"I can eat at the same time we do the interview," says PenélopeCruz, ordering lunch at a fashionable hotel in L.A. and encouragingme to do the same. But I can hardly keep up, as in short order sheplows through fried risotto balls and a titanic salad stacked withslices of fried goat cheese.
Cruz is deservedly hungry. It's been a morning packed withmeetings, yet another day in a career involving movie after moviesince the 31-year-old actress first arrived in Hollywood a scantseven years ago.
Clad in jeans and a pink Chanel-esque jacket, she's part AudreyHepburn elegance and all Carmen Miranda energy. Early in ourinterview, it's clear Cruz knows where she's going - and that she'sgoing there fast. This month alone she's got two new releases:Sahara (an action/adventure flick costarring current beauMatthew McConaughey) and Don't Move (an Italian-languagedrama now opening stateside).
But we're here today to talk about her hometown of Madrid, whereshe was born Penélope Cruz Sánchez, the daughter of a merchant anda hairdresser, and a performer practically from birth. She was inballet class at four and a professional dancer in her teens. By thetime she turned 16, she was hosting a TV show for kids andauditioning for movies. She became a star first in Spain and thenacross Europe before coming to America for 1998's The Hi-LoCountry. By her mid-20s, with dozens of films under her belt,she began appearing on the big screen with a string of leading men,including Matt Damon (All the Pretty Horses), Nicolas Cage(Captain Corelli's Mandolin), Johnny Depp (Blow),and ex-arm candy Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky). But today, inthe hotel, she might as well be back in the city of her birth,which she still visits several times a year to spend time withfamily and check on her business, a clothing shop called Amarcord,named after one of her favorite movies. So sit back and get readyfor a whirlwind tour through Madrid with Señorita Cruz.
Do you still have a house in Madrid?
Two. One is an apartment. It's the first thing I ever bought. Isold it to my sister and then bought it back. My mother said, "Idon't want your sister to sell it to somebody else. It's the firsthouse you ever bought." I thought, That's true. It meanssomething. And it's a good investment. I should buy it back.It's in the Barrio Salamanca, which is a great area. Really niceand peaceful. Near the center of town, but more quiet, with a lotof great restaurants and nice stores, good shopping. My other houseis my real house in the countryside, where I live when I'mthere.
Where did you grow up?
In a place called Alcobendas, and also San Sebastian de los Reyes,which is 20 minutes outside of Madrid. As a little girl, I would goto Madrid all the time, shopping or going for a weekend. It meantwe would have to take the Metro and the bus, and that was a treatfor me. I loved going to a big mall or a theater or the movies.
Where did you go as a child that still exists?
There was a park, Parque de Atracciones, and going there was likethe highlight of the year. It's like our Disneyland. Just go and dothe rides and eat all the sugar you can find. The same thing youhave here: cotton candy and caramelized apples. You eat all you canget from your parents, do all the rides, and go home crying fromall the confusion.
Any other favorite childhood memories?
Prince played in Madrid when I was 14, and I was fascinated. I wasspeechless. Speechless! I never dreamed that I would get tickets tothat concert, being so young. I just felt very inspired by anartist. I had seen a lot of opera and ballet because I had beendancing since I was four. I'd been a fan of classical music since Iwas four, too. I would sit in a corner of my house and listen. Butthis was just one of these days that you remember, that inspiresyou. We had a party afterward at a discothèque called Joy Madrid.That was one of the first times I went out and experienced thenightlife of Madrid.
What do you consider the must-see sights in yourhometown?
The Prado. You have to see the Goya Room. You have to see one of myfavorite paintings ever, the Bosh. You know this painter? He'scalled Bosh, but in Spanish we call him El Bosco. The painting iscalled El Jardin de las Delicias. It's sort of a darkpainting and can be a little bit disturbing. But it's justincredible that somebody did that. Maybe you can look at it and seewhat I mean. There are only one or two paintings by El Bosco there.Some of the flamenco painters are there. There's one I love, but Ican't remember his name. There is some Velazquez in there, but ElBosco's is the painting. You can look at it for hours.
Okay, where next?
El Parque de Retiro is beautiful, our biggest, most famous park. Ithas a lot of runners, a little lake. It's very near the center ofthe city. I love to walk around the middle of town. For someone whohasn't been, I would say go to the Plaza Major. You will see thespirit of the city. A combination of couples with young kids,magicians in the street, old women together. Good energy. Goodpeople. [There are] a lot of painters in the street [at the PlazaMajor].
I know you like to go shopping, but I'm told that as a kidyou could only go twice a year.
We weren't rich, so we went twice a year and would buy whatever weneeded. It was a big celebration that day. I like buying in myshop, and I don't give myself a big discount. People laugh at me,but I say, "No, I don't get the right numbers at the end of themonth." If I buy, I pay.
Tell us about your shop.
It's in the Barrio Salamanca and is called Amarcord. I bought theplace and decorated it with a decorator. I had a vision of how Iwanted it to be: pink, with all wood, and a little bit of a vintagefeeling, but also a '50s feeling. I just saw it in my head andwanted it to be materialized some day. The day I came in beforeconstruction was finished, that was a great day for me. Because Ihad seen it in my head, and we made it happen. The clothes we sellare from designers I've found on my trips. I discovered designerswho weren't being sold in Spain, you couldn't find them in Madrid,and others you could only find in a couple of places.
Where do you like to shop besides at your ownstore?
