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Spanish actor Rossy de Palma photographed in Cannes. Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock
Spanish actor Rossy de Palma photographed in Cannes. Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock

Meet director Almodóvar's muse Rossy de Palma

“I’m a good actor, cook and lover,” Rossy de Palma says in an exclusive interview with Scandinavian Traveler. She’s in the news right now with her role in Pedro Almodóvar's new movie, Julieta.

This is Rossy de Palma 

Name: Rosa Elena García Echave, Rossy de Palma is her stage name.
Age: 53
Lives: Madrid
Family: 2 children
Profession: Actor, artist, model
Career: Started as a musician in the band Lo peor posible. Made her acting debut in the movie La ley del deseo (Law of Desire) by Pedro Almodóvar. Has played in a total of seven Almodóvar movies. Altogether, she's appeared in around 70 movies and has worked with the likes of Robert Altman and Karim Dridi. She’s won the Best Female Actor award at the Locarno International Film Festival. She's also acted in theater in Milan and Paris. A member of the jury at the Festival de Cannes in 2015. 

You must have seen de Palma in Almodóvar's movies. And probably in many other movies as well. Her facial proportions are very reminiscent of Picasso's female portraits. Not so much symmetry, more a case of dramatic lines and sharp contrasts. But when you meet her, you can see why it's not just her face that appeals to Almodóvar. She fills the room. No, more than that, she owns it. The room becomes a stage where she's the star, diva and a sparkling firework display. But it's with a warmth, a presence and seemingly without any pretensions.

“I don't pay attention to the camera. The camera doesn't like it if you do that. That's my way of working,” de Palma tells Scandinavian Traveler.

She's in Oslo for the Norwegian premiere of Julieta, a movie in which she plays the bitter and twisted home help, Marian.

The Madrid Scene

De Palma's artistic career spans 30 years. Or ever since she was a child.

 “I loved music, poetry and dance when I was growing up. I danced ballet and composed music. People know me as an actor, but I'd rather describe myself as an artist.”

At the age of 19, she left Palma de Mallorca, where she was born and raised, for Madrid. She played in a band called Lo peor posible, which means The Worst Possible in English.

“We chose that name because then no one could complain when we played. We could then say: ‘We said we were the worst possible band. Have we lied to you about our music?’.”

This was during the so-called movida madrileña or the Madrilenian Scene, a cultural and social renaissance celebrating freedom in the years after the death of the Spanish dictator, Franco.

“It was a fantastic time. It was all about expressing how you felt through music, theater, art. It was an artistic explosion where everyone wanted to share their knowledge and creativity with everyone else. No one was thinking about becoming famous. But gradually, there was more narcotics abuse and then AIDS arrived. We moved into darker times. But plenty of what we created in music, art and movies in that period, will live forever. Art has a quality in itself that means it continues to feel relevant. My daughter says she thinks I'm lucky to have been involved in the culture scene in the 1980s.”

Her band didn’t earn much money so she also worked as a bar tender at a rockabilly bar in Madrid. It was there she met Almodóvar. He'd already made a few movies and had made a bit of a name for himself and a reputation. Above all, his movies captured and characterized the sense of sexual and political freedom of the period. But according to de Palma, he was still a bit underground at that time. The characters in his movies were not especially bothered about staying inside the law. Nor were they conformists, at least not by today's standards.  Almodóvar invited de Palma to audition for his next movie.

“Unfortunately, I couldn't because I was playing a concert with the band. I needed the money from the concert.”

Actor Rossy de Palma photographed at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock

Talent for acting, food and love

Even so, she was destined for a movie career. In 1987, she played in Almodóvar's movie La ley del deseo (Law of Desire). That was the first of seven Almodóvar movies she’s made. Her career took off. If you count up the number of movies she's appeared in, you'll reach around 70.

“He wanted to have me in the movie. He didn't want someone to style my hair, do my makeup or find costumes for me, he wanted me to use what I had, that I should be myself personified. That didn't exactly make me feel like an actor.”

She hadn’t had any training as an actor, when she accepted the part. She's self-taught, she says.

“I'm like a sponge. But Pedro taught me the essentials and that gave me a platform to work on. I like to do research without thinking too much about it. As an actor, you have to forget your ego and let the character you’re playing take over. So, although I'm in control of my life, I go with the flow as an actor. I find that very amusing.”   

“But you must have a certain talent to have been able to have such a long career?”

“To be honest, yes, I do have some talents. I'm a good cook, a good lover and a good actor. There's no point in false modesty, even though I'm somewhere in between and can get embarrassed about seeming boastful.”

Diva

She loves working.

“Working keeps me both physically and mentally fit.”

With a seemingly endless CV full of big names, she's not exactly struggling on the job market. However, she still has a wish list for the future.

“I’d like to play some minor roles in big productions. I’d love to play some mean characters or make a science fiction movie. Or a TV series. There are loads of good series on Netflix and Spanish TV,” she says.

When she gets up out of her chair in the bar where we’ve met, people stop drinking. Their chins drop. It's no coincidence. Rossy de Palma is tall and the large, black fur hat she’s wearing makes her look even taller. Beneath her famous, hooked nose, her bright red lipstick shines like a traffic light. She kisses us goodbye and sweeps her cape around herself, as though she's shooting an Almodóvar movie. Or maybe she's simply playing herself? Everyone in the room seems to have forgotten it's rude to stare. At that moment, you can see why you don't have to be a creative director like Almodóvar to appreciate that this woman, in addition to being able to bring the screen to life, can also create an audience anywhere at all. Even on a rainy day in January. It's a little piece of magic. Or are we in a movie?
 

Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst