Guy Oseary in conversation with Penélope Cruz

Photography Luigi & Iango, Styling Michael Philouze

Penelope Cruz began her acting career in Madrid, her native city, in the early 90s. Her first main role was in the 1992 movie, Jamón, jamón by Bigas Luna, and the oscar-winning Belle Époque of the same year.  From there, in a career spanning 30 years, she would star in numerous Spanish and international movies—66 to this day—including seven with the director Pedro Almodovar. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of an Extremenian salesman and an Andalusian hairdresser, Penélope Cruz, or “Pe”, as she is affectionately known to her friends, managed with her perseverance to grow into one of the most well-known actresses in the world. As an established Hollywood star, she kept reflecting her deep roots in Spanish culture in her characters and professional choices, remaining closest to her native country—where she still lives with her husband, Javier Bardem and their children. Besides her acting career, she recently launched, together with Spain’s Mediapro Studio, Moonlyon, her own production company that focuses on non-fiction and drama content for film and television.

DUST invited her dear friend and Hollywood music producer Guy Oseary to join the conversation. Guy is a visionary entrepreneur and 30 years manager and business partner of Madonna. His clients also include U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 2012 he founded Good Today, a non-profit organisation aiming to democratise philanthropy by allowing individuals to support new causes and organisations around the world. 

Guy Oseary – Hey Pe, where are you now?

Penélope Cruz – I’m in Madrid. Are you in LA?

G.O. – Yes, home sweet home. Just for a few more days. You know my grandfather is from Madrid, right? I don’t know if I’d ever told you that.

P.C. – Yes, you’ve told me. You also told me that he met your grandma in Morocco, and they went to Israel from there. Since the very first time you told me, I’ve been telling you to learn Spanish. But…

G.O. – But no, I can only speak a little Portuguese now. Is your whole family from Madrid?

P.C. – No, a part of my family is from Andalusía, the other from Extremadura. My parents then moved to Madrid, where my siblings and I were born. We grew up in the Alcobendas area. And I don’t live far away from it now.

G.O. – I remember the last time we were together in Madrid.

P.C. – And we went to see Bono’s concert. U2 were receiving an award.

G.O. – Yes, and before that, you and I had dinner with Pedro (Almodóvar) and Madonna at some restaurant you took us to. It took us more than forty minutes to get there.

P.C. – Yes, Restaurante Araceli, which serves typical Spanish food. Delicious. You have a great memory, Guy.

G.O. – Yeah. You don’t forget things when you’re spending time with Penélope Cruz. I remember meeting your family. Since part of your family is from Andalucía and Extremadura, do you feel a connection with this heritage or feel more like a Madrileña?

P.C. – Both, because I’ve spent much time with both sides of my family. I also had to put on those accents in movies, and I was very familiar with them because of my family. But I am indeed 100% from Madrid. I was born here, and I grew up here. I love Madrid. 

G.O. – So, how did your career start in Madrid?

P.C. – When I was in primary and secondary school, I would fantasise about becoming either a dancer or an actress. One day in my theatre school, I saw a paper about an agent auditioning people to represent them, and I went to see her. But I had to lie—I said I was 16 or 17 when I was 14. She sent me away. I went back the following week, and she sent me away, so I went again a third time, and since she kept sending me away, I improvised a very angry piece for my audition. In the end, she decided to represent me. I don’t know if it was because of my being so annoying or something else, but she’s still my Spanish agent today.

G.O. – Wow.

P.C. – She started sending me to castings, and the responses were positive, to my surprise. The first two movies I did went well, and then I had to choose between the world of classical ballet and the world of acting.

G.O. – Your career seems to have been characterised by good intuition and determination. The projects you pick are really on your terms: you are doing them from Madrid, where you have a family and a life. It’s not the path many people take. I admire your integrity in both your professional and personal life. That’s incredible to see. Did you ever think your way of doing things would become an obstacle?

P.C. – When I started, I had to learn that I would also have to say no. Katrina, my Spanish agent, helped me very much with this. She told me that it was my turn to say no. It was like an internal revolution for me. How can I be the one to say no, with all the insecurities that come with this profession? In the end, I realised it was like a gamble. I was like, okay, I’m going to say no, but I’m risking everything in hopes that greater things will come. Some people would tell me I was crazy and that I couldn’t say no to certain people, at least at that point in my career. However, I tried to follow my own path. The family I come from upholds great values. Growing up, we had very little, just enough to get by, but nothing extra. Hard-working parents raised me; they taught me a lot. My life’s priority has always been my family. Having that focal point has probably given me the strength to choose projects on my own terms.

G.O. – Let me say something about your family, one of the most extraordinary things is that not only is your brother a talented musician, but also other family members are musically gifted. Where do you think that comes from? It’s got to be in your DNA. 

