Hollywood royalty

Fernando Trueba on Penélope Cruz and The Queen Of Spain

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Penélope Cruz as Macarena Granada in Fernando Trueba's The Queen Of Spain is presented an Oscar by Cary Grant
Penélope Cruz as Macarena Granada in Fernando Trueba's The Queen Of Spain is presented an Oscar by Cary Grant

In my conversation with Fernando Trueba at the W Hotel Union Square in New York, he paid tribute to Emilio Ruiz del Río, who also worked with Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus), David Lean (Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago), Nicholas Ray (King Of Kings), John Milius (Conan The Barbarian), and Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth). Fernando's latest, The Queen Of Spain (La Reina De España) stars Penélope Cruz who was also his The Girl Of Your Dreams (La Niña De Tus Ojos) with Antonio Resines, Santiago Segura, Rosa Maria Sardà, Jorge Sanz, Jesús Bonilla, and Loles León, who all return here.

Penélope Cruz as Queen Isabella of Castile with John Scott (Clive Revill):
Penélope Cruz as Queen Isabella of Castile with John Scott (Clive Revill): "He is not John Ford but he is inspired by him."

In The Queen Of Spain, Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, and Clive Revill join the troupe in the 1950s as the Hollywood contingent making a film on Queen Isabella of Castile (portrayed by Cruz), financed by Franco. When Penélope Cruz simply and with great dignity sings Granada in the film within the film, directed by John Scott (Clive Revill), you will be mesmerised by the strength of her performance shot by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine who also filmed Trueba's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and BAFTA winner Belle Epoque.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I'd like to start with your opening credits. You used a similar technique in The Girl Of Your Dreams.

Fernando Trueba: It's the same thing but with a different use, no? When we did the first film, we used the newsreels to put people in the past. Spain is at war, Hitler is in power in Germany, etc. Here, I decided to link again, but put in a lot of fake things. The idea was not so much putting them in the period as to filling in what happened during these 18 years in the world, in cinema and to them.

AKT: What happened to the characters is quite a lot and varied. Blas Fontiveros was in Mauthausen, whereas Macarena [Granada] won an Oscar that was presented to her by Cary Grant. Did you have fun creating some of these Hollywood faux news? It's almost like another film.

Fernando Trueba with Anne-Katrin Titze:
Fernando Trueba with Anne-Katrin Titze: "I fell in love with Clive Revill when I saw Avanti by Billy Wilder..." Photo: Steven Raphael

FT: The film has a lot of winks for cinephiles and people who love cinema. It was very amusing. I was very happy to put in the movie the real image of so many people that I love most of the twentieth century. Like Cary Grant or Picasso, you know.

AKT: I know when we spoke about The Artist And The Model, you quoted Picasso to me - "I do not look for - I find." You have a movie scene with Kirk Douglas cut together with Penélope Cruz in the bathtub.

FT: That was very funny to introduce Penélope. It was a lot of fun. There are some tributes that are very personal ones. There was a guy called Emilio Ruiz [del Río] who died. He worked on The Girl Of Your Dreams as art director. He worked on a lot of American movies.

He worked with David Lean, with David Lynch, with Guillermo del Toro. He was a genius. So in this movie [The Queen Of Spain], I decided to make a small character. So my real art director/production designer [Juan Pedro De Gaspar] is playing him. And one of the characters says "Emilio Ruiz is a genius." At the beginning when they went to the studio.

In the Spanish film industry he was loved by everyone. Everyone recognised his style, his skill. He was kind of a genius art designer. I have lots of things like this in the film.

Fernando Trueba's The Girl Of Your Dreams poster
Fernando Trueba's The Girl Of Your Dreams poster

AKT: You can feel it, even if you're not that familiar with Spanish film history. When they are talking over lunch about Rita Hayworth and how she could dance better than Ginger Rogers, somebody brings up You Were Never Lovelier, the film Hayworth did with Fred Astaire. Then they talk about a song I don't believe is in the film, called Love Is Born From Dancing. What was that all about? I didn't get it.

FT: The joke there is that in Spain they used to change the titles of the movies all the time. So You Were Never Lovelier in Spain was called [Fernando gives the Spanish title which translates to Love Is Born From Dancing: Bailando Nace El Amor].

AKT: John Scott is John Ford?

FT: He is not John Ford but he is inspired by him. John Scott is more tender. Ford was more tough.

AKT: And Scott is more sleepy, too.

FT: And drank a lot. It was wonderful for me to have Clive Revill play him. I fell in love with Clive Revill when I saw Avanti by Billy Wilder where he gave one of the most genius supporting performances ever for me. I loved to have him here. He was 86 and he accepted with enthusiasm because he loved the script.

AKT: One of the strangest, wildest moments was when he just grabs the historical advisor, the woman who is the specialist on Isabella, and gives her a kiss. It's one of many unexpected kisses. It's a film of lots of strange kisses.

FT: I think it was fun to have this old man think - what do I do with this woman? How can I talk to her? He is very smart. He finds a solution like this. How can I stop her?

Fernando Trueba on Kirk Douglas cut together with Penélope Cruz in the bathtub:
Fernando Trueba on Kirk Douglas cut together with Penélope Cruz in the bathtub: "It was a lot of fun."

AKT: Well, he did. The show-stopper is the song. When Penélope Cruz starts singing Granada, everybody you show on screen is mesmerized and I think audiences are mesmerised as well. Can you talk about this song?

FT: You know, when I started to write the screenplay, I decided to keep some things from the first one: like the newsreels in the credits, that the whole movie takes place during the shooting of a movie, to have the title of the fictional one be the title of the whole movie.

But I realised, there is not going to be a song because we are making a historical movie about Queen Isabella of Castile. So I was kind of sad. Then when we were placing the scenes of the movie within the movie, there is the conquest of Granada. And there is this song, a classic song written by Agustín Lara, a Mexican composer.

AKT: From the Thirties.

FT: Yes, the Twenties and Thirties. But how can we do that to put it in the movie. It's kind of a parody of the Hollywood mentality. Nothing can stop us, you know, of making a big show. To make films magical. The Hollywood approach, to genre, to history at the time. They did more crazy things than that.

The Queen Of Spain US poster
The Queen Of Spain US poster

AKT: Absolutely. Plus having Isabella be someone she clearly was not, the historical revisionism.

FT: I wanted it to be ridiculous, but touching, no? At the end of it, you feel the magic. I love to do this kind of thing.

AKT: I liked the placement of the song. The scene right before is in the labor camp. We don't know exactly what happened with Fontiveros and her. And he is being asked "Is she really your daughter?". There is no answer to the question. The answer is the song. When everything is up in the air, there comes the movie magic. Did Penelope Cruz come up with ideas?

FT: What you ask me is very important because in the first movie, The Girl Of Your Dreams, the song is not her. It was a singer who has a very similar kind of voice. And in this movie, I had the same singer in mind and I talked to her. She even did a recording before the shooting.

But Penelope told me "Let me try!" So I did it and she did so beautifully that she is really singing in the movie. So that was her suggestion. You must credit her for this.

AKT: I'm so glad she convinced you. It's a remarkably beautiful moment.

Coming up - Fernando Trueba on Cary Elwes, what we do with monuments from the past, producer Samuel Bronston, the historical Queen Isabella of Castile, and his upcoming animation film project.

The Queen Of Spain is in cinemas in the US.

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