I bet you clicked on this Penelope Cruz interview thinking it would be a preview of her upcoming big budget Hollywood action/adventure Sahara. Well, nyah nyah, now you have to read about a foreign art film. Okay, I got in a couple Sahara questions too, but we’ll get Cruz again in a couple weeks. The current press tour was devoted to the American release of Don’t Move.

The Italian film from Sergio Castellito, based on his wife, Margaret Mazzantini’s book, tells the story of a doctor (Castellito) who recalls his relationship with Italia (Cruz) during a moment of crisis. His affair with Italia began with a rape when he was overcome by “passion” (as the Italians call it) after she let him inside to use her phone. His car had broken down. Message: Don’t help strangers.

Don’t Move is the kind of film that gets a lot of publicity for the glamorous Cruz dirtying up and for portraying a romance spawned from violence. Indeed, some press were immediately turned off by the rape, and if that didn’t lose them, an abortion later in the plot sure did. But keep an open mind and check out Penelope Cruz’s thoughts about her latest film.

Q: What was the lasting attraction these two people had that sustained their relationship?

Penelope: Well, they are two characters who are damaged for different reasons. My character is a girl who had been raped by her father when she was eleven and she’s never recovered from that, and she’s even found a way to justify what her father did. That’s not in the movie, but it’s in the book. She says, “No. My father wasn’t really bad.” She says something like, “He was ignorant.” She says that about her father who raped her. And I talked to people about what happens in situations like that, how someone can chose the road to self-destruction because having gone through so much pain and that’s what happens to this character. And she has no such thing, she has no hope for a better life. She doesn’t think that she deserves it and that’s what broke my heart about the character and I wanted to do this movie with my heart. And telling the story the way it happens, that’s why some of the scenes are uncomfortable to watch. But I wouldn’t have done the movie if it was pretending to be something else. Those things in life I grab and I’ve met people like that, and I love the honesty of the writer. Margaret [Mazzantini] is the wife of the director, and certainly there are amazing people and they just wanted to do this movie. And I think that’s why the movie has so much heart and so much love and so much hope even with a story that is so hard.

Q: Did you meet those people for the role, or you already knew them?

Penelope: In my life, and also before.

Q: Did you meet any people from a rape crisis center as research?

Penelope: Yeah. I talked to people in those situations and people in places in the world, young girls who had gone through that even with their own families. The sad thing is that this character never recovers from it. She’s not resisting, but she doesn’t find a way to get over it and feel like she deserves something better in life.

Q: Do you think she has a future with him?

Penelope: I think that she actually she chooses something that she knows is maybe going to change her, but isn’t going to bring her longtime happiness. That’s why I think that both characters are self-destructive and the movie is not something is trying to make self-destruction cool. It’s just talking about it for what it is. It’s explaining where it comes from and also she’s in a female situation.

Q: What did you like about working with Sergio Castellitto as a director and as an actor?

Penelope: I think that he’s one of the best actors that I’ve worked with. I think that he’s one of the best actors in the world right now, and I’m happy that an American audience can now get to know what he’s capable of doing with this movie. I hope that a lot of people will see this movie here. I never talk like that. But with this, I really want people to go and see more foreign films. With this movie I feel so proud of it and so I don’t feel bad when I say please go and see this movie because I know it’s going to be two hours that are going to be worth it. For me, this movie changed my life.

Q: How did it change your life?

Penelope: I found that what happened to me when I read ‘The Catcher In The Rye,’ I was in New York by myself, and I bought the book and I couldn’t stop reading it. I felt that it opened a door to something and I felt the same way with this book. That only happens once in a while. You find some material that for some reason connects with you in a different way and it happened with this book. I was on a plane and I couldn’t stop crying, and I was alone and so I had to hide myself behind the book. I was making a lot of noise. They were like, “Are you okay?” And for me, when I find material that can make me feel so much I feel so privileged that they thought of me for this.

Q: It seems weird or quirky when your character is dancing after she’s had the abortion.

 Penelope: Yeah. Actually, that wasn’t in the script. It’s funny that you say that because for me that was the most difficult scene in the movie. She shows her pain and desperation in a way that is not suppressing those feelings. She lets those feelings out for the first time in the movie. I said to Sergio, “You have to give me a song. Let me do something. I don’t want to talk about it and put it into words. But trust me, there is a way that I see that this woman would express the pain in that scene.” And he was so great. He wouldn’t even give me an explanation and he gave me a song, we chose a song together, and he gave me all that space to do it. And he came to me at the end of the day and thanked me for that because we were both on the same page creating the character. I couldn’t see any other way of expressing that. It was a crazy, pathetic way that was like, “For me, I can’t take this anymore.” So for me that’s what I saw and that’s what I wanted to do and it’s great when you have a director that lets you do that, that gives you that freedom.

Q: Is this the most physically transformed you’ve ever been for a movie?

Penelope: Yes. The character needed that. I mean, that woman has never been to the doctor or the dentist, does her own hair. She has this image of herself and I think that she makes herself look even more ugly because of her own self-esteem.

Q: Did you have any input into the look?

Penelope: We did it together. Me and Whitney James, the makeup artist and Sergio and his wife who wrote the book. There are four pages in the book that talk about the way she looks and why she looks like that, and her clothes. I went and I bought the clothes myself for the whole character with Margaret [Mazzantini], the author of the book, and every sweater that we bought was one dollar. That was one of the things that I got to do for the character. Then we were buying for ourselves.

Q: Is it easy to leave a character like Italia behind on the set when you’ve invested so much in her?

