Alberto Iglesias on Narrating Penélope Cruz’s Character Through Music in ‘Parallel Mothers’

Parallel Mothers.Penélope Cruz.Credit: Iglesias Más/Sony Pictures Classics

Oscar voters: If you still have films to watch before casting your Oscar ballot March 17-22, make sure one of them is writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers.” The film boasts two nominations: Lead actress Penélope Cruz and the music score of Alberto Iglesias, both incredibly good. Though some subtitled films may seem like homework, this one is a treat from start to finish.

The work of the two nominees is closely connected. Iglesias tells Variety that his assignment was to get inside the head of Cruz’s character, Janis. “The acting of Penélope is extraordinary. My idea was that the music is the narrator of her soul.

“I used different forms and shapes to give this idea that the music was inside Janis, in her body, in her head.”

Cruz responds, “When I listened to what he did, it was kind of magical. I thought ‘That matches exactly what I was feeling as Janis: her fear, terror, desperation, anguish, hope.’”

A composer’s job is often to convey a scene’s subtext. But Cruz’s acting is so multi-layered that she can convey what Janis is thinking AND what she’s not admitting to herself. Iglesias says it was a challenge, but “when actors are doing incredible performance, it’s inspiring.”

At the beginning of each collaboration, Almodóvar tells Iglesias the film’s core ideas, then adds, “Surprise me with something I wasn’t waiting for.”

Iglesias says: “Sometimes with a long working relationship, like I have with Pedro, it’s difficult because we want to do something new and not repeat.”

But Cruz finds the long-term relationship an advantage because Almodóvar is always honest with her. “It was interesting with Pedro to have four months of rehearsals. When we started, [fellow actor Milena Smit and I] were crying. And Pedro would say ‘We are not going to mix your tears with theirs.’ Janis has a very different way of expressing herself, a very different personality than mine. She has to hide her feelings. We needed all that rehearsal time to get to that. It was like an incredible school.”

The emotions were so intense that Cruz “had to force myself to disconnect every night. I forced myself to leave it on the set as much as I can.” But she accepts that it’s impossible to completely shake it at the end of the day: “That window has to stay open for those feelings to come through. It was a six-, seven-month process living with such adrenalin and fears that Janis had. My mother-in-law gets a little worried when I do these kinds of characters. She knows I like going into this work 100%.”

Cruz has done seven feature films with Almodóvar, while Iglesias has done 12. But the actor and the composer encountered each other years before Almodóvar.

“I discovered his music way before he started working with Pedro,” she says. “I went to see Nacho Duato’s ‘Cautiva’ at the National Ballet. When it finished, I needed to find out who composed the music. I was blown away.”

She is pleased with Iglesias’ Oscar recognition. “I was very, very happy. And I’m very grateful about my own, especially being nominated the same year as my husband [Javier Bardem]. It’s a beautiful thing that has happened.”

Of course she wants Oscar voters — and everyone else — to see the film.

“It’s an incredible film. It’s complex, smart, funny, intense and brilliant. I’m happy at the reaction in so many countries. I don’t use this word all the time, but I think Pedro is a genius.”