Javier Cámara and Miguel Ángel Silvestre star in Pedro Almodóvar’s colorful new comedy, I’m So Excited!, that chronicles the wild adventures of the passengers and crew onboard Peninsula Flight 2549 when an unexpected landing gear hitch leaves their flight in a precarious holding pattern on their way from Madrid to Mexico City. Opening June 28th, the hilarious movie features cameos by Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and an engaging ensemble cast that includes Antonio de la Torre, Hugo Silva, Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo, José María Yazpik, Guillermo Toledo, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas, Paz Vega and Blanca Suárez
At a recent roundtable interview, Cámara and Silvestre talked about Almodóvar’s intense directing process, how he creates a family among his actors and a cinematic world that’s uniquely his own, his imaginative approach to casting, the challenge of shooting in an extremely confined space, rehearsing a flamboyant dance routine with choreographer Blanca Li, and the importance of being a generous actor in every scene. They also discussed their latest projects including Cámara’s La Vida Inesperada and Vivir es Fácil con los Ojos Cerrados, and Silvestre’s TV series, Galerías Vélvet, and feature film, Alácran Enamorado, a dark neo-Nazi romantic thriller starring Javier Bardem. Hit the jump to read the interview.
JAVIER CÁMARA: Every single film with Pedro is different. If you think that you have some experience with him, you’re going to fail. Every single day is new. Every single moment is new. Every single take is new. You have to concentrate and be 100% focused. Every single take is very intense.
There’s so much comedy and spontaneity. I’ve heard that he doesn’t allow for improvisation, but when you see the film, it’s hard to believe there isn’t some improvisation.
CÁMARA: That’s his genius! It’s how he puts together a script with a lot of influences from everything. When Pedro talks to you, he talks to you about films from the 40’s or the 50’s in America or Mexico or Asia. He talks about films or music or theater or actors that you’ve never heard about. All the information is astonishing. You’re receiving information every single take from several different influences. You have to be really connected with that. Of course, you have to be awake and try to say your lines with the greatest clarity, because if you are waiting and you are thinking about all these influences, you‘ll lose track. You’ll lose the pace. You have to be concerned about everything. He tries to help you with a lot of information, and there is a lot of information everyday. You have to read every day. When I finished every day, I had to go to the library to find out about a lot of the influences. “Which actor is he talking about? Oh my God! Yeah! That’s fantastic!” There’s a lot of information with him. You have to be careful in order to make the best choices.
Was that your experience with him too, Miguel?
MIGUEL ÁNGEL SILVESTRE: Yes. Pedro has created his own world – a world you can’t recognize. Once you see a film, you can see a scene and you can say, “This is from Almodóvar.” That’s his world – his code. This is my first time working with him, but for the very first time, for the first week doing rehearsals, he created a family, and we were a family at the end. We tried to understand his world and his code – the way he plays the comedy before shooting. So at the end, yes, it’s a beautiful world – a world where I always wanted to live. It’s like a dream for me being in this film.
CÁMARA: (joking) What do you think? I don’t know. I wasn’t really concerned about that, at least during the filming, because I didn’t realize that this was exclusively for me. I think journalists asked him about it and he told them, but I didn’t notice that. If I would have known about it, I would be really responsible and a little stuck in the middle. Like, “Oh my God! That’s for me. This line’s for me? Oh my God! How do you say that?” It’s a gift, but at the same time, it’s a responsibility. I don’t know how to balance the scale. I feel like every single day is my first day with him. He knows me really well since [we worked together on] Talk to Her. When I saw Talk to Her for the first time, I was crying out loud because I couldn’t imagine that I was doing that film. I was so unconscious doing the film with him – absolutely unconscious. I don’t know about this film. I’m So Excited is about the crisis in Spain. I didn’t notice anything about it. We didn’t talk about it during the shooting. There are a lot of layers in this onion and I’m only doing my role. I think it’s the best option. I need to be really focused doing that. As I told you, there is a lot of information, a lot of things to talk about, but if you think you are really experienced or you have all the information, you are doing the wrong thing. When you hear, “Action,” you are free. And I need to be free to play with him because he knows everything. He’s like a microscope! [mimics Almodóvar] “No, no. Cut! Javier, let’s do it again. You know why?” “Yes, yes Pedro. I know why.” “Ok, let’s do it again.” Another person will say, “Why?” and I’ll say, “He knows. Let’s just do it.” I was failing the first time. I was a little nervous. Pedro can see everything. I feel naked in front of him. When he says, “Action,” I’m a naked actor, and I love that because he’s a genius and I trust him.
