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The Skin I Live In - Elena Anaya interview

The Skin I Live In

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ELENA Anaya talks about some of the challenges of reuniting with acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar on The Skin I Live In, finding her character and not revealing the film’s twists.

She also talks about working with Antonio Banderas, tackling the film’s nudity and body suits and what may lie in store next…

Q. The first time you worked with Pedro Almodovar you described it as a dream come true. So, what was it like second time around as one of the leads?
Elena Anaya: Well, even though the part he offered me first time around on Talk To Her was quite tiny he made a very big impression on me. And I was very happy because it’s so good to get a call from Pedro. In fact, he was embarrassed to offer me such a small part at the time, but I said he could call me for a small part whenever he wanted! It was excellent working with him 10 years ago and just the same now. Being able to be so present and to be able to stay for such a long time with him and to be able to hone my skills was so good.

Q. What makes him so special in your opinion?
Elena Anaya: First of all, he’s just so passionate about what he does and so incredibly talented. He dedicates his entire life to his art and you can tell. You realise that everything has a reason for being. All the decisions he makes, no matter how deep and profound they might seem at first, have a reason – and that’s what makes him one of the most talented directors. Also, he’s so funny, which always helps. He brings up ideas that sometimes meant we had to stop and laugh for five minutes. He’s just an inspiring person to be around and you never know what he might come up with next. And not just to do with the film itself… but his observations in general.

Q. I’d imagine that when talking about The Skin I Live In, the art lies in not giving too much away. Have you developed a technique for evading potential spoilers?
Elena Anaya: I always think that when we actors talk about the films that we’ve done we run the risk of destroying everything. So, it’s the same feeling with this, especially because of the twists. And you’re right, I can’t say a lot because you’ll destroy the plot if you know too much. So, I try to keep this twist because if I were able to erase it from my memory and go and watch the film as a viewer, I wouldn’t want to know anything about it. In fact, whenever I go and watch a film I don’t like to read about them beforehand – I like to go in fresh and get inside the story without knowing what’s going to happen.

The Skin I Live In

Q. So, what was the biggest challenge of playing Vera? She’s a very strong character…
Elena Anaya: I think maybe the biggest challenge was being this human being with this incredible identity who wasn’t sure whether she was the same person she started out being. It felt a bit like playing many, many characters. Pedro told me you have to lie… just the same as he does with the audience. But I had a duty to make people believe that the things my character seemed to want weren’t necessarily what she wanted. She undergoes a massive transformation over the course of her journey through the film.

Q. Were your body suits designed by Jean Paul Gaultier? And how comfortable were they to wear?
Elena Anaya: Yes, Jean Paul designed the black and little brown body suits, as well as the house-keeping clothes. But they helped me every day to get into character. And they weren’t too difficult to move around in. You’re actually kind of nude in them, which is sometimes more difficult because it’s kind of weird, especially for the people working around them. I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t very happy on the last day when I could say goodbye to them. But it’s a tool for making the role… and they were comfortable to move around in – sometimes a little slippery.

Q. How was the nudity itself?
Elena Anaya: Pedro took care of me so much… he was very nice and that helps a lot. He didn’t want to show whatever wasn’t necessary. But I never felt objectified and I knew, going in, that he’s a very elegant man. You can see that in all of his films. But he treated me so good that it wasn’t a problem. The same can be said for Antonio [Banderas] and the other actors. I was very, very well supported by them and they tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible.

The Skin I Live In

Q. Did you enjoy working with Antonio? And did the fact he was reuniting with Pedro as well make it all the more special?
Elena Anaya: Antonio was excellent. And it was an incredible experience because he knew Pedro so well. They’ve been like brothers for many, many years, even though it’s been 20 years since the last film they did together. But 20 years means nothing in time for them. It was as if they were picking things up right from where they left off on the last film. Perhaps they were more grown up. But Antonio is such an incredible presence to be around as well. He helped me a lot with his experience, and with his mood always being nice and easy-going. He was also very generous with me. We got on very well.

Q. I gather you became quite fond of yoga as well as a result of your preparation for the role?
Elena Anaya: Yoga was another gift that Pedro gave me. I’d never practised it until I was called to do this film. But I had the nicest teacher, who is very well known in Madrid. It also helped me a lot – both as a person but also as an actress in terms of realising how it assisted my character and how it saves her. I will continue to practise it whenever possible.

Q. Can we expect to see you gravitating towards Hollywood more now?
Elena Anaya: Well, when you receive a phone call from Pedro asking you to play the lead role in his next film, of course all those ideas come across… but as soon as they come across they pass away [laughs]. You need to focus so much on what’s in front of you rather than thinking about what might happen in the future. So, going into this, my main thoughts were: “I have to do it right… if I don’t do it very well people will criticise me, I’ll have to quit films, leave the country and go into hiding.” All those nightmares appeared and formed a part of the pressure I felt. So, rather like being a wire-walker performing at very great heights, you have to focus… on the director and on going wherever he wants to drive you. Now that it’s over, I can say the film gave me so many good feelings and I grew up as a person and as an actress. So now let’s see what happens in the future. But for me, my objective with this film was to make Pedro happy and he was very, very, very happy with it.

Q. Have you got anything else lined up?
Elena Anaya: I don’t know. I’ve got some little things and one amazing thing here [in England] on offer. So, I hope that comes true. But right now, I cannot say too much about it.

Q. What’s your favourite response to The Skin I Live In so far?
Elena Anaya: Well, I want to watch it in a cinema with an audience. I think that would be fun to see their reaction. But to hear the reaction at Cannes… I was very impressed that people liked it and that people went for the story and digested it quite well. That was also an amazing experience for me and another great memory to take away.

Read our review of The Skin I Live In