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She had to play a survivor like never before, Elena Anaya tells Andrew L. Urban.

On the phone (from Madrid) Elena Anaya sounds even younger than she looks – and she looks about 22 (she was born in July 1975; she’s 26). But the sound of her voice doesn’t do justice to the maturity she shows, especially when talking about her work. “All my roles have changed my life in some way,” she says in good English with a charming Spanish accent.

“But,” she adds in answer to the question about the nature of her role as Vera in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, “in this film I had to play a survivor – like never before! It’s nice playing someone who has to fight so hard, for so long.”

"a bizarre and dark story"

It’s a bizarre and dark story. Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needs an accomplice. Marilia (Marisa Paredes), the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. But he also needs a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. . .

To reveal the central twist in the story would be a disservice to readers, but Anaya explains this much: “It’s about identity … this character has to make a massive transformation, but at the core, she has to retain her identity. She does, but she has to build a new character. Vera shows an amazing determination to deal with life.”

"Literally, she has shed her skin along the way"

In his director’s statement, Almodóvar says “In her six years of enforced reclusion, Vera has lost, among other things, the most extensive member of the human body, her own skin. Literally, she has shed her skin along the way. The skin is the frontier that separates us from others, it determines the race to which we belong, it reflects our roots, whether biological or geographic. Many times it reflects the state of the soul, but the skin isn’t the soul. Although Vera has changed skin, she hasn’t lost her identity. Once she has accepted her second skin, Vera takes the second most important decision in order to survive: she’ll learn to wait.”

Yes, says Anaya, “it’s a good lesson to learn how important it is to never give up. And to remain the person you were born – even with a different skin.”

When they first met to discuss the film, Almodóvar sat down with Anaya “and we talked for three hours …he walked through the whole film in detail and he gave me reasons why he chose me.” But those reasons, she says, “are a kind of secret.”

In those three hours, Almodóvar outlined “all the emotional elements and he explained how he was going to shoot it. I was very grateful for all the detail of how he was going to approach this very difficult subject.”

As with the talk-through, Almodóvar “is very precise as a director and he knows how to direct actors. He just showed me the path – and then let me walk along in my own way on what was often a very tough path. But he gave me courage.”

"Working with co-star Antonio Banderas was a pleasure"

Working with co-star Antonio Banderas was a pleasure, says Anaya. “He’s very generous and we worked in a similar way. His character doesn’t believe he’s doing something bad. He sees it as scientific advance – but for sure, he’s insane, and he has a dark soul.” Not like Banderas himself; “he’s a very kind human being.”

Anaya is keen to start work again, after taking some time off since finishing The Skin I Live In. “I’ve done a lot of yoga and learning languages, but I want to act again. I’m ready to go. Of course it will be a challenge to take to the floor after dancing with Almodóvar … but I hope soon someone will ask me to dance again.”

Published December 22, 2011

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Elena Anaya


With co-star Antonio Banderas

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