There really hasn’t been a face as perfectly suited to the famed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar as that of Rossy de Palma. Often compared to Picasso paintings, given her asymmetrical features and distinctive nose, Rossy has been an Almodóvar chica for over twenty-five years, stretching all the way back to Pedro’s crossover hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
During the recent Almodóvar retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the actress sat down for a lively Q&A after a screening of the 1993 flick Kika, for which de Palma earned a Goya nomination for best supporting actress. The film, which starred Victoria Abril and Verónica Forqué, was not very well received at the time. Juggling various plot strands and a wide array of off-kilter characters (including a ditzy makeup artist, a scarred reality TV personality, a peeping Tom, a sex maniac, and a mouthy maid) the film has since found a number of vocal champions. To them, there’s plenty to love in the film, whether is its deliriously plastic art direction, its colorful if overstuffed plot, its Jean Paul Gaultier-designed costumes. Or, perhaps more than anything else, de Palma’s hilarious supporting turn.
After asking the audience to help her record a video message to her esteemed director (“We love you Pedro!” she instructed everyone to shout), de Palma discussed everything from her love of Instagram to her craziest scenes in Pedro’s film. Check out some highlights below.
On Insisting Her Kika Character Be Big-Breasted
Pedro doesn’t mind if I tell you some secrets. At the time he was like “Don’t say that!” But now? Who cares? And he’s not here! I remember when I read it and I just wanted to be Caracortada [Scarface]. I wanted to dress like Victoria Abril. And he says, “So you don’t like Juana?” And I said, “Oh, I like very much Juana. I wanna play both!” And Victoria Abril was in love with Kika. Basically everyone wanted to be the other character. I remember that Jean Paul Gaultier designed my costumes and we had a lot of fun working together. And I said to Pedro: “This Juana is a lesbian?” And this was twenty years ago, but I said, “Because I can see it being very hard for a lesbian to have big titties.” And I asked him if I could have enormous titties for this character. So I went and got a bra and put a lot of things into the bra and then showed him. I loved that part of the character, that she had these big titties that didn’t represent her, you know what I mean? This was the time of AIDS, in the film. And I remember Jesús Moncusi who was the hair stylist in the film (who died), he put me in this beautiful hair at the end of the film and it was great. Even in the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition that’s traveling around the world, are all these costumes, even Scarface’s outfit with the helmet. Titties, titties everywhere! It was amazing. Even now it’s all so very modern.
On Using Pedro to up her Instagram Game
Oh and the chairs! I have a very funny anecdota: Pedro has a place outside of Madrid, in the country for the summer, and he has those chairs in there. I’m an Instagram crazy girl and I put an Instagram of it. I wanted to take a picture with Pedro because when you put an Instagram with Pedro all the likes go up! And I said, Pedro, “Come on let’s take a picture” (because he has no Instagram). I told him, “I’m gonna have a lot of likes!” And everyone was Like Like Like! But then I saw the chairs because they are from Andalucia, they’re very typical those chairs. I took a picture only of the chair. And I put the post up on Instagram. And the chair has more likes than us! And then he said to me “Did you see that the chair has more likes than us?! You have to be very careful with that Rossy, that’s very surprising. But you know they are very beautiful chairs. They deserve all the likes.”
On Pedro’s Love of Accidents
In that film there were some problems with the male actors. When Pedro is working he’s very open. But he’s very smart. When he sees that things are not going well he balances the film with the characters that are working. I always loved that, he’s the kind of director that lets the accidents, the mistakes come inside. I have a beautiful story. Miquel Barceló who is an amazing painter, born in Majorca like me. He used to go Mali in Africa to paint for a lot of years. He’d paint and when he’d wake up he’d see that termites were eating his paintings. And he said, well, that’s no good. I can’t sell that painting. But he said, the termites are born in Mali, they are in their place. I have no right to come here and steal their life. So he found a product that put in the painting that the termites wouldn’t like. And he could put it all over but he said, no, I’m going to give the termites the right to intervene in my painting. So he put it only on some places. And the termites ate the other places. So he said that this was my work, I made but with the termites! I like that because accidents, mistakes are perfect and we have then to allow them come in. Because we’re not perfect or can’t control everything. I love very much when you can’t really see them but they’re there, you know?
“Accidents, mistakes are perfect and we have to allow them come in.”
