If you’re at all interested in The Skin I Live In, the latest offering from acclaimed Spanish filmmaker and agent provocateur Pedro Almodovar, you might want to skip this story. Or at the very least put it aside until you’ve caught the movie. Because while enjoyment of The Skin I Live In isn’t dependant on ignorance of a primary plot development involving a central character, it may help if you know as little as possible prior to taking your seat in the cinema. Still here? Okay then, I’ll tread as carefully as possible.
At the core of The Skin I Live In is the unusual relationship between plastic surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas, working with his Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down director for the first time in 20 years) and Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), the beautiful woman kept captive in the doctor’s home. Vera is seemingly the very image of Dr Ledgard’s dead wife but there’s a lot more to Vera’s identity and appearance than just the surgeon’s experiments with artificial skin. A lot more.
Vera is a tough role, multi-layered and multi-faceted, and Almodovar had Anaya in mind for years while he was adapting French author Thierry Jonquet’s novel Mygale (a.k.a. Tarantula) into The Skin I Live In. While Anaya has become well-known in her native Spain, throughout Europe and internationally for her performances in films like Sex and Lucia and Room in Rome (or her appearance in the video for Justin Timberlake’s ‘SexyBack’!), she’d only worked with Almodovar once before, having had a small supporting role in his 2002 film Talk to Her.
“I had a panic attack of excitement and fear…but nice fear,” says Anaya when she first heard that she’d become the filmmaker’s latest muse. (Very nicely, she gently corrected my pronunciation of Almodovar – the emphasis is on the ‘doh’.) “Then I met with him and he explained the story to me, and I was so impressed. Later on, I read the script and that impression just grew and grew. This film stays with you while you digest it. He offered me such a beautiful and complex role, and it was an incredible opportunity to enjoy and to give the most of myself.”
While Vera initially appears to be the victim, Anaya views her imprisoned character as “a strong person that really chose to live”, adding that the nature of Vera’s identity means she was playing one role inside of another. “Identity is something that we sometimes need to take care of and feed, to not die,” she says. “I played this role as someone who was held captive inside another person’s skin. She’s in an artificial skin that doesn’t belong to her, with a face that doesn’t belong to her. She says barely anything but feels a lot, and she has to be very careful about the emotions she shows.”
Anaya is clearly an admirer of Almodovar, admitting that she happily shaped her performance to fit his vision of Vera. “There’s a certain atmosphere that always happens on any set,” she says. “If a director is very into it, then the crew follows even if they don’t know it. And this is very true with Pedro. People respect him so much. When he arrives on set, people whisper ‘Oh, Pedro has arrived…’ And Pedro explained to me that by taking on this role, there will be a kind of no return. My character lives that journey of not being able to return and in a way I do too. This character has changed my life. I have a beautiful family, but it’s so wonderful to also be a part of his family.”