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Johansson, Cruz, and BardemWoody Allen has assembled an all star international cast for his latest film. Vicky Cristina Barcelona required American and Spanish actors, as Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend their summer abroad. They become romantically entangled with Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a local divorcee, and his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).

It is the sort of complicated romance that is Allen's specialty. Cristina continues to be involved with Juan Antonio even after Maria Elena re-enters the picture. They form a three-way relationship, complete with a scene consummating their connection. That love scene has become such a focus of film critics that the actors are already tired of discussing it.

"They seem very curious about it and we keep saying that we have no more funny stories to tell about the shooting," said Cruz. "We always tell them that the set was extremely crowded that day. Everyone had a reason to be there, but there's really nothing else."

Johansson elaborated. "Every single interview that I've done in the past two days people have always asked me," she said. "'So, the kiss? Tell me about the kiss. What was that like? Did you just do one take and run off to your trailer?' I'm like, 'God. What? Is it like the Loch Ness monster that I'm kissing or something?' It's ridiculous and it's so conservative. The characters are in love with each other and that's what people who are in love with each other do. They're intimate. It's so not exploitive and so respectful and normal. I just think that people are conservative, they really are. It's funny how this has brought that out."

Scarlett Johansson

Perhaps the only awkwardness on the set was among the Spanish actors speaking English. Though he plays suave and smooth, Bardem struggled with every English line.

"Little by little I'm getting more confident," Bardem admitted. "Here, it's an extraordinary event because it's a Woody Allen movie where you have one take, two takes, no more than that. Long scenes, huge dialogues, and he is asking you to improvise so you better be ready for that. When you are working with a foreign language, even if it's allowed to have an accent, it's kind of difficult because you know that you have to hit the note right away because there are no more chances. That was a fear in the very beginning but then I realized at the very end that that was a great way of shooting, because the actor doesn't have time to wander around or waste time or think too much, and construct. He has time to be. You have to be, because you have great, brilliant dialogues. You don't need to add anything. So if you are in the right spot, you just have to relax and go with the flow. When most of the time, the sets are like waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting."

Since Woody Allen does not speak Spanish, he allowed his Spanish actors to improvise the scenes performed in their native tongue. He did not even know what they had said until he had the footage subtitled in post production. Most of the Spanish scenes are heated arguments when Maria Elena loses control and screams at Juan Antonio.

Bardem and Cruz

"Once in a while he said, 'Do what you think Maria Elena would do, going back from the English to the Spanish, whenever you feel it's natural,'" said Cruz. "I did a lot of swearing, sometimes too much and I was a little bit worried about what he was going to think when he discovers some of the things that were said. I think he was happy."

Cruz would have been happier with more time. Allen prefers to shoot only two takes of a scene and then move on. Cruz would frequently pressure him to continue shooting.

"I drove him crazy with that. The last day I think he ran out of patience because he was so sweet and so kind and he always said yes to one more take. The last day, I really could not stop because it was the end, and it was a difficult scene, and I said, 'Please one more.' 'Okay, do it one more,' and then we finished the last take and he was nowhere in sight. We said, 'Okay, cut,' and I was looking for Woody and he was hiding from me."

Other famous directors like Pedro Almadovar also succumb to Cruz's pleading for more takes. "I'm like that on the set. As soon as I finish the take, I come up with something that I think is better that I should have done but I didn't, and if I don't get to do another take I torture myself for the rest of the day. Since my first movie I've been like that, probably all with the insecurity of the actor and what happens when you relax after the take. Then always you come up with something that you couldn't see when you were tense because you were in the middle of it."

The second American in the equation, Vicky, is actually played by a Brit. Rebecca Hall is just starting out in British television and films like Starter for 10 and The Prestige. Her Vicky is a rational, commitment-minded girl disheveled by her own feelings for the mysterious stranger Juan Antonio. In reality, she may have a bit in common with the free spirit Cristina or the manic depressive Maria Elena.

"I think that most women probably find that they're a combination of all three women, or are at times capable of being a little bit of all three women," said Hall. "Honestly, I can relate to Vicky an awful lot. I can relate to all of them. I think that anyone can relate to anyone if they're real, if you understand some aspects of yourself. Everyone is different and so to say that I'm more like that or more like that is actually nonsensical because everyone is separate."

Vicky and Cristina make interesting travel buddies, with Cristina leaping at opportunities with strangers and Vicky trying to stick to their plans. Johansson could relate to traveling with the girls.

"I'm lucky I have a couple of really good, very close girlfriends and our interests are similar obviously which is why we're friends," she said. "We have similar things that we appreciate. They're not actors and stuff like that, but we have a certain aesthetic, or things we like to do. Always when it comes to men, you're going to differ from another woman, what she likes and what she's into and how you feel about her boyfriend and how she feels about your boyfriend and all of that stuff. Of course, it's great to be able to be close with a girl that you could both talk about these things, you know and get some relief, and another woman's perspective and all of that. But I've never been in a specific situation where I was on vacation, and one girl wanted to go guy crazy and I was like left in the hotel. I've fortunately never been stuck in that kind of position, because I think with most of my girlfriends, we're pretty solid. We go away together because we want to see each other."

Many Woody Allen films deal with artists, from the neurotic writers he himself has played, to actors and musicians. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Maria Elena is a painter, making her the ultimate image of a passionate tortured artist. That was pure performance, because Cruz does not give her own painting skills high marks.

"I have absolutely no talent with a brush or a pencil," she said. "I cannot paint, not at all. It's something that's not for me. I would love to and we took some lessons with a teacher, with a painter, but no, not me."

Rebecca Hall and Scarlett JohanssenHer co-star, on the other hand, almost became a painter. Javier Bardem gave it a five year shot. "I studied painting when I was 17. I studied for five years. Then I realized I was really bad, and then I quit. But there's something that I related to, that that I really liked. When I read that [Juan Antonio] was a painter, I thought, "This is my chance to learn, express my art." Then I realized I have only one take, but it was very pleasant to go with a painter to the studio and be taught how to be. It's amazing the feeling of being in front of a blank canvas with colors, and a guy telling you, 'Okay, just put your hands in the colors and express yourself.' Looks like fun, but I was so scared because when you realize how true art works, in the sense that true art is the one that really triggers something that is unconscious, that makes you feel courage. Those who don’t feel the art go to their head, and then the head instead of the heart starts to make something with common sense. I did that and it was such rubbish."

Bardem's performing art was awarded the highest honor in film acting. Since winning his Oscar in March, Bardem has seen changes surrounding him, though not within himself.

"I don't think things have changed that much. I mean, I think people see it from the outside and they guess, 'He has changed that much.' Of course, you have to go back to reality after nine months of promoting after the Oscar, and that takes some time to settle down and go back to reality. Reality comes back to you because most of the time, it's not you. It's what surrounds you that has changed. You use your work to put it in the right place, and then you realize that after a month, two months, things start to be like it was before. Then you feel safe. You feel, 'Okay, nothing has changed dramatically.' In work-wise, yes, the Oscar has given me more chances to read more material. All I do is read and not make any decision. I don't like to rush. So I read, and if I feel there is something there I would like to do, I do it. Otherwise I won't do it. It's not something that puts you in a place where you want to do something."


For more about Woody Allen and his take on this film, CLICK HERE

Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens August 15. / Issue 86 - September 2018
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