It's nearly an hour into Woody Allen's golden-hued comedy of desire "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" when Penelope Cruz shows up as Javier Bardem's passionately unhinged ex-wife Maria Elena, a life-is-art-and-vice-versa firecracker. It takes only seconds for the Spanish siren to shake up the molecules in the film's breezily romantic air with her confrontations and seductions.
One bloc of moviegoers particularly entranced by Cruz was academy voters, who nominated her for supporting actress. It's the second shot at an Oscar for the raven-haired Madrid native, after her starring turn three years ago as a resilient mother in "Volver." That film was directed by her countryman Pedro Almodovar, whose next film, "Los Abrazos Rotos" also stars Cruz.
How did you find out about your nomination?
I arrived from Europe into L.A., and one of my girlfriends woke me up and said, "Let's watch it live!" So we did. That's a big risk!
It turned out a happy morning, though.
The great thing about it is when you hear your family and friends cry about how happy they are for you. It's so beautiful. It's about the work, but it's something you can share with people who care about you.
Why do you think Maria Elena resonated with voters?
Well, I didn't want to play her crazy. That's such an abstract concept. I felt for her, and I felt like I understood her. Since I started working as an actress, I've wanted to at least once have the opportunity to play a character with mental instability. That to me has always been one of the mysteries of life. I wanted to understand the reality that made sense to her. That's why I didn't want to play her crazy. Because, what is crazy? For her, the rest of the people are the crazy ones.
How did you work with Woody Allen as a director?
He's very specific about what he wants. He doesn't rehearse but he gave us the script a few months before, and he wanted us to come ready with different proposals. I think it's a clever strategy he uses to keep actors in [the present], because all the time you feel as if you are running out of time. And don't his characters always feel like that? I think it's something he creates so we don't drive him crazy. He's afraid of how psychotic actors can be, so he uses that adrenaline.
Do you have a favorite scene from the film?
I remember when Javier and I did the scene screaming in the street, we did it at 7 in the morning. Woody said, "Check the gate" after one take. I said, "That cannot be it for me today! I'm gonna go home and drive myself crazy not having the opportunity to do other things!" He said, "Yeah, but I love what you guys did." So we begged him, and we did two more takes!
Woody has a penchant for directing people to Oscars: Diane Keaton, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino. Do you feel lucky?
I think it's better if it catches you by surprise. I would lie to you if I told you it wouldn't be a great and exciting thing. But I just want to enjoy that day with my family and value everything that's happened with this movie.
Will Pedro be jealous if you win for Woody's movie?
Pedro is so generous. He was one of the first people to call me. And Pedro really likes Woody. They always leave me messages for each other. I feel privileged that I can be that messenger.