Penelope Cruz for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”

Regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz has been in the glare of the international media lately and not necessarily because of her acting roles. With reported affairs with both Nicolas Cage and more recently Tom Cruise, Cruz has had to deal with fame on an entirely different level.

Cruz is currently starring opposite Nicolas Cage in the World War 2-set Captain Corelli’s Mandolin set amidst the idyllic beauty of Greece’s Mediterranean coast, which has been invaded by Italy, thus bringing legions of soldiers to the once tranquil island of Cephalonia. Captain Antonio Corelli, an officer with an irrepressibly jovial personality and passion for the mandolin, initially alienates a number of the villagers, including Pelagia. The daughter of the village doctor, Pelagia is an educated and strong-willed woman, and while at first offended by the Italian soldier’s behaviour, she slowly warms to his certain charms as they are forced to share her father’s home.

When Pelagia’s fiancĂ©e, a local fisherman, heads off to war, the friendship between Antonio and Pelagia grows even stronger. Her beauty and intelligence have captured his heart, and his fondness for the village’s vibrant community causes him to question his reasons for fighting. Antonio becomes a part of the lives of the villagers, but the moment is fleeting. As the war grows ever closer, Antonio and Pelagia are forced to choose between their allegiance to their countries and the love they feel for one another-a love which must overcome tremendous odds, and endure the inevitable sacrifice which accompanies eternal devotion. Paul Fischer sat down recently with the beautiful actress, who, while promoting the film, discussed acting, fame and Messrs Cage and Cruise.

Question: An important theme in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, is love and loss. What do you think YOU would do, personally, if you had to, say, write a letter telling someone you were no longer in love with them. Has that ever happened to you?

Answer: I think anyone would feel sad about that, no, but I haven’t been in the same situation as this character. I’ve had different experiences that can be substituted in order to understand her feelings which I understand and they make a lot of sense to me. But I haven’t been in that situation myself.

Question: Was it the themes or the character that drew you to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?

Answer: Both, and the chance to be able to work with John Madden and with all these actors.

Question: Could you relate to this character?

Answer: I never ask myself that question when I’m going to play a character; I just want to understand the character, to be able to play her. It’s as if I don’t WANT to know if I can identify with her because sometimes you play characters that you don’t like for whatever reason.

Question: What were the greatest challenges in playing such a complex character for you?

Answer: I think the pressure to have a great character like this, which has the weight of a movie. There are so many emotionally-charged scenes to the extent where I couldn’t talk to anyone. Yet I was very happy with that feeling, because I want characters that require that and one has to completely focus on that for three months.

Question: Do you remember the first time you met Nicolas Cage? Did you audition with him?

Answer: No, I auditioned without him, with John Madden in England, because of the accent. We were with a dialect coach to work on my Greek accent, because it’s a little different from ours but not SO different, which makes it more difficult I think. After that audition he called and said: Certain characters belong to certain people and this one belongs to you, which was do beautifully expressed and I’m so grateful to him for giving me this part.

Question: Even though you were working in relative isolation, did it help that you had your family on the set?

Answer: Yes, though I didn’t see them a lot because I was working all the time and they were like on vacation. But I was happy because they were having a great time. They actually went back and they’re there now. They loved the place so they went back.

Question: I guess you had a good time filming on the Greek island of Kefallonia, huh?

Answer: Oh yeah, I loved the island; I couldn’t imagine a better way of making this movie than be there. I also met people who had gone through similar situations, who had kept refugees in their houses during the war and survived the earthquake, who were also extras in the movie.

Question: Now your next movie, Vanilla Sky is a remake of the Spanish original [Abre los ojos] in which you also starred. How would you compare working on both versions?

Answer: Vanilla Sky is a great homage to the earlier movie, and Cameron treats with a great deal of respect because he loves that movie.

Question: You’re playing the same character, right?

Answer: Kind of, but the character is very different. I won’t say what is different, but structurally there are differences.

Question: Did you have a feeling of deja-vu doing Vanilla Sky?

Answer: In some of the more similar scenes, yes.

Question: Of course this time, you have Tom [Cruise] and it is a dream to work opposite him. Not to mention Nic Cage, so you’re doing really well. How do you feel your life is going with all of this? Are you amazed? Is it what you expected when you came to America?

Answer: I feel I’ve worked so hard all these years that when you are an actor you depend on other people’s trust and they are giving me that trust and characters that I love and different characters here as against my country. That’s what I’m happy about and that was my dream when I became an actress – to be able to be an actress who could do good work. If you have that, you’re very lucky.

Question: But what about the pressure that goes with doing these high profile films and being in the kind of media spotlight that has accompanied such success. How do you deal with it and not become a Hollywood Diva?

Answer: I focus on the work which I think is the only thing that can save you. You work hard to try and learn as much as possible and there’s still so much to learn. You learn from life and from relationships with other people. So I try and focus on that. I try to stay away from gossip, I don’t read that stuff and I don’t find out about all the gossip. I mean, the main things I know, but I think what is important is how you deal with it. If you stay safe and focused on the work, that is the only thing that can save you. I prefer to put my energies on that. Since I started work at 15 or 16, it has been like that. Even more now (because of dating Cruise) I protect myself-and you should protect things that are only for yourself and shouldn’t be mixed with the work.

Question: Do you feel the pressure of the looks and the maintaining of the body, all of the things that Hollywood puts on women?

Answer: No, I would never rely on my age. There are other things I want to do with my life, such as be a photographer. I don’t expect to be doing this kind of work forever. And I’m conscious of that. I hope that I’ll still be acting when I’m an old woman.

Question: So you’re not obsessed with staying slim? Do you have a program, personal trainers and that sort of thing?

Answer: No. I exercise and eat well because I feel better, that’s all.

Question: What photography do you enjoy?

Answer: Taking photos of other photographers; they really hate that.

Question: Not going into details about your personal life, but when you decide, for example, that you’re going to go out with Tom Cruise, do you consider all that is going to happen to you? That people are interested in you anyway, but when you go out with Tom Cruise or someone like him, do you think about the potentially explosive situation that will create or do you just not think about it at all?

Answer: Of course I think about it, but I was thinking about that before as well. I just don’t want to talk about it in an interview; I just want to keep that to myself.

Question: Can you tell me at least one thing you admire in Tom?

Answer: I think he’s just an amazing and generous person.

Question: Do you like men who are romantic, who perhaps serenade you?

Answer: It really doesn’t happen too often.

Question: What are your future plans?

Answer: I’m going to rest, study some more photography until about February when I might be starting a new movie which I can’t talk about.

Question: Finally, how did you like Fiji?

Answer: I’m not going to talk about that. Look, I know the way that’s going to be used. I’m not angry that you asked me, but I don’t want to talk about it. I wasn’t working and so I want to keep those things for myself.