There is one street, Ortega Y Gasset, that has all the boutiques,like Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. For shoes, [Max Addict, ownedby] Paz Vega. Her store specializes in shoes.
Say it's your first night back in Madrid. Where would yougo to eat?
I would go home, eat at my house. But if I had to go out, I wouldprobably go to De Maria, an Argentine restaurant. This is some ofthe best meat you can find, and the people who work there are verynice. I always go with my family and friends, all of us together,and I always see a lot of friends there. I would also go to Lucio,which is probably the best restaurant we have in Madrid. It's avery simple place, a very old restaurant. They do this dish that Ialso can do because somebody told me their secret. It's broken eggswith fried potatoes, and it's just incredible. They fry the eggsand break them in a particular way with garlic on top of the fries- plus a little secret. But I can't talk about it. They have goodSerrano ham. Good wine. Good fish. Great taste.
What kind of wine do you like?
Roja Sangre de Toro is a famous wine. Not very expensive, but verystrong. I don't like drinking very much, because I have one glassof wine and I already feel a little drunk. But I do like the tasteof wine, and that would be my favorite Spanish wine. I heardthey're going to quit making it. I don't know why.
Dinners in Spain often last for hours. What's your favoriteplace for those lingering meals?
Café Hispano. It's where I get together with friends like FernandoTrueba, the director of Belle Epoque. I've done two movieswith him, and we have a group of friends and always go there. Theyhave a room they give us that seats like 12 people, and they let usstay there until four or five in the morning. The food is sort ofMediterranean. They have clams with potatoes. A great dish. Theyalso have one of the best croquetas, which are fried. Theymake it with harina.
Any other restaurant recommendations?
I would go to a restaurant north of the city called Caserón deAraceli. Or I would order food from there and take it home. Thefood is amazing. They have this black risotto, black rice. You knowthat? With the ink from the squid? And good clams. Very homey. Old.There's another place outside of Madrid called El Escorial. It'sabout an hour away. Good things to see there and good restaurants.Some of the best restaurants in Spain, where you can eat somethingcalled fabada, a Spanish dish prepared with white beans.El Escorial is one of the best places to find it. It takes hours torecover after that. You eat everything. You can't controlyourself.
Where do you like to go after a long night on thetown?
If you want to experience a night out in Madrid, you go to dinnerabout 10:30 or 11. Then you see the sun come up and you eatchurros with chocolate. That's like the big tradition inMadrid. I've only done it once. But it's part of the ritual to endlike that, eating churros in the morning. Then you go tosleep.
Speaking of sleep, are there any particular hotels you'drecommend?
I very much like the Santo Mauro. It's smaller. It has greatgardens, great food, great meeting rooms downstairs, and a littlebar. It's a very private hotel. Beautiful. It's also near theBarrio Salamanca, where I have the store. The Hotel Villa Magna isa big hotel with a Chinese restaurant downstairs. A lot of peoplego there just to eat at the restaurant.
Can you recommend any great bars?
Chicote. Manolete, the bullfighter, used to go there, and I believeHemingway did also. It's very old, and you can feel all of thathistory. They have a lot of pictures.
Is there a drink that's unique to the city?
Not to Madrid, but to Spain in general. Sangria. It's wine withcassera, which has bubbles. But it's got so much sugar itdoesn't taste like alcohol.
Flamenco dancing is another Spanish treasure. Tell us aboutit.
My sister, Monica, is one of the best flamenco dancers in theworld. I love seeing her dance. She was dancing with Joachim Cortezfor a long time. Now she has a TV show called Un PasoAdelante, which is really good. There are bars in the centerof Madrid where you can see dancers. But the best thing is to throwyourself in the street in the south of Spain and look for a groupof gypsies who are singing and join them. That's really the thing.You just go and sing with them. I once did a party in Madrid, aparty for Tom when we were there for Vanilla Sky, and Idid a flamenco party. So I called some friends and said, "Okay,bring some of your friends who play drums," and they improvised it.It was magic what we saw. They can play music with a fork,anything. They have it in their blood.
If flamenco is the national dance of Spain, paella is thenational dish. Where do they serve your favorite paella inMadrid?
There's one place, Casa Benigna, where my friend Fernando Truebatook me. It's also where I met director Stephen Frears for themovie I did with him, The Hi-Lo Country. That's where hetold me he was going to cast me. It was my first American movie. SoI have good memories of that place. It was a good lunch.
Speaking of The Hi-Lo Country, I understand youdonated all of your salary from that movie to charity, much of itto Mother Teresa.
I met Mother Teresa a year before she died. A group of journalistsfrom Spain called me to go to India and interview her. I was therefor a week and talked to her every day. I started to cry when I sawher. I was hugging her, and I couldn't control myself. Because Ifelt that she had such warmth and strength and I admired her somuch. She was so tiny and so strong at the same time. She would puther forehead on my forehead, and she was saying, "Even if everyonegives one penny, even if it's only that, everything counts!" Itchanged my life, that trip. I saw horrible things there. I talkedto Mother Teresa about it: "I've seen this and now I leave and goback to my normal life. And I have a good bank account and a joband I travel and I have privilege. What do I do with what I've seenhere?" She said, "Don't change what you have. Use what you've seento contribute to a change." Right now, I'm looking for things todo. I want to put together an event in Madrid for the tsunami. Notthat it's going to change anything, but I can create something tocontribute a little bit. Contribution counts.