Cruz dives in at the Depp end
In Pirates 4, Penelope Cruz had to swashbuckle while protecting her co-star-- not Johnny Depp but her child, writes Evan Fanning
ALL eyes fix on Penelope Cruz as she glides into the plush ballroom of The Dorchester Hotel in London and takes a seat alongside the cast and crew of her latest film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
The surroundings are opulent, and Cruz, with her long shampoo-ad hair and sheer navy dress, shimmers as much as any of the gleaming mirrors or crystal chandeliers. This is not how a first-time mother of a five-month-old baby is supposed to look.
But the 37-year-old is not one to shirk from challenges: not in her career, where she went headfirst into big roles in Hollywood movies, turning herself from little-known Spanish actress into a global star; and not in her personal life, where her three-year relationship with Tom Cruise meant her existence would never be the same again, for better or for worse.
Taking on the most physically demanding role of her career is another challenge that Cruz met head-on and did so shortly after she found out she was pregnant. What is the Spanish for fearless?
"The studio knew [about the pregnancy] from the beginning, before we started to shoot," she explains, once she has sat down and the cameras stop flashing. "Their reaction could not have been better and I will never forget it because it was a very special time for me."
It can't have been easy. At times, the film was being shot on Hawaiian beaches so remote that they were inaccessible by land. The cast and crew had to arrive on location by Jet Ski and wade in to reach the shore. It's probably not the ideal way to start a day if you're suffering from morning sickness.
Things didn't get much easier once the day's work began, as Cruz, playing Angelica, an old flame of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, was required to play a full role in the many action sequences on which the film is hinged.
When Cruz is asked if she found the physical demands taxing, she inadvertently lets slip what the real obstacle may have been. "Because we had all these great teachers and I was so pregnant," she says, before correcting herself with a smile. "Because I was so protected by them [the studio], it was easy to enjoy. It was like being at Disneyland every day."
She could be forgiven for having pregnancy on her mind, as questions about motherhood are never far away ever since baby Leo was born in January. It's just one more reason why people want a piece of her and husband Javier Bardem. Last year's marriage to the Oscar-winning actor and the birth of their son have turned the couple into a new version of Spain's royal family.
Given the high-profile nature of her previous relationship with Cruise, it is probably understandable that Cruz and Bardem do not wish to have their every move played out in front of prying eyes. Their wedding in July was top secret and they were together for nearly three years before they made any public statement on their relationship.
Cruz admits that being a mother has changed her outlook on her profession.
"We change every day, and big things like parenthood make us change in a big and positive way," she says. "In terms of the work, I don't know how I'll be affected. A few years ago, I changed the rhythm a little bit. I was a workaholic. I used to work on three or four movies every year, but that changed a while ago. So now I maybe do one a year, two if they are very short.
"And it's very important for me to have that equilibrium, that balance, because I was always tired before."
It's safe to assume that Pirates was not one of the "short" projects. It was thanks mainly to the presence of Depp that she took the role. "I was a big fan of the movies and especially of what Johnny created with this iconic character," she says.
Depp sits beside her, as always, giving off an air of cool detachment and the sense that all the pomp and ceremony that surrounds him is some weird dreamland he has woken up in and he's not quite sure how he got there.
Answers are often irreverent and delivered in his lazy, laid-back drawl. It is, he says, "a very special opportunity" to be able to resurrect the character of Sparrow.
"It also gives me the opportunity to wear women's undergarments," he adds. "That's not something you get to do every day, so when the chance comes up you have to grab it."
The inspiration for the character has been discussed at length and Keith Richards again makes another cameo appearance. Depp admits that he had some concerns about portraying Sparrow in the image of Richards.
"It was a little strange initially," he says. "The idea of mixing Keith and [cartoon skunk] Pepe Le Pew -- I was a little worried about what Keith was going to think. I didn't fear Pepe Le Pew, but I was a little worried about Keith, because for a good portion of the time that I was spending with him, I was sponging as much of him as I possibly could to use for the character.
"When he found out what I'd been doing, it could've gone either way, but he was very nice about it. He just said: 'I had no idea mate.' He was very sweet about it and to then bring him into ... the film and do scenes with him ... It's one of those things that you know has been seared on to your brain and will never leave."
As a part-time musician himself, Depp hasn't yet drummed up the courage to jam with his Rolling Stones idol. "It took me 11 years before I could touch a guitar in his presence, and that was just to pick it up and move it," he says. "It's something you just don't do."
It's difficult to see where Depp, 47, ends and Sparrow begins. He too is unsure of where the boundaries are. "With all the characters you play, they are still pretty close to the surface," he explains. "Having played Jack four times, he arrives pretty quickly. He arrives a little too quickly. In fact, he arrives in life a lot. You're dropping your kids off at school and he'll just show up. It's weird."
Breaking into pirate speak at the school gates is something that's all ahead of Penelope Cruz.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is out now
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