Two years ago I scared Penelope Cruz when we had tea on the terrace of the Intercontinental Hotel during the Toronto Film Festival. When I brought up the possibility of her nabbing an Oscar nomination for "Volver," she giggled humbly and shrugged her shoulders. "People keep mentioning Oscars to me now about 'Volver' and they are just being nice," she said, obviously dismissing the idea as absurd. "I am just this actress from Spain."
It was obvious that Cruz needed an honest and abrupt Oscar intervention and I was in just the right mood to get tough with her. I wagged my finger in her face and told her to pay attention to me. I told her that the nomination was not only possible, but probable and that she better take off as much time as possible from her other career pursuits to devote full time to the Oscar campaign trail.
"You're going to be asked to do a million Q&A screening chats with guild audiences," I said. "It's going to seem absurd to you, but do them all. Change your schedule if you have to. The studio PR folks are going to book you on TV talk shows at times that will seem odd to you — long after 'Volver' is already in theaters, but before Oscar nominations come out. You'll probably be busy and won't want to bother, but do them. I'm sure that lots of people have said to you in the past, 'Oh, you're so good in this-or-that movie that you'll get an Oscar' and you didn't. So you think all this talk is nonsense. But now it's different. This time it's real. Straighten up and do everything that the studio and your personal press rep tell you to. Do you understand?"
Poor Penelope looked like she just had the wind knocked out of her.
"Yes," she said, dutifully.
A few months later Cruz telephoned me from Europe when she was nominated for best actress by the European Film Awards.
"I can't believe this is really happening," she said. "I want you to know that I haven't forgotten what you told me in Toronto. I have changed my schedule and I am doing everything they tell me to do, just like you said. You were right. It's different this time. Everybody's saying I might really be nominated for an Oscar."
She was, of course, but had the misfortune of going up against Helen Mirren ("The Queen") so she lost. I haven't seen her since. Then last week we ran into each other backstage at the Gotham Awards, now that she's got serious Oscar buzz again, this time for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
Camera work by Paul Sheehan