Javier, can you talk about playing a gay character. How did you approach the role so that the audience recognizes immediately that he’s gay?
CÁMARA: (laughs) Well, this character is gay immediately!
CÁMARA: The three characters are really gay. They’re very queeny and flamboyant characters. I don’t know if there are people here very flamboyant or queeny. Maybe, but they are very different from the way flamboyant Spanish characters are. I think it’s a very good connection between his early films in the 80’s and now – where gay characters are freer characters. The gay characters of his early films are not just the most free, they are also the most free of prejudice. He needs these characters to be confident with the rest of the crew. They help the audience enter the film with this. Playing gay characters, I’m not focused on the sexuality of the characters. Pedro wanted these three characters to be very flamboyant and also their gestures [mimics big gestures]. You have to be careful because these movements don’t help you to be natural. It’s something unnatural, but he’s aiming for naturalness – only naturalness. He doesn’t want a fake character. He hates fake. He hates it when you play fakely and he can insult you if he wants to. “No! It’s fake and I hate you. I want to beat you!” And these characters are so fake and [over the top] [mimics big gestures]… “Ok, but be true. Don’t act! Live!” That’s what I’m talking about, about how to balance the scale. Okay, the fake is here, but I have to be natural and put a lot of heart into this character for it to be normal. It’s a challenge how to give him everything. Sometimes, it’s a funny character, and it’s so easy because you have to walk very funny and very flamboyantly. But with Pedro it’s like, “No!” With him, it’s like, “Don’t do that.” With him, you have to fill this character with truth, conflict, crisis, love, desperate love. You have to fill the character with a lot of things, and gay movements are only a pinch in the character.
You have a wonderful dance scene with The Pointer Sisters’ song, I’m So Excited.
CÁMARA: Thank you.
CÁMARA: I would love to be here in a school of drama because you guys dance and sing and act from your childhood. We don’t have these kinds of schools. Our performing schools of arts are only in drama and for actors. They don’t include dancing or singing. There are some classes for speech or pronunciation or song – but not professionally. For us, it’s a gift. It’s a dream, but it’s another goal. The choreographer was Blanca Li. She choreographed Beyonce’s last video. She’s great. She’s a very close friend of Pedro’s. They worked on a film of his a long time ago. She came to introduce us to this choreography. The first video she showed us was a group of French people dancing Tecktonik. Have you heard about Tecktonik? Well, please, find it on the internet. They are amazing! They’re doing these very gay characters and dancing like this. It reminds me of Vogue from Madonna and those kinds of movements. There a lot of that influence, too, more than ever. For us, we’re very funny because we don’t dance, sing, or do anything. It was fantastic because Pedro trusted us a lot. It was crazy. Blanca was absolutely like, “Oh my God! You are a disaster! I don’t know how to prepare that! You are three of the [worst dancers]. Oh my God!” The first day was a mess!
Miguel, were you happy you didn’t have to dance, or did you want to get up and dance, too?
SILVESTRE: I would love to dance!
CÁMARA: He would love to dance! Everybody would love to dance!
SILVESTRE: Shooting the dancing sequence was hilarious. All of us were there and we could see it was an amazing celebration. I would have loved to be there dancing with them.
CÁMARA: It would be great to know the three of them. It’s fantastic to have this title, I’m So Excited. We were singing a lot of songs, outside of the film, with Pedro. We’d warm up with songs every single day, singing I’m So Excited and other songs, from Reggaeton to Pan-American songs.
SILVESTRE: Calle 13.