P.C. – It’s true. They are very talented when it comes to music. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Music has always been very important for me and also for Javier (Bardem ed). It is probably the number one form of creation for us if we had to choose one, even above cinema. Music, I think, goes straight to the heart. It has been my escape, my window through which I could dream about impossible things. When I was a child, I would sit in a corner of the house with my parents’ vinyls and listen to opera, rock, pop and anything else I could find. My brother has been a musician since he was a child, and my children are also very passionate about music. I don’t know why music is so connected to my family. I just know it’s very important for us.

G.O. – I’ve spent my whole life in music, over 30-something years in it, and I think I know music very well. I remember when my son Oliver was born, you reached out to me and said I should listen to Cat Stevens’ Father and Son.

P.C. – Because it’s my favourite song and your favourite song, right?

G.O. – No, strangely enough, I wasn’t familiar with it then, but it became one of my favourite songs. And it was such a special revelation for that period of my life. I’m the music guy, and here you are telling me there’s a song for me that you love and that I would find meaningful. You gave me that song. And then you also connected me with one of my favourite artists of all time, Prince.

P.C. – But you’d met Prince a bunch of times before, right?

G.O. – Well, I first met Prince when I was twelve. He signed an autograph for me. He wrote: “Love, Guy”, I still remember it. I’ve seen him over the years, here and there, as I was Madonna’s producer. But our friendship properly started after you invited me to dinner with him one night. We went to the Sunset Towers, or whatever it was called. You gave me the opportunity to reconnect with one of my favourite humans and musicians of all time. It was so important for me. He was always very particular about the people he liked. There weren’t many people he trusted. But I can tell you were one of the people he trusted the most, which says a lot. 

P.C. – I loved and trusted him too. I remember that dinner and so many incredible moments you and I shared with him, like the concerts at his house, with all those people playing in the living room, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys… Everyone was there, playing and improvising. It was mind-blowing. When he died—which was very unexpected for me—you were the first person I called. He was so unique in every way.

G.O. – Yes, he was. We spent so many amazing nights with him. But talking about crazy nights, do you remember the night that you won an Oscar?

P.C. – I remember parts of it.

G.O. – You came over to the house at the end of the night, and you were surrounded by your Spanish crew. They were around you the whole time. They never left your side.

P.C. – I have so many great memories from that night but, sadly, I can’t remember many things. I don’t drink, so that was not the reason why. But the adrenaline was so high that I only remember a few things. One of those is a specific, vivid image. When I arrived at the house, De Niro, Joe Pesci, Scorsese, Harvey Keithel, and Leonardo DiCaprio were all sitting on the sofa at the entrance of the first living room… and I mean, at that point, I didn’t know what else to do, I just ran away.

G.O. – Pretty amazing nights, and your Oscar was so well-deserved. Besides being an amazing actress, you’ve also started producing movies now. 

P.C. -Yes. I recently produced a movie, En Los Márgenes. It took us five years because of Covid but eventually, we finished it. I’m proud to say it did very well in Spain and got five Goya nominations. Apart from that, I also produced another movie a few years ago called Mama, which was about breast cancer. I want to go slowly. I don’t want to do a lot of things at the same time. We’re working on a TV show, a film and a documentary at the moment, and that’s all we will probably produce for the following years because they each require so much time and attention. I want to be involved in what I do and not just add my name to something. My partner, Laura Espeso, is great, and we are very excited about this. Making films is such a long process. When you’re the actress, you’re in one movie, and then you move on to the next one; but being a producer expands your storytelling. While doing that, you can find other ways of telling stories.

G.O. – Congratulations on your movie’s nominations. I noticed that the Goyas were full of female nominations this year, right?

P.C. – Yes. I think the Spanish industry is changing and improving a lot; there are many new female directors, writers, and producers… And I feel like it’s real. It has roots. You see the work of all these women, many of whom are new; it’s their first or second movie. A lot of great talent.

G.O. – Why do you think this is happening now in Spain?

P.C. – Well, first of all, women now have more opportunities to take on those jobs, and they are going for it. Spain’s industry has done much in this sense compared to other countries. It should become more and more normalised everywhere.

G.O. – If you hadn’t chosen acting, what else would you have done? 

P.C. – If I hadn’t been an actress, what else could I have been? What do you think I would be good at? (Asking her son, who just entered the room.)  

Penélope’s son: A doctor.

P.C. – My son said I’d be a doctor.

G.O. – (To Penélope’s son) Okay, I can picture that. The thing about your mum and her being a doctor is that she would have had difficulties giving people bad news. You’d last two minutes on the job. You’re very emotional in the most beautiful of ways. You don’t want to see anyone suffer because it would bring you pain. But that’s why you’re so good at your actual job. Your emotions are tied up with one another. They’re connected.

