A week after taking the Volpi Cup best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, Penelope Cruz and her “Official Competition” co-stars Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez were in San Sebastian on Friday evening for the film’s Spanish premiere, where the trio hosted a press conference joined on stage by producer Jaume Roures, CEO at Mediapro, and via a video stream by the film’s writing-directing duo Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn.

While discussing her admiration for Duprat and Cohn’s ability to make the difficult task of shooting a comedy seem easy, Cruz teased that she would be teaming up again with the Argentine duo in the future.

“Sometimes when audiences leave the theatre after a comedy, they think that those films are easier to make than dramas, but that’s not the case. I admire so much the work of  Mariano and Gastón… which they do with such charm and intelligence. In fact, we’ve got plans to do more work like this together.”

Cruz specifically namedropped the duo’s 2016 multi award-winning feature “The Distinguished Citizen,” starring her “Official Comeptition” co-star Martínez, as one of her favorites. Cohn himself referenced the film, which earned Martínez a best actor award in Venice that year, as an example of his and Duprat’s unique outlook on the comedic arts.

“For the tone of this film we decided on a sort of uncomfortable comedy, which is something we’d done in the past with Oscar in ‘The Distinguished Citizen’ and which depends on input from our actors,” he recalled. “We didn’t want them to act as if they were making a comedy, but rather to play their parts in a dramatic style. It’s almost as if they were making a documentary, and the discomfort and the comedy come from the situation.”

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Oscar Martinez, Antonio Banderas Credit: Montse Castillo

Early questions in the half-hour conference focused on how closely the actors related to their on-screen counterparts in the film, a dark comedy meta romp in which Cruz plays eccentric Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker Lola Cuevas, hired by a billionaire to adapt a prestigious novel into a cultural mega-hit that will ensure his lasting legacy before he dies. Banderas and Martínez feature as her two oil-and-water leading men, none of the three being obvious fits for the specific type of film they’ve been tasked with making.

“The scenes in the film aren’t that exaggerated,” said Banderas. “There are worse things that happen in rehearsals. Actors do foolish things at times. Gastón and Mariano got it quite right when criticizing certain behavior in the world of film.”

“There are moments that might seem ridiculous to someone who isn’t in our profession; all actors have peculiar things we do to prepare,” added Cruz. “But what is different in this film is that the actors cross a line and do not respect how their behavior is affecting other people’s needs.”

Martínez agreed, adding that, “Acting is subjective, a mix of conscious and subconscious, and everyone comes to their part from a different place. But, if the result is good, then all is well and good.”

With none of the three taking full credit as the inspirations for their roles, the question was asked about where the characters did come from. With so many years in the industry between the three actors and two screenwriters, there were plenty of sources to choose from.

“All of the characters were the result of working collaboratively,” Duprat explained. “The actors were far more involved than just playing a part and each had input on the script and even on the staging. It was a constant discussion while shooting the film.”

Cruz explained that for the role of demanding director Lola, she did draw inspiration from filmmakers with whom she’d worked in the past. However, “I won’t reveal who we had in mind,” she explained, “but the truth is, any tributes we paid were done so with kindness. What we ended up with was a sort of Frankenstein based on the script and those people we know.”

One question regularly asked of local Spanish talent gone global which returns for San Sebastian is how the now international stars see the Spanish industry compared to others around the world. As to whether Spain provides enough support to the screen industries, Cruz admitted it was a difficult question to answer, and one to which the answer changes frequently.

“It depends on the season or the year and who is in power at any given moment,” she pointed out. She was also quick to acknowledge her own cherished position within the industry, explaining that while she and the two men beside her on stage are able to freely pick and chose when and where to work, that is very much the exception rather than the rule.

“You have to remember there are many families that make their living in this profession, and my colleagues and I must recognize every day that it’s an enormous privilege to chose the projects we make,” she explained, emphasizing that like any other profession which suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, those working in the screen industries must be supported now as much or more than ever.

Martínez used France, as many do, as the example of how a people and a government can protect and enforce their cultural heritage. After reminiscing about the spectacle of thousands lined up to welcome him and other actors at prestigious French events, he pointed out that “in France they fiercely defend and protect their cultural identity, especially its creators, and that is something the world should imitate. At the end of the day, it’s much more than just paying tribute to an artist, it’s recognizing a community that helps create the identity of a nation.”

Banderas was, not for the first time, even more specific in expressing his opinion and dissatisfaction about the relationship between the Spanish government and its cultural industries.

“The truth is that in the last general elections, in the debates on TV, there wasn’t a single word… not one… zero, said in reference to culture. Not cinema, theater, painting, literature or anything. Therefore, when one travels to another country and sees those things Oscar is talking about, ‘you feel left by the hand of God,’ as my mother would say.”

Although surely nobody would have complained if the press conference had been allowed to continue, time ran out and the actors were forced to say their goodbyes before heading off to prepare for the evening’s opening gala.