CÁMARA: Calle 13 is a very famous group. It helps to be like a family, like a group of people. It is a very theatrical film. We were close together, for two months, in a very narrow place. We couldn’t move the seats because it was a real plane. It was great because of that. If a theatrical situation would not have worked, the film would have been terrible. Can you imagine? One of Pedro’s greatest fears was, “I have fifteen actors in a very narrow space and they don’t know each other, and I have to become a family for these people.” We were rehearsing for a month and a half. And some of the characters were changing. Some of the actors were changed, too. I think it’s not really good.
Can you talk about the audition process? What was that like?
CÁMARA: Pedro was working very hard before shooting the film. It was the best moment, because he was making moves like in a chess game. It was great to see that. I was part of the auditions to audition everybody. I was there with him because he trusted me to help him. It was great to see how he began to imagine and to hear his little commentaries between every single actor that came into the room. It helped me a lot to understand him. I thought I knew him for ten years, but this month of auditioning people was [an eye opener]. Oh my God! This man is going beyond. I couldn’t imagine how far he was going, “What do you think about this man connecting with this man in this scene? You can see it in his eyes. What do you think about this kind of character doing that, because this is a really comedic actor, but this is very dramatic?” I was like, “I don’t know Pedro. I don’t know.” “Okay. Next!” “I’m sorry I can’t help you.” He was taking notes. It was like a chess game with Kasparov (Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov). It’s really hard work and I loved that. I was like, “I am here watching this!” (mimics back and forth conversation with Almodóvar) “Could you help me?” “No. I’m sorry.” “I think he’s a great actor.” “Yes, but this little detail, these nuances when he tried to say this phrase, he’s doubtful and that’s good.” “Yeah that’s fantastic.” “It’s because he’s doubtful.” “Ok. He’s doubtful and he’s good.” “Yeah. I think so. Ok. Next!” It was great to be there.
CÁMARA: They built a real plane. It’s the real size. Pedro is very accurate about everything. He’s like, “I want the actual size.”
Were there any funny accidents in that confined space? Did you bump your head?
CÁMARA: (laughs) Can you imagine with this choreography? I destroyed my legs. Worst of all, Carlos [Areces] is a disaster dancer. He’s absolutely out of the track. If you see the film again, you’ll see. He’s looking at us. Raúl [Arévalo] is so professional. He’s always like, “Carlos, please! Get back on track!” One of the takes was on fire. Carlos was on fire more than ever. Raúl said, “No. You are not falling behind. You have to catch up.” We destroyed our legs and our heads. And it wasn’t just us doing the choreography, it was everybody, even the cameraman and the director of photography. It’s so difficult to bring a camera onto a plane.
What about you, Miguel?
SILVESTRE: I remember the first take we did, when I wake up and realize the situation of the plane. I go to speak with the crew. Pedro decided at the last moment to shoot that scene in just one shot. The cabin was very small and narrow. We had to do it in just one take.
CÁMARA: It was a four-minute take.
SILVESTRE: That was the only complication, but in the end, it’s a scene I will never forget in my life. Pedro was rehearsing with us and was enjoying a lot of the rehearsal before the shooting because everything had to be very precise and very alive. There were four actors talking to each other. Javier was having three different conversations at the same time. So you couldn’t make a mistake. You couldn’t fail. The adrenaline was there – it was racing and very stimulating.
