8'I'he I.ist lo—- 20Junc 1989
(‘armen Maura is about to become the toast of movie goers in Scotland. (‘armen who‘.’ ( 'armen the opera‘.’ No. (‘armen Maura.
Already a household name in her native Spain. the 43 year-old. flashing-eyed Madrid actress is fast becoming a celebrity in other parts of the world.
The film responsible for this sudden leap into international stardom -< winner of a batch of awards in Iiurope and nominated for Best I’oreign Film Award in Hollywood —. is Pedro Almodovar‘s latest feature. Women on the It’erge ofa Nervous Breakdmm. In the ISA. even little old ladies stop her in the streets of Manhattan and eagerly ask for her autograph. Not surprisingly. a bemused (‘armen .‘vlaura finds all this ‘un suetio' but she‘s not complaining.
.lust as Marcello Mastroianni's name is synonymous with Federico Iiellini's. so is(‘armen Maura’s inextricably linked with that of 3‘) year-old Pedro Almodovar. She has had the main role in five of his seven films.
‘I met him in his 20s when he was still making super-eights.‘ That was in the late (wlls when Almodovar— now hailed as the iconoclastic new Bunuel of post-Franco Spain — was writing pornographic comic strips and contributing to various underground magazines with suggestive names like l'ihraeiones.
I Ie also acted. and played in a rock band. By day he worked in the National 'l‘elephone ('ompany — a post he kept for ten years.
‘I admire him very much. We‘ve been working together for about twelve years now. It was such a struggle at first. I've tnade many films with Pedro and played many roles. btit I have a special affection for l’ept'. Lucy. Bom and ()ther (iirls Like .llom. \Vc took two years to shoot it. during the week-ends mostly. We had no money in those days. My role was Pepi. it was a marvellous role. It was very modern. with wonderful way-out clothes. I was then in my 30s -‘ c’est un film que j‘adore'.
During an interview in San Sebastian. conducted in a jumble of Spanish. I‘rench. Italian and Iinglish ('armen Maura looked positively waif-like. (‘ould this really be the satne person who had acted as 'I’ina. the flamlmyantly sexy. extrovert transsexual in Law ofDesire'.’ IIow had she managed such a inctamorphosis'.’
‘I-‘or me it was a miracle. When I saw the film the first time. I couldn‘t believe it myself. Iispecially in America. the Americans kept on asking Pedro how he had achieved that effect. He just said: "Nothing. that‘s how she is now".'
Arms and hands waving. her face alive and expressive — reminiscent of a young Anna Magnani. (‘armcn Maura explains in a husky. dramatic near-whisper. ‘In that film I pushed everything out. I made myselflook big. I pushed out my tummy. my breasts. I have broad shoulders which I usually try to hide in other films. In Law ofDesire I stopped
‘ CARMEN 0N STRONG
Carmen Maura‘s long association with director Pedro Almodovar bore fruit with Law ofDesire. Now. with
Women on the Verge ofa Nervous Breakdown she looks
set to be the actress ofthe Nineties. But. she tells Juliana Mercurio. people can‘t stOp laughing at her.
hiding them and even took tip weight-lifting to make them broader. I have small hands. so I stuck on long red fingernails and always tried to hold them in front of the catncra at such an angle that they looked big.‘
What both amazes and pleases her is that men. even straight men (she quickly assures me). found 'l'ina such an attractive character. ‘She's my one character who‘s been most successful with men. So many men stop me to tell me how mad they were about her! They love her. I thought they'd be put off because she‘s a transsexual.‘
Law ofDest're has been pivotal in both Almodovar‘s and (‘armen Maura's careers. It established Almodovar as a recognised film-maker all over Europe. Japan and South America. In the [IS it was so successful that in 1987 (when the film came out) retrospectives of his films took place in most of the major
cities. the film also won (‘armen Maura Spain‘s National Prize for Best Actress. "I'he first time it was won by a woman .' she proudly explains. adding ‘it was a great day for my father.’
Her respectable. middle-class parents were shocked but not surprised when she became an actress at 25. When she was twenty she got married. Two children later. she got divorced. After ten years in theatre. cafe theatre and cabaret she began making films. Now famous and financially independent — she has a beautiful apartment in Madrid and a cottage in the country with a field full of flowers and fruit trees — she is determined never to tnarry again. ‘I have to live like this. just relationships suit me fine. Spanish men (she concedes) may be just a bit macho. but I prefer them to all the other men in the world.‘ What is the secret oftheir attraction. I wonder.
Dare I think the obvious? Alas. the reason is much more prosaic: ‘It's a question oflanguage. I suppose I‘m more at home in Spanish.‘ Thinking of Lorca and all those subdued black-clad women. I venture a timid question about women. Ms Maura has no problems with that either: ‘I‘m not a militant feminist. the world belongs to women anvwav. We’ve got humour and other women to talk to— really talk to. It‘s much more difficult being a man.’
Pedro Almodovar would agree with her. He too prefers women as the main characters in his films. Btit his stereotyped feminine ideal — lashings of make-up. dizzy high heels and tight. tube skirts— wilfully borders on the grotesque. 'I'hat's why he has often been compared to John Waters. In Women Almodovar has his female characters unashamedly running round like demented creatures. because of their men‘s irresponsible behaviour. ‘In Women we're all women waking tip psychologically because men are driving us crazy. They say it’s a feminist film. [don‘t think it is. For me it‘s just a comedy. .l'aime beaucoup la comedie.‘
(‘armen is off on another of her favourite topics: the diversity of the roles she‘s played. how they affect her and why she prefers comedy. ‘Unless it’s a fantastic role. of course. Then it’s worth all the hell I go through!‘. She considers most of the roles she's had so far in Almodovar’s film as tragic. In fact they‘re madly camp melodramas — all sex. death and prayers to the Virgin Mary. ('armen Maura doesn't understand why people find most of the roles she's played so amusing. ‘In What Have I Done To Deserve This." I played a very sad. pathetic chamber-maid. loaded with children. living in a tiny apartment. So sad. yet people split their sides laughing.‘
Of her role as a nun. in Sisters of Darkness — full of lesbian sex. drugs. pet tigers and bongo drutns — she‘s strangely unopinionated. All she has to say is that she wore no make-up and looked positively awful. her displeasure with the drabness of that role is offset by her obvious pleasure in her latest film Baton Rouge. A glossy film noir-cum-thriller. by first-time young director. Rafael Moleon — Maura plays the lead as a stylish older woman a la Jeanne Moreau. She falls in love with a two-timing gold-digger. played by Antonio Banderas. who plays her lover‘s son in Women On The Verge and cruelly used her in Law of Desire. In Baton Rouge. it‘s the older woman who turns the tables on the younger man. It is also her star presence in the film which draws attention to Moleon’s work not the other way round. A nice change that — could this be a foretaste of drastic changes in Ms Maura's artistic future‘.’ She flashes another of her dazzling smiles.
Women on the Verge ofa .N'eri'ous Breakdown commences a lengthy run at the Edinburgh Film/louse from Sunday I 8 .