Air travel hasn’t been glamorous in decades, but Pedro Almodóvar manages to make it so again with his new film, I’m So Excited, a sexy, frothy comedy about an eclectic group of travelers who are moved to reveal their scandalous innermost secrets when the plane they’re on begins to malfunction. The movie is a throwback in another important way, too: It’s Almodóvar’s first out-and-out comedy in ages, and several of his longtime collaborators pop up in the film, including Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, who make cameos. A few weeks ago, Vulture met Almodóvar at the Chateau Marmont to discuss sex, Harvey Weinstein, and even more sex; without his trademark sunglasses on, Almodóvar’s eyes were wide and naughty.
I usually think of your films as very colorful, so I was surprised to hear that your new film would be set on a plane.
The interiors of airplanes are so horrible! I had to create an entire aesthetic for it. At the same time, I did base my color scheme on the colors that you’ll see in a real airplane — there’s always a lot of gray and a lot of brown, but in the worst hues. I used different tones.
Your career sends you all over the world, so how do you get through the constant plane travel without collapsing?
It’s the only machine in which I am not afraid. I suppose it’s because the second I get in the airplane, I give my life over blindly to the pilot. But at the same time, I think two elements — death and sex — are very common fantasies for passengers. You know that if there’s an accident, you probably won’t survive, and even if you’re not thinking about that a lot, it’s there. As for sex, without being overly obsessive about it, as you’re sitting there on the plane, people pass you by and you’re inevitably sizing them up. It’s almost as if they were doing a fashion show of sorts, walking down a catwalk for you to grade them from zero to ten. You make decisions like, “This one, I might actually have sex with!”
There’s a really fun lip-synch dance number in this film. Have you thought about doing a full-blown musical?
If I liked all the songs and felt very confident about the way they fit together, I think I would, but I actually don’t feel like I could ever get to that point. Broadway musicals where you sing the whole time, I really don’t like; I like alternating dialogue and music. There’s something about uninterrupted singing that just doesn’t work for me, because at some point, I need my characters to talk. Without meaning to offend anyone, a musical like Les Misérables would be the last thing I’d ever be interested in.
At the New York premiere for I’m So Excited, you were discussing the fluid sexuality in the film, and you explained with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “They have bisexuals in Spain, but maybe not so much in the U.S.”
Although when I asked, “Do we have any bisexuals in the house?” there was a guy! Of course I was joking that in Spain there are a lot of bisexuals. I know many! I used to specialize in bisexual guys — I don’t know why, it was by chance. But they never talk about it. There are magazines for gay people, but not for bisexuals. There are movies about homosexuals, there are movies about lesbian girls, but not many about bisexuals, aside from Cabaret. I think the most daring thing in this movie is that many of the characters are bisexual. The bisexual is very sexy, because both [genders] can dream about it. And I think the bisexual in relationships can be difficult — if not painful — to understand, and harder to comprehend. When the bisexual man is with a male lover, the male lover is always worried that he isn’t giving him what he can have with a woman, and when he’s with a female lover, the female lover is worried about what she’s not giving him. It creates a lot of insecurity in the lover.
Do you think there’s more sexual permission in Spain than there is here?
It’s definitely more permissive than the Anglo culture, and certainly more permissive than the French. For me, it has been a terrible experience to realize the level of homophobia in France that has appeared around gay marriage. Certainly, there’s not that kind of homophobia in Spain, but we have to be careful, because the church is slowly gaining and gaining in power.
You’re one of the few directors who is famous and recognizable himself. What are the pros and cons of being so well-known?
The good thing is that we can always find funding for my films without having to ask Spain, since there’s no money in Spain right now, given the financial crisis. Other European nations will always give us money. The worst thing — and it’s not a major thing — is that because I’ve made nineteen films, the press has these clichés about me, and I don’t see myself reflected in those cliches at all. Even to this day, they call me an enfant terrible. It was a lot harder ten years ago, because unlike this film, which is clearly a comedy, most of my films mix genres. People would have a hard time trying to identify me: Should I laugh or should I cry? How should I feel about this film? But now, I think people have come to expect that this is my style of filmmaking.
You were developing The Paperboy for quite a while with an eye toward directing it yourself. What did you think of what Lee Daniels did with the material?
Yes, I saw it. Well, I don’t want to criticize it, but let’s say that the cast is completely mistaken. I do think the novel still has a great film in it that has not yet been made.
You work very closely with your brother Agustin, who serves as your producer.
He’s the very first one to read my screenplays. He’s really understood me since he was a child. My first memory is of the eyes of my brother; he was looking at me all the time. Our sexuality is different, but he really understands me better than anyone. And he thinks of each movie as a producer, and also as my brother. One thing about Agustin is that he protects me not just from the boring parts of the business, but also the despicable parts. For example, any other producer would look at the sequence in I’m So Excited where the characters have lots of sex and they’d ask, “How do you expect to shoot this?” Because when you read it in the script, it almost seems like a porno movie! But for him, it’s clear that I will find a way to do it, and he doesn’t dare ask. He protects me so that I don’t have to talk with any producer and convince them that it will get an R and not an X.
I rewatched Law of Desire recently, and it’s so hot — and so startlingly sexual — that I don’t know if it would get an R even today. And that came out in 1987!
And you know we had that problem with Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! The MPAA tried to put an X on it.
I remember. Harvey Weinstein was handling the film … and he’s never been afraid of the free press that comes from a ratings controversy.
For me, it was very important to defend the freedom of a creator. Of course I felt absolutely used by Miramax to make more promotion for the movie, and that was very ugly for me. It was awful, the memories of that period, but we survived. I didn’t mind the economic problem [of receiving an X]; for me, it was that no one should confuse a movie that is not pornographic for one that is. And that was obvious! That lovemaking scene between Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril, the MPAA thought they were screwing for real! That they were fucking! And you’ve seen the movie; the whole scene is shot above the waist. It’s censorship. And the thing is, the MPAA doesn’t cut the film to get an R, but they give you the scissors. [Leans forward.] I reject those scissors.