By Miki Turner
7:33 PM CDT, June 29, 2012
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. The first time Penelope Cruz worked with Woody Allen she won an Oscar. So, it's no wonder that she jumped at the opportunity to play a hooker in his latest effort, "To Rome with Love."
"I feel extremely lucky," Cruz said during a recent press conference at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. "I've been a fan of his work since I was a little girl. … He trusts me enough to give me these beautiful characters. The only thing is that it's always too short. Both times I worked with him I did it in three weeks. So, I always want more."
The film, which opens Friday, is set in the Eternal City and, like all of Allen's films, has several storylines going on at once. Naturally, Allen rounded up a large cast that includes Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Ellen Page, Allison Pill and Greta Gerwig.
Cruz plays a hooker named Anna who knocks on the wrong hotel door but agrees to pretend to be the wife of newlywed Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) so he can impress family members and their business colleagues. (His real wife is on a Rome adventure of her own.)
Cruz said she didn't really model her character after anyone specific, but did get some inspiration from parties at the Cannes Film Festival and talking with Allen.
"We didn't talk about any particular woman," she said. "It was just there on the page and I created this Anna/Milly [character] that says everything she thinks ... She doesn't have a filter and I loved that because she's the opposite of who I am."
"I want to be like that but I am much more of a control freak," she added. "So I love playing characters that are so free."
The freedom to interpret a character is one of the things Cruz loves most about working with Allen. In "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Cruz played another quirky character—the tempestuous ex-wife of Javier Bardem, who is having affairs with two American tourists.
"[Allen] gives all this freedom, which is very liberating," Cruz said. "At the same time it's like a big responsibility because you don't want to ruin anything--especially when you are working in a different language. Javier [Bardem] and I, he gave us this scene in English and asked us to translate it however we wanted to--the way our characters would speak. We didn't know if he was going to be happy with that because we were swearing every three words!"
While "Barcelona" was mostly about fun and frivolity, "Rome" delves into the absurdity that comes with instant celebrity. Allen took an obvious poke at that when the breakfast Benigni's character eats is reported as breaking news.
Cruz, 38, who was reared in Spain and lives in New York and L.A., has never been tabloid fodder. Even though Allen admits celebrity has it perks, Cruz draws the line when it comes to the child she had last year with Bardem, her husband of two years.
"I can't tolerate it," she said. "There are magazines that have pages dedicated to the children [of celebrities]. I'm 100 percent against that. They aren't a handbag."
"The only good real thing that I've taken out of it is to experience it in first person and to truly realize that there's not real happiness that comes out of it," she continued. "The advantages are very unfair and disgusting but I also think that some of the disadvantages are pretty tough and difficult to deal with to the point where I sometimes have questions if I want to continue this job."
Miki Turner is a RedEye special contributor.
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