CÁMARA: They scheduled two days for this scene, because Pedro wanted to have the four of us doing this scene, which was the moment when we were preparing the drinks. It’s like three animals talking in a crazy conversation. It’s so funny. We were memorizing every single movement because Pedro was going to do some close-ups. We were worried about everything because it was a take that was going to last for four minutes. At the end, Pedro said, “Next scene.” “Uh, Pedro. It’s next take.” “No, no. Next scene. I have this scene.” The assistant said, “Ok, Pedro. You have to do close-ups.” He says, “No. The third take was amazing. I can do more, but I think it’s perfect.” “But we planned two days for this entire scene.” “No, No. I got it. Let’s continue with the film.” The film was shot in order, too, because the entire film takes place in the plane. That helped a lot. He was very careful with that. It was surprising. We were very worried about every single take, but we didn’t need to be. The scene was shot in an hour and a half, although they had dedicated two days to do that. Pedro is very passionate. He was like, “I love it!” “Are you sure, Pedro? Maybe in the editing room you’re going to need something more.” “I’m absolutely right. I think that’s perfect.” “But we have time, the actors and camera are here.” “No, no, no. Next scene.” “Pedro, please, think about it!” He said, “I have the scene! I think it’s funny. Everybody laughed and this laugh helps me understand that I don’t need anything more.” “Oh, okay.” He invited us to watch the scene and it was really funny. That’s all. Your ego is good. Some days your ego is devastated, but some days your ego is really good.
CÁMARA: Every single director stops at the moment he thinks he has the shot. Sometimes, directors shoot an establishing shot where everything is in the shot. He’s going to use this at the beginning and the end. And this film was really difficult. A wide shot is all full of faces. You have eight different faces in the shot. It’s not a landscape. It’s not a carriage running with horses. It’s not a beautiful night. No. The landscape is our faces. All of us are faces. It’s a very narrow place. If you open the shot, then there are four of us there. There are no fantastic landscapes. No. There are only actors. It was fantastic for us, but at the same time, we were very aware that if it’s his [points to Silvestre] scene, he needs a lot of support from everybody. The rest of us were here to help him. It was like, “Okay, that’s your take.” Pedro loves that. Everybody was really happy to put their egos aside and be focused on the only ego – which was him. We put our egos in our wallets or in a drawer.
In the overhead compartment?
CÁMARA: Yes, to help the other actor. You are like the background. A lot of days, you are the background. One day, you are the main actor in the take and you need that background. And, in the background, are amazing actors. It’s not a normal background.
SILVESTRE: Javier is very generous as an actor – very, very generous. He was the more experienced. I’m talking about the fact that he has shot three times with Pedro, but he was helping all of us. I’m not saying this because he’s here, but that surprised me a lot. I always wanted to work with him. He was very, very generous.
CÁMARA: But you need to do that, because one day you are going to be the actor that’s alone at the center of the room. You will need support. You have to be very friendly, not only with the emotional crew but with the technical crew. If I feel somebody is like, (with sarcasm) “Okay. Let’s see this guy now.” If I feel somebody doing that on the set, I’m very sensitive. When it’s time to act, I need to be free and confident with everything, not only because of the director, but because of everybody. I’m sensitive with this work. We are working with our bodies and souls.
SILVESTRE: I’m doing a TV show, Galerías Vélvet. I’m going to be shooting for three months. Later, I’ll see what will be next.
CÁMARA: He needs to be here (in L.A.)! He’s perfect. He’s a very beautiful Latin guy. He’s talented. Please, not in my case, because I don’t look Latin. I look Asian. I need to go to Japan. In these films, there’s a very new generation of actors. I’m an old actor with Almodóvar. It’s my third film and I’m an old actor. This film is full of very funny, beautiful and talented people that Pedro is talking about in this and other films – in other Spanish films. There’s a bunch of great actors now – very talented and young. Younger than me, it’s a shame. But yes, we have to talk about them.
And what are you working on next?
CÁMARA: This is my most incredible year. I made five films this year. In New York, we were shooting a film (La Vida Inesperada) about a Spanish actor in New York. I’ve just come from Almería, the desert in the South of Spain, shooting another film (Vivir es Fácil con los Ojos Cerrados/Living is Easy with Eyes Closed). I’m so, so happy this year. It’s an amazing thing. I’ve done stuff every single day. It’s fantastic.
SILVESTRE: I just finished a film that maybe we will come here with it. Javier Bardem is the star in the film, Alácran Enamorado – which means The Scorpion In Love. It’s about a group of Nazis that became a little bit crazy. It speaks about love and how to be redeemed through love.
CÁMARA: It’s a beautiful film. It’s a very aggressive film, but they are great. It’s another bunch of great actors led by Javier Bardem.