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For Italian actress Francesca Neri, working with the famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was a dream come true. She spoke to PAUL FISCHER.

While it was an honour for 34-year old Francesca Neri to be offered the lead role in Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh, the same cannot be said for her first Hollywood audition in Kevin Costner's Waterworld. "It was one of the worst audition experiences of my life. First they flew me to Los Angeles, where I had my first audition with Costner. Then the next day they told me to do it again but with the producers. 'Why do I have to do the same thing again?' I asked. 'You just have to do it', they said. Then I flew back to Rome and did another audition on tape there -the exact same thing. After all that, they told me my English wasn't good enough to do it. Maybe that was a good thing."

"Like a dream because the types of women he creates are obviously more Spanish in temperament"

However, Neri did not have to go through a similar experience in order to work on the latest Almodovar film, Live Flesh. "Over the years I'd met him many times at film festivals, and each time we'd met he would tell me that we have to work together. For me, of course, that was like a dream because the types of women he creates are obviously more Spanish in temperament than what I'm used to doing in Italy. So one day he called me and told me: I have a role for you. I was incredibly surprised, didn't believe him until this script arrived." One would think that the language would prove a problem, but she had already done two movies in Spain, "and so I speak Spanish better than I speak English", Neri adds laughingly. Live Flesh revolves around five principal characters who come together on one fateful night in 1992 Madrid. Victor (Liberto Rabal) has fallen for a woman, Elena (Neri), a drug addict, with whom he had casual sex with a week before. Elena, however, wants nothing more to do with Victor, and, when he shows up at her apartment, she uses a gun to scare him away. A shot is fired and the cops are called. Arriving at Elena's apartment are two partners, David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (Jose Sancho), who are in the midst of a crisis in their friendship. Sancho, a chronic, abusive drunk, believes that his wife, Clara (Angela Molina), is having an affair, and he suspects David of being Clara's lover. What happens when the police break down the door to Elena's apartment sets off a chain of events that reverberate through time to a period four years later, when circumstances bring the characters together once again, albeit in a vastly different situation.

On reading Almodovar's take on the Ruth Rendell novel, Neri felt she could understand this confused and complex character whom she plays. "She's very typical of the types of women I like to play", the actress explains. "I understand her very well. She lives her life with a consistent sense of her own guilt, but she's far more complex than that. I like the fact that this woman has, as it were, two faces; but she can only reveal one face, the other is always hidden with a certain sadness." Neri sees this film as "Almodovar at his most mature and complex", and as for the reality of working with the famous director, she pauses slightly. "Obviously he's a genius, and the opportunity to work with him is special, especially for a woman, because he works so much on the role. It changed, and the script changed, so much during the shooting, which means you have the feeling that the role grows along with you. And though there was a lot of improvisation, we also rehearsed intensely for about a month beforehand. But during filming, he'd change something once at least every morning."

"I don't like the rigidity of a script; I like change"

Such a work ethos was gratifying, Neri adds. "I like being surprised. I don't like the rigidity of a script; I like change." As for Almodovar himself, the actress also insists, laughingly, "that he's also crazy, much like some of his earlier movies."

Though Neri lives in Rome, she says that working in Italy is tough, which is why she spends most of her time working in other European countries. "The Italian industry is very slow and stagnant at the moment; there's little of interest happening here, apart from the odd Italian comedy which doesn't offer much scope for female actors."

Surprisingly, talking about future projects, Neri hopes to be working in Australia soon - with Rolf de Heer, no less. "We met a few years ago, because the Italian producer of Bad Boy Bubby is a friend of mine, so he's developing a project on which I hope to be working. I love Australia. The last time I was there was during the Brisbane Film Festival a few years ago when I had something on there." Live Flesh, is being screened at THIS year's Festival. "God, if only I knew, I'd have been there in a flash. But if I end up working there, I must improve my English. It's not easy once you hit 34", she says laughingly.

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