P.C. – Probably, but I’m glad he said that because I was going to say the same thing. Since I was a little girl, playing with my friends and picking roles, I was always a doctor, a mother or both. I admire doctors so much. I think it’s a very tough job. 

G.O. – It is indeed. And what are some characters in movies you wish you could have played yourself?

P.C. – Oh, there are so many, like Terms of Endearment by James Brooke. I loved how he developed those two characters. But there are so many, like all those characters played by Meryl Streep or Anna Magnani. There would be an endless list of characters that I would have loved to play or explore.

G.O. – As I looked back, I realised you have never performed on Saturday Night Live.

P.C. – No, I would love to, but I’m scared because I don’t know if I will be brave enough. 

G.O. – Okay, we will let everyone know that you might be up for doing it at some point. Maybe for your Ferrari film directed by Michael Mann coming out next year.

P.C. – Oh my God. You’ll get me into a lot of trouble. Even just talking about it, I feel my heart racing so fast.

G.O. – Have you ever been a TV host?

P.C. – Actually, yes, at the beginning of my career in Spain, I hosted a TV music show. I would introduce singers, but I didn’t have to perform any sketches; it was easier than SNL.

G.O. – Did you see the Sofia Vergara-Penelope Cruz skit on SNL?

P.C. – Yes! It was a good one. I loved it. She’s so funny.

G.O. – I think you’d have fun going on one of those shows. I hope that you overcome that fear. I can guarantee I’ll be there with you whenever you do it. No doubt about it.

P.C. – But then you have to be there with me the entire week. Why are we even talking about something I’m not going to do? (Laughing)

G.O. – Okay, let’s leave it there. There’s something else I would like to ask you. I’ve been working with Madonna for 32 years, and you have probably been working with Pedro for the same time. There’s a lot of beauty in that longevity. You’ve been able to do incredible work, creating bonds and relationships. I admire that because on each project, for both of you, it’s like meeting for the first time. Every movie feels like the first one. It doesn’t get boring. It’s always new and totally different. Why do you think that is?

P.C. – Pedro is probably the main reason why I became an actress in the first place. When I watched Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! for the first time. It was then that I decided to go to theatre school and call that agent. Pedro is a total genius, both as a writer and as a director. I think it’s fair to say that he has written some of the best characters for women in the history of cinema. I’ve been fortunate to have been given so many of those roles by him. With him, it’s always like starting from zero, even in our relationship. We can almost read each other’s thoughts. But if you see us on set, there’s always a healthy distance. We are not joking around, gossiping or feeling too comfortable with each other—none of that. We keep a healthy distance to protect our personal and work relationships. Pedro is probably one of the people who intimidates me the most, and he’s also one of my best friends. Even now, after every take, I look for his eyes with the same anguish for approval that I felt in the first of his movies I starred in. And I think that will never change. Every time I gain his trust, I am incredibly grateful. He’s a master, and I have learned so much by simply being around him.

G.O. – The essence of that 14- or 15-year-old girl who was determined to get that agent is the same as the girl who didn’t just watch Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! but snuck into the cinema because she wasn’t old enough to see it. You have found your own way. And it’s so beautiful to see how it all came together. It’s hard to navigate this world when you are young and hopeful, and all those voices from the outside are bombarding you.

P.C. – I think about it a lot as a mother, especially now in a world with this relationship with technology. Because we didn’t have those dangerous things before, nobody trained us. It feels like an experiment taking place with those generations that are now teenagers. When I look around, I see all these teenagers without protection. I cannot even blame the parents because they have not been trained or do not know how to go about it. And, for me, that is one of my biggest worries in the world right now. It feels like a crazy experiment that everyone is witnessing. And no one knows the consequences this will bring. It’s scary.

G.O. – It is indeed. You mentioned before that if you hadn’t had ballet and the ability to express all your energy, you wouldn’t have had the potential to grow. I see why you are worried that other kids won’t have the same opportunity you did. Now people stay at home, and there are so many options to choose from out of all the things you can do from there now, whereas, for my generation or yours, we only went back home to sleep.

P.C. – It’s something that really worries me. The world I see around me is very challenging, and it is heartbreaking to see how the same people who create rules and could protect teenagers right now choose to turn a blind eye instead.

G.O. – Prince once said that you are the one who is supposed to control technology, not the other way around. And this is what is happening to this new generation. Right now, being a parent comes with even more responsibility than it used to.

P.C. – Well, you know what? I think that I have like two or three friends in the world who could actually change the world for the better, also in that respect. And, sorry for putting you in the spotlight, but you are one of them. That’s the difference between you and other influential people in the industry. You care about people, and, most importantly, you could really make a change.

G.O – I’ll try to help as best I can. I’ll do it with you if you hold my hand along the way. Let’s do it together. We should really do something about this critical topic. 

P.C. – Love you, Guy. Thank you so much.

G.O – I’m forever proud of you, Pe. You’re amazing.

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