Still going strong after seven films, the director and his muse discuss the secrets to their 25-year-long relationship — and their latest movie, Parallel Mothers.

You could mistake the scene at midtown Manhattan's Whitby Hotel on a brisk October Saturday for a moment taken directly out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It's as if the room itself, carpeted with orange and green, was designed with the filmmaker's preferred bold color palette in mind.

Almodóvar, 72, in a hot pink polo shirt beneath a black hoodie, sits in a chair across a circular wooden coffee table from Penélope Cruz, 47, his Oscar-winning muse and longtime friend of 25 years. From a couch beside their translator, she sips orange juice in a pink-and-blue Fair Isle sweater. Did the pair purposefully dress to complement each other, or are they just that in sync? It's hard to tell.

Parallel Mothers, in which Cruz stars as a pregnant middle-aged photographer who forms a bond with a younger woman (Milena Smit) also about to give birth, marks their seventh film together. It's the kind of actor-director relationship thespians dream of in Hollywood. (Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, John Hughes and Molly Ringwald.)

Almodóvar and Cruz haven't thought too much about why they've been able to maintain such a dynamic and fruitful relationship. "It just happens," Cruz says. "With a look, we know how the other one is feeling that morning. Are we nervous about something? Are we happy? Everything. I can never lie to him."

Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar working on 'Parallel Mothers'
| Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

She came to a rehearsal for Parallel Mothers one day, upset over something going on with a friend. She didn't want to tell Almodóvar. She didn't want to bring that energy into their creative space. But because it was Almodóvar, he could sense something in her voice as the cast read through the script.

"I looked at him and I said, 'I love how well you know me and how well we know each other.' And I started crying," Cruz recalls. "And then he hugged me and we talked, and the rehearsal was fine. I know he knows me well, and I know him well, but that day it really freaked me out because I thought nobody could tell. I thought I was hiding it well. No. Impossible."

Almodóvar laughs over his cappuccino. "I think it's also important to establish a kind of distance. It doesn't mean that I treat her just like an actress. If there is a problem, then I become a friend, but it's good just to have this because then we feel more secure."

The director and actress dig further into the success of their friendship and their work, and reuniting yet again for Parallel Mothers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After 2019's Oscar-nominated Pain and Glory, what was your mindset about what you wanted to do next?

PEDRO ALMODÓVAR: After the ceremony in 2020, I went back to my country and we had the [COVID-19] confinement. I was thinking about immediately making The Human Voice because Tilda Swinton was already in Madrid. But after, I was thinking about a long feature. I had the script already done for Parallel Mothers, but I didn't like it.

PENÉLOPE CRUZ: In the middle of the lockdown, we talked once in a while. He told me that he took out this script again and was starting to finish it. I couldn't be more happy to hear the news.

Does he share all the scripts that are sitting in his drawer, Penélope?

CRUZ: I don't ask too much. I know if he has something to share with me, he will. He'll call whoever he thinks is the right person for that character. It's not going to be because we are friends, and that gives us [as actors] more confidence, because we know that if he's calling us, it's because he thinks we're the right person for it. He mentioned to Antonio [Banderas] and I about a remake of Marriage Italian Style. Of course, Antonio and I were like, "Is he joking? It would be a dream for us!" I feel we haven't done our comedy yet.

ALMODÓVAR: It's true.

Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz attend the premiere for "Parallel Mothers" during the 59th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on October 08, 2021 in New York City.
Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz
| Credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

You have worked together for a very long time. Are there still things that you're learning about each other?

CRUZ: One of the reasons I love working with him so much is because I get to learn about everything: about cinema, about writing, about the development of characters, about editing, about the whole process. But also about life, because he's somebody that sees life in a way that is very inspiring for me.

ALMODÓVAR: I knew Parallel Mothers had one of the most complex characters I had ever written. The character Penélope had to interpret was a mother in constant contradiction with the way she behaves and the way she's feeling. I was asking her to do something very psychologically complex, which was behaving outwardly in one way while she's not able to reveal certain things about herself.

How did you unlock your character, Penélope?

CRUZ: [Pedro] gave us three, four months to prepare together. With him, I arrive from zero to do it together from the beginning, from the root. And I enjoy that process very much. [Janis] has to be a professional liar in life for survival. She has to be tough. I identify with her in many ways. But if it was me in that situation… I would have been able to lie in life like her, probably yes. Out of also survival mode. And I don't judge her for taking the time that she takes to speak the truth. I don't think anybody can.

Many actors and directors would kill for the longtime collaboration you two have. What's been most important in maintaining your relationship?

CRUZ: You cannot force those things. It just happens. The connection with someone to grow together, experience things together — you keep understanding each other. We never talk about this, but our relationship is different on the set. We create, like, a veil of distance. We are not like when we go out to a restaurant and we are gossiping and laughing. We know we need that to protect the relationship and the work.

ALMODÓVAR: When I give her feedback about the performance, Penélope knows that I would say it that way exactly to any other actress, that I'm not softening the blow or sugarcoating it in any way… It's not about resetting a power relationship, but actually setting up a functional work relationship.

A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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