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After three decades of making movies, the 61-year-old Pedro Almodóvar may be a veteran but there’s nothing stale or old-fashioned about his work. His eighteenth movie, The Skin I Live In, sees him as sharp and shocking as he was in the days of such flamboyant outings as High Heels and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! While that 1990 effort was the last time the Spaniard worked with Antonio Banderas, this latest thriller offers a long overdue reunion, Banderas sizzling as demented cosmetic surgeon Robert Ledgard, who takes his obsession with a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) to unparalleled extremes.
This film has been in the works for some years; what took so long?
It was very difficult. For me, it’s much harder to make an adaptation than to make an original script. When I read the novel [Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet] with the eyes of an adapter, there were many things that didn’t work, for me and for the script. It was very difficult to build a character like Robert Ledgard, this doctor, and be believable. It took me time to make everything believable because it’s a very unique situation.
It feels like a modern-day Frankenstein story. Do you agree?
I can’t really do anything else but recognise that there is a Frankenstein presence in the film. It’s not something I was thinking about when I was writing the script, but very clearly, it’s there. There’s this image of Vera with a network of new scars across her body—it’s a new Frankenstein. But I think the myth of Frankenstein falls quite naturally into the context of the film. I accept Frankenstein as my companion. I’m sure he’s going to be with me for the next few months.
Is it true you thought about making it a silent black-and-white movie?
Yes. In my mind, I was trying to make a silent Fritz Lang movie—but I thought it was too risky. There was enough risk already. And I was a little afraid. I like to take risks myself when I’m making a movie. But you need to have an idea of the risk that you’re taking to assess it. I’m aware of the risks I take in any film. I’ve always taken risks, I accept that, and I’m aware of the consequences.
The film is about cosmetic surgery; is this something you feel strongly about?
I’m not judging cosmetic surgery as such. If you’re trying to present me as some sort of great moralist, I have to say I’m anything but. I just want my characters to come to life. I want them to be people who are real and believable. And I want the spectators to understand those characters. I think cosmetic surgery is a sign of our times. I think that often, when there’s abuse, that abuse comes from the very clients themselves. People who end up entering a very viscous circle in search of beauty, and that leads to some quite grotesque extremes.
Do you think it could be a fitting subject for comedy?
It depends on the movie you want to do. Dark comedy is wonderful. I would like to make a comedy about the three women in the life of Elvis Presley. The wife, the daughter and the granddaughter… they look completely the same age! I remember a photo of Priscilla [Presley], Lisa Marie and the daughter of Lisa Marie on the cover of Vanity Fair. Priscilla looked younger than her granddaughter! I think it’d be wonderful to make a comedy like that!
It’s your first film with Antonio Banderas in 20 years. How has he changed?
Of course, he’s grown up. It was not the same Antonio. But he kept inside the same part of Antonio that I lived with in the past. A very happy person. Very playful. And also, what was more important, was that he wanted absolutely to make my movie. He became a director too, and he learned. So I really appreciated, from the beginning, that he treated me as the one director on set. Because two directors on set is too much! Sometimes, one director is too much!
Where did you first meet Antonio?
I saw him as an extra in a play. I was looking for dark-haired boys for Labyrinth of Passion, my second movie. And he was extremely dark—though in Spain that’s very easy! After that, I saw him in Madrid and we talked for a while. He remembered that I had seen him in the moment. The first thing I ever said to him was, ‘You could play major romantic leads!’ We did a very short audition… just walking in the street. He crossed over with someone, and then he looked back, and I just asked him to look at the other person with passion and desire. And he did it perfectly. I feel very close to Antonio. He was part of my family in the eighties. He was really like my younger brother. Also, he was the actor at that moment that represented me the most.
How do you look back on your reputation as an enfant terrible?
The press was very scandalised in the eighties, by the movies that I made. I was always linked with outrageous movies. It didn’t bother me. But I never felt like that. I was completely spontaneous, then and now. Sometimes, my spontaneity was very outrageous! Now, I think people like to be outraged, scandalised! I never feel like an enfant terrible. But it’s a definition that’s been with me my whole life.
How do you approach the distribution of your movies?
The business part is more my brother [his producer, Agustín Almodóvar]. But we are 30 years in this business, so we now have a family in every country. We work with the same people. But this is the kind of work that my brother does more. I say only ‘hello’ to them and take a picture! Personally, I know more of the Europeans, and also Michael Barker and Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics in the US. After 20 years of working together, they became very close friends of mine. •