Many of us have had our eye on Spanish actress Elena Anaya even before last year’s provocative Room In Rome, as the actress is also known for her co-starring role in Van Helsing as well as for sexing up Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” video. Now audiences will take even closer notice of Anaya for her co-starring role with Antonio Banderas in Pedro Almodóvar’s disturbing but compelling new film, The Skin I Live In.
In the film, Anaya plays Vera, a woman being held against her will in the luxurious home of Dr. Robert Ledgard for initially unclear reasons. While the first half of the film raises many questions about who Vera is, what her relationship to the whacked Doctor is and why she’s being held here (and why she wears a tight-fitting body suit, which shows off every curve of Anaya’s amazing body), the second half fills in the blanks and gives the backstory so all the details fall into place.
While it’s difficult to talk about the film and it’s intricate story without giving away too many vital plot points, AfterEllen.com still managed to have a lovely chat (and tried to keep it together while listening to her gorgeous Spanish accent) with Anaya while she was in Los Angeles doing press for the film, which opens today.
AfterEllen.com: The movie is one of those that really sits with you for a long time after you see it. What was your perception when you first read the script?
Elena Anaya: It took me a few minutes to be able to talk. I became speechless but the feeling I had from the first page [was that] I liked so much where Pedro was taking us with the type of world he was able to do. I loved the character, ya know? When you get the opportunity to play such a complex role, you better take the best of you and go for it. It really made my day when I got the script and I read it.
AE: I feel like I need to see the movie again now that I have seen it and know what the story is truly about.
EA: The first time, your brain is making you ask more questions, “What are they doing there? Who is this guy? Who is this lady? There is this crazy outfit!” So many questions in the first hour and then the answers are so cold. They’re like cubes of very cold water and it makes you very uncomfortable. The magic of the whole story … because it’s almost written from the last hours of the lives of these people together, you have to achieve all the messages that they’re highlighting in different places in the story.
AE: This is a very different film from Room In Rome, which is a film a lot of our readers are fans of. Are there any similarities between that film and The Skin I Live In?
EA: The roles are completely different and, you know, the other one that I did in Room In Rome, this person who arrives in the story in a very dramatic situation [and] loves to dream about life. This character that I’m playing in Pedro’s film is like a dream but more like a nightmare. Well, the characters are very opposite in a way, very different, but they are both very challenged.
AE: Will fans of Room In Rome be able to connect with The Skin I Live In since they are so different?
EA: Yes, of course. If people loved Room In Rome, I’m sure they’ll love this film. They’re very different films. They’re films in a particular universe. I love them both so maybe people will like them, too.
AE: The Skin I Live In says so much about love, gender and obsession but did the context ever make you change your own opinions about those things?
EA: You know, I &mdsah; this I not like a love story but, of course, [Banderas’s character] tried to do as much as he could since his heart was broken once his wife left him. It makes me think a lot about identity like how difficult is it to change your identity? Now, we are almost able to change our skin, our color — we are almost able to change the geography of ourselves, you know? But, what about identity? That’s something very deep and impossible to alter or change and I think that’s what the movie is about. It’s one of the subtle things that the film talks about.
AE: Was there something in Vera that you was easy for you to relate to even though the situation was quite dramatic and out of the ordinary?
EA: Her determination to leave meant so much to her. Sometimes it’s like life is too much and it makes us build up some weird strength and that’s the way I feel about Vera. She decides to keep going and bear anything and get over it and that was something that I really admired about the character. It was nice for me to play this experience. I learned a lot about this complicated character.
AE: How did you approach playing the role of Vera and did you work closely with actor Jan Cornet, who played Vicente? In many ways you’re playing two very different versions of the same character. Did you two work together?
EA: Of course, Pedro asked both of us to be together and join him at the same time and go through the same scenes and, in a way, we interchanged our feelings about the character and we worked together, we created together, we did it together. We had to create the same person, the same human being and that was good to do. It’s the first time I’ve done a role with somebody else and we had to believe we were doing the same role together in playing the same human being.
AE: Do you think Vera has some affection for Antonio’s character? He’s holding her captive but they’ve been together a long time. Or is she just biding her time until she can get away?
EA: It’s a very complicated relationship but she becomes like a vulture viper after what happens to her in terms of revenge. She wants to be free again and tries to go back to her origins. There is only way to do that. I think it’s all planned. I think she is very, very precise and she needs to do a very good performance.
AE: You worked with Pedro Almodóvar on Talk To Her, but how was it working with him on The Skin I Live In?
EA: I just had a tiny collaboration with him 10 years ago but then he gave me this beautiful tiny part called Ángela and I knew how gorgeous it was to work with him. But this time I had this whole dish for me. I had a super, beautiful director to play with and to create with him during rehearsals. It was beautiful to work with him. It was an amazing experience.
AE: Had you worked with Antonio Banderas before?
EA: It was the first time and I didn’t know him before but it literally took a minute to get along well with each other. This is the sixth film that they (Banderas and Almódovar) did together so it’s like they came from the same family. It was delicious, actually. He’s very generous and we did a lot of work together on the story and we had fun, which is important with a film that has so much tension and is so dark and so cold. It’s good to get rid of all the tension.
AE: As you become more known in the world for your work, have you gotten used to the increased interest in your personal life? It comes with the territory but is it a challenge to deal with?
EA: It’s difficult to deal with that but people who [have known] me since my career starting years ago and people who know me for my projects know that I like my work and I’m also very private and I want to be known for my work, for my career and that’s what matters.
The Skin I Live In opened last Friday in New York City and Los Angeles, and will roll out across the country. To find out when the film comes to your area, visit the sonyclassics.com website and be sure to read our review.