Vanilla Sky – Times Dispatch

Role Reprise : Director crows about Cruz’s performance

NEW YORK Filmmaker Cameron Crowe went to the Greek islands to cast the role of Sofia in his new movie “Vanilla Sky.” Penelope Cruz was on the island of Kefallonia, filming the movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” and Crowe thought the Spanish actress might be right for the part.

“I was going to play it cool,” Crowe told reporters in New York. “Go back to America, look at some of her Spanish films, sift through all the opportunities and possibilities. But I realized there was nobody who was going to be more right for the part.”

Another reason she might be right for the part: She had already played it once. “Vanilla Sky” is an American remake of the Spanish movie “Abre Los Ojos.” In that film, which never came to Richmond, Cruz played Sofia, whom the hero falls in love with and who is his inspiration while recovering from a horrible and disfiguring accident.

“It’s a different version of the same woman, but [a] very different person,” Cruz said of playing the same role twice. “It’s a different age that I have now, and a different language in a different country and a different profession, a girl with a different personality – but having things in common at the same time.”

And there is one other major difference from her standpoint. Cruz’s co-star in the American version is Tom Cruise. The two are now linked romantically.

“I think whatever happened between them happened later. We were working around the clock,” Crowe said.

In the film, which opens today, Cruise stars as a wealthy and powerful young man who has casual sex with one woman, Cameron Diaz, before falling in love with another, Cruz. The character played by Diaz mangles his face so badly that doctors recommend he wear a mask to cover it. When he is later charged with a murder he says he did not commit, the film becomes surreal and dreamlike, and it is only the possibility of reuniting with Cruz’s character that keeps him sane – if he is sane.

Choosing Cruise to star was easy – “he had the rights to the film,” Crowe said, adding that he was joking. But it is true, Cruise did have the rights to the American remake. The two had worked together on “Jerry Maguire,” and Cruise had impressed Crowe with his willingness to take direction and his lack of movie-star airs.

Choosing Cruz turned out to be easy as well.

“She can show love on screen. Also, she is a woman. And in a lot of American love stories or romantic comedies, the woman plays girlish or as a teen-ager, even though they’re sometimes clearly not of that age,” Crowe said.

“She really is able to make everything she does fresh. Even though she’s made more movies than Tom. She’s done 30-plus movies, but she makes you feel like she’s just starting out and it’s all new to her.”

In her own country, the 27-year-old Cruz has starred in such celebrated films as “Jamon Jamon,” the Academy Award-winning (for best foreign film) “Belle Epoque” and Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” which also won the Oscar for best foreign film.

In this country, she has been featured in such movies as “All the Pretty Horses,” “Blow” and “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.”

“When I started, I didn’t say I wanted to stop working in my country and start a career here. It’s a continuation of what I started there,” she said.

She still looks to Spain as her home, because her family is there, and she returns every two months. But she now lives in Los Angeles “for personal reasons [presumably Cruise].” When she first left Spain, some in that country accused her of leaving them behind, but she plans to continue making movies there. Recently, she finished “No News From God,” with Victoria Abril.

“In my case, I am really convinced that it is the best thing in my life, in my career, to keep working in my country and continuing with my work here.”

Cruz’s Spanish accent and inexact English do not seem to be a hindrance. She pointed out that the character of Sofia does not need an accent, and could be played the same way by a native-born American. The fact that Crowe cast her in the part shows that strides are being made against the typecasting of foreign actors.

But Crowe had his reasons for wanting her in the part.

“She cared so much. Sometimes you don’t get that lucky. You care so much about the character you created but you give it to somebody who’s just doing a job. With Penelope, there’s more than a job. She really believes in that character,” he said.

Crowe’s movies have included such original films as the semi-autobiographical “Almost Famous” and “Say Anything,” as well as “Jerry Maguire.” Though he has written scripts that have been directed by others, such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Vanilla Sky” is the first time he has adapted another script – or in this case, another movie.

“It invited thought, argument, discussion . . . I thought I had something to say along the lines of [its] themes and I thought I could create a dialogue between the two movies. I hadn’t seen an example where that had happened, a collaboration with two movies,” he said.

The film is more provocative than it seems at first, delving into such issues as the difference between reality and dreams, and what one would be willing to give up in order to see what is truly real. It blurs the line between the all-pervasive popular culture and real life, and asks whether casual sex can ever be truly casual.

The original film’s director, Alejandro Amenabar, approves of Crowe’s adaptation. The Spanish director, who has since made the hit “The Others,” said in a written statement that Crowe understood all of his themes.

“Alejandro was more than open to it,” Crowe said. “He said, ‘play that song with your band.'”

Courtesy of The Times Dispatch – Daniel Neman – December 14, 2001