Old friends make movie magic

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For “Broken Embraces” star Penélope Cruz, the key to working with two of the world’s most celebrated and meticulous directors — in this case, Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar, and, for last year’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Woody Allen — is the ability to adapt.

It was Almodóvar, her longtime confidant and collaborator, who helped Cruz earn the first of her two Oscar nominations, for her captivating starring performance in the slyly comical family drama “Volver” (2006). Yet it was her tempestuous supporting turn in “Vicky Cristina” that won her the statuette.

How would she compare the two?

“They’re both great,” says Cruz, 35, “but their approaches couldn’t be more different. Pedro loves to rehearse for months. Woody doesn’t even like to rehearse on the day of the shoot. He gives you amazing freedom to do what you want. ‘You want to do this take with your back to the camera? You want to do it upside down?’ He’s open to anything.

“But I know how Pedro works, and I want to give him my best because he puts so much trust in me. Both directors are very supportive of their actors. And it’s your job to adapt to their unique styles.”

Although she calls her relationship with Allen “wonderful,” Cruz describes working with Almodóvar, who directed the current “Embraces,” as a more intimate experience, one that benefits from a fast friendship formed nearly two decades ago.

“I met Pedro when I was 17, and I was too young for the script he was writing at the time,” she says. “He told me he would write something else for me, and then we did ‘Live Flesh’ [in 1998]. Even then, we had something more than a working relationship. We liked each other from the beginning. He’s one of my closest friends.”

In “Embraces,” Cruz plays Lena, an aspiring starlet who falls for Mateo, her director, with tragic results. Did the Madrid-born actress draw on her feelings for Almodóvar in playing the part?

“The dynamics of our relationship are different than Lena’s and Mateo’s, but yes, I was inspired by Pedro,” she says. “When we were rehearsing, he would read lines with me, and without planning it, we ended up acting out scenes together. There was one scene we did, with Pedro taking pictures of me, looking at me in a mirror. In that scene, I wasn’t seeing my director, I was seeing one of my best friends.

“In six months of rehearsing and shooting, that was my favorite moment, those seconds I spent looking through the mirror at Pedro.”

If you go

Broken Embraces

Starring Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, José Luis Gómez
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Rated R
Running time 2 hours 7 minutes

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