President of Fashion on the Cruise Show

Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Amine Jreissati
Hair: Luigi
Makeup: Pablo Iglesias
Nails: Lucero Hurtado
Photography assistants: Daniel Gallar Candela, Luca, Jessica Rodriguez Ligero
Hair assistant: Stephane Beaver
Style assistant: Esther Fiol
Digital tech: David Garcia
Creative production: Laura Prior
Production: Alana Production

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