Do you remember your first audition?
Yes, it was for the woman who became my manager and still works with me. She was testing around 300 actors. I was 14 years old, and she had me read a scene from Casablanca, which is impossible to do when you are that age. But my manager asked me if I wanted to work with her, and she sent me on some castings. When I was 16, I got Jamón, Jamón. Of course, I had to lie about my age. And I had to lie to my parents about the content of the script.
What was your first American film?
The Hi-Lo Country, directed by Stephen Frears. I was obsessed with him because he had directed Dangerous Liaisons. I watched that movie every day for a long time [laughs]. So I came to America for two months, and one movie led to another. I stayed.
In the beginning, you didn’t speak any English. As you learned the
language, did you have trouble translating emotional resonance into
words that were alien to you?
Yes. There is a part of your brain that has to stop when you’re acting. You have to be in the moment and dare to fly. Words can’t be on your mind. And yet, when you are working in a foreign language, you have to be thinking about the words every single second. It’s difficult, but I’m not complaining. It’s just the way it is.
For Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen wanted you and Javier
Bardem to speak Spanish, but Allen himself doesn’t speak the
language. Was that complicated?
He gave us the script he wrote in English, and he gave us the freedom to translate and improvise. Woody told me recently that he still doesn’t know if we are talking about the atomic bomb. And it’s the same thing in To Rome With Love—he doesn’t speak Italian. I translated my lines. So he still doesn’t know what I am saying.
How was your initial meeting with Allen?
Fast. Very fast. We sat down for 30 seconds. He had seen Volver, and he thought I would be right for this character. And that was it. I never spoke to him again until we were shooting.
Did you read the script before saying yes?
No. I had no idea who I would be playing. After I said yes, he sent the script with this man who knocked on my door and said, “I will come back and pick it up in an hour.” I had to read really fast, and it was in English. It was the same thing with To Rome With Love—a different man but the same behavior. This time, I asked for two hours [laughs].