In Kika there are a lot of things, for example: In the end, when I’m with Kika and with these bags and she asks, “What are you wearing?” and I say, “Something I stole because you didn’t pay me.” We shot that scene at the beginning of the film. It was the end of the summer in Madrid but it was a freezing night and we were there shooting the end before the beginning. And as actors, even though we’re used to shooting out of order, it’s sometimes very unfair. And even though I knew the actress, Veronica Forqué, we didn’t have this complicity that these characters needed. It was freezing. By the end of the scene, we were wearing all these coats and at the beginning she would say the line “What are you wearing there?” but by the end she would say “WHAT ARE YOU WEARING THERE?!” completely crazy! I said to Pedro, “Pedro, this scene is not working at all. Please, shoot it again.” Which we did at the end, and that’s what you guys saw tonight. What I wanted to say is these things are what I love. You know, some directors are like I wrote it like this and I want it like this… Let it fly! I love that Pedro, when the actor has some difficulty with the character, he balances the film with the other actors or the other characters who are shining. And he knows very well. He’s so smart about that. When you see him directing, he knows what he wants. He’s completely in the story.
On the Secret to Being a Scene-Stealer
“The only great thing that we can do is disappear!”
There are no secrets. I’m very happy about that. You know, I was telling you before that I saw John Waters wrote something about Julieta and said “Rossy de Palma come back!” And I was so happy. John Waters, who I love. Even he is celebrating that I am in the film. For example, with Pedro, what we made was always very natural. Very familiar. It’s true that he was already a legend when I met him. Well, an underground legend, not a mainstream one like now. But I never felt under pressure with him. It’s true that when he became famous, so big, a lot of actors and actresses would look at him and think, I hope I can give him what he asks of me. But it’s not good for the performance if you’re too much nervous. For me it was always very comfortable. It’s true that I’m the kind of actress who has an energy, that it’s organic, people feel like they can touch me. And also, I like to disappear. I don’t like the artist saying like, I did something great! The only great thing that we can do is disappear! Disappear yourself, your ego. And if you empty it, something come and will take its place. That is the real miracle. We are all artists. Everything is there. It’s not like we fabricate something. It’s like, I create this song. No. Your song is music and melody that comes from inspiration. Inspiration is everywhere but it’s true you have to make an empty space. Because if it’s filled with you, nothing comes. I forget myself, and that’s what happens with Pedro.
On the Origin of That Gazpacho-Induced Orgasm Scene
In The Law of Desire he didn’t want the makeup artist for me. He said, “She’s going to do her makeup, she’s going to dress with her own clothes. She’s going to do her own hair.” In Law of Desire I was working at a bar and I was wearing that toupee at the time. I didn’t feel like an actress because it was my first time in front of the camera. It was too much me. But in Women on the Verge I thought, oh I’ll finally be an actress you know playing this bourgeois virgin… and then I just drink the gazpacho! I was asleep the whole time! And I was so bored, and I told Pedro about it. So one day he came in and he said, “Okay, you’re going to have a dream. And you’re going to have an orgasm in the dream. Even though you’re a virgin you’re going to feel so much that orgasm that you are no longer feel like a virgin. Are you happy?” So, as we say in Spain, “El que no llora, no mama.” If you don’t cry… I’m so happy I got to do this something else, this orgasm.
On Being an Artist and an Actress
I’m very happy to be an artist who is also an actress. Because to be an actress is very fragile. Actors? Males? Oh my goodness. They are so complicated. Too much going on. Too much vanity. Too much ego. Men? Terrible! Vanity is a feminine word but it is very masculine. We women have a lot of problems but not vanity. Vanity is not our problem. But it’s true that women who are actresses are so fragile. This material, you work with your feelings. That’s why I feel more like an artist. I don’t feel like I need to be actress to be complete. It’s like, the camera: the camera loves when you don’t pay attention to her. She likes it when you’re like “I don’t give a shit about you.” She likes that! The actors who are very interested in the camera, she goes “Ha ha! I’m not gonna photograph you very well now.”
On Working With Chus Lampreave
There is a gay party in Barcelona called Circuit. With all the people all over the world. They have all these swimming pools and they dance—all the lesbians, gays, it’s very well known. They asked me to do the video presentation. You can find it on the internet: “Circuit Rossy de Palma.” And I made the perfect man in a machine. Like a dominatrix. But they had the good idea to ask Chus Lampreave to play my mother. And that was her last job, her last work. They went to Madrid to her house, recorded her there. And we had a conversation by telephone. I’m so happy we were together all the way to the last moment. She’s an amazing actress, an amazing human being. Pedro and I we’re gonna miss her so much. She was the perfect person to play Pedro’s mother. In Flower of my Secret, the kitchen is a replica of Pedro Almodóvar’s sister’s house. We rehearsed there actually, and Pedro was writing the script as we were improvising. And all the lines that Chus Lampreave says in the film, that was just Pedro asking his mother “How do you say this?” and she’d say blah blah, and he’d write it down. Everything formed there with Pedro’s mother and sister, with Chus and I. It was magic, really.