Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are the two leading lights of Spanish cinema, with awfully similar career profiles: They both started acting while young, they have managed to toggle between Pedro Almodovar films and Hollywood blockbusters, and they have each been nominated for three Oscars and won one. If any two actors could expect to earn the same salary for working on a movie, you could not find a more clear-cut example than this pairing. But of course, things are not always fair in the film industry, especially when it comes to equal pay for women.
So today at a Cannes press conference for Asghar Farhadi’s film Everybody Knows, where Cruz and Bardem play ex-lovers drawn back together when her daughter is kidnapped, a murmur went through the room when a journalist stood and asked whether Cruz and Bardem were paid the same salary.
Both actors nodded, as did their director. “Actually, yes,” said Cruz.
It would be awkward if they had discovered a discrepancy on the Cannes dais, since Cruz and Bardem have been married since 2010 and worked together several times in films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Farhadi praised their “harmonious” pairing, which allowed the actors to go to harrowing emotional places in Everybody Knows. “They are the very symbol of a happy couple, a loving couple,” said Farhadi. “It’s so refreshing to see how they separate their work from their private life, and what a deep respect they have for each other.”
Cruz agreed, clarifying that the intense emotional material of the film took no toll on their marriage. “We don’t take the characters home at the end of the day,” she said. “Maybe I did that experiment when I was younger … when I was in my 20s, I thought the more I would torture myself and the more I would stay in character for months, the better the result would be. But I have realized that it’s not really related to that, and that I have a life and then I have my job. That allows me to jump many times in one day from reality to fiction, and I love that beautiful dance back and forth.”
Added Cruz, “The fact that we know each other and trust each other so much really helps, but at the same time, this is not something that we plan on doing every two years. [To work together] would be once in a while.”
Asked what it was like to shoot a film with his wife, Bardem merely said, “It’s wonderful.” As he spoke about what drew him to his character, however, Bardem sounded almost like he was addressing the sort of attitude that has led the pay gap to persist between genders for so long.
“The crimes that people make today, they act from a sense of [being] macho, and that takes us nowhere,” said Bardem. In Everybody Knows, he plays a man who defies masculine expectations to act unselfishly for the woman he still loves. “Yes, my character is caught up in a lot of emotions and feelings,” said Bardem. “He wants to do the right thing, not for himself but others. This is very different from honor. Quite the contrary: It’s generosity, not honor.”