Penelope: It’s the first time that it happened that I was so sad. It’s happened two times before, but with this one because the character represents something that really breaks my heart and represents a reality that I have seen. When the character was leaving me, I was in Rome and it was slow. It was a process of a few days for it to leave. She was there, and then she was halfway there. And then once I left, and then I came back to Rome the feeling was gone. She wasn’t there anymore. It’s the first time that that’s happened after doing thirty five movies and it was incredible, an incredible feeling. I think that happened because of my connection with the character when I read it and how the book changed me and being able to see the world from her eyes, with her eyes for all of those months. And it’s difficult to put these things into words because it’s all blah, blah, blah. But when something like this happens, like when I work with Pedro or with Fernando, they’re movies that mark your life. It’s much more than your work. It’s more than going to work. They’re experiences that have really changed my life.

Q:  How different was it working with a director who was also the actor?

Penelope: I’ve done it before. I’ve worked with people who’ve directed before, and take Sergio for example. He was directing, but he was acting in it too. So I mean, I was always worried about his health because it was so intense what he had to do. I think that he did an amazing job for such a heavy workload that he had. And he managed to never leave the actors, to always be there protecting us. He really took care of me and is one of my favorite people in the world.

Q: You’re working with Pedro again, right?

Penelope: Yeah. The situation is that because he’s such a genius he’s written two scripts in the last four months and one is a comedy and one is a drama, and the two of them are brilliant. I’m in the two of them fortunately. If not I would be very, very upset and worried. He said, “Okay, we’re shooting in June, but I don’t know which one we’re doing yet.” But I said yes to the both of them because they are amazing. So whenever he decides which one we’re doing, we’ll do it. I’m a mother in the two of them. Whenever he tells me, then I’m going to go, I’m going to work on an accent because I have to do an accent in both of them. I’m going to also interview a lot of interesting women that I’m going to have to meet for that character. He doesn’t want me to talk about his story more though.

Q: How do you feel about being cast as a mother? Most actresses dread that phase.

Penelope: I think that’s crazy because I could have a 15-year-old son. No. I could. Physically, I could, honestly. And I love playing a mother. I want to have babies myself. I don’t know when. I don’t feel it at the moment, but for sure I want to be a mother. It’s a great thing.

 Q: Do you like working at such a rapid pace, film after film?

Penelope: Right now, I don’t think that I’m going to work before I shoot with Pedro which will be in June. I’m going to be doing the publicity for Don’t Move here and in New York and really treating this movie the same way that I treat an American film, doing all the big shows and Jay Leno and doing everything that I would do for an American movie just to encourage people to go and see more foreign films and especially this one because I love it so much. So I’m going to really take the time to do that job properly because it’s a lot of work and then I’m going to do all the tour for Sahara which comes out April 8th. I also want to do that and enjoy it. It’s hard work and when you’re combining it with something else it gets too crazy. So I want to do one thing at a time.

Q: How do you feel about that film and the possibility of a franchise?

Penelope: It’s been a great experience because it’s the first time that I’ve done an action adventure film and I felt like I was Indiana Jones. I was doing all of these crazy things where I had to learn how to ride a camel. The day that I got on the camel, I said, “Bring me down. There is no way.” I told the director, “I have to do this with a double.” And he said, “No. We want you to do it. The actors have to do this scene. It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie.” And I’ve never said no to a director for something like that because of fear. So I train and train and train. I became best friends with my camel. He was talking to me, and I ended up galloping next to a train at forty kilometers per hour in the middle of the two guys because I never wanted to be the last one, like being treated like the girl. It was like Steve [Zahn] and Matthew [McConaughey] were there and we weren’t taking breaks for lunch. We were training with a great trainer that we had there, and who came with us everywhere. I didn’t want to be the girl. I was the girl, but I didn’t want to be treated like physically I could do less. So we trained really hard and it was great working with them.

Q: Do you work out a lot on your own?

Penelope: Like three times a week, something like that. Then when I’m shooting, it’s more difficult for me to workout unless I’m doing something like Sahara where you need to everyday really because if not you get hurt.

Q: Is research something you look forward to?

Penelope: I think that when you can get it, it’s a great thing for you. When someone wants to share that with you, you do that with a lot of respect and you get to meet amazing people. There’s a movie that I just did in England, Chromophobia with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes, in that movie I was playing a woman with liver cancer and is hiding it because she doesn’t want them to take her daughter away from her. So I met these amazing people who were actually very generous with me and wanted to talk about it because they want that subject to be out as much as possible. There are a lot of generous people who want to help and that want you to do the subject from reality. For me, if I have that I’d rather tell the story from what I’ve seen in real life.

Q: Do you think film can make a difference in people’s lives?

Penelope: I don’t know. I wish that if that happens it would be in positive ways. There are many movies that have affected my life, that have helped me make decisions and be more brave about things, and believe that things are possible. The movies have a huge affect on everyone I think. So I think that there is a responsibility that comes with that, but at the same time movies aren’t there to tell people how to live their life. In a movie like this one, I just don’t want a misunderstanding, people talking about or judging what happens with the rape before they see the movie. In other countries where we’ve released the movie we’ve never had problems with that. I would never do a movie that supported that subject of course. Here, they’re asking that question a lot, whether I think there’s going to be controversy. If you hear that my character falls in love with the guy that rapes her and that’s all you hear about the movie that’s going to create controversy obviously. But the movie isn’t about that. The movie just reflects the pain of a character that is very damaged because of what we were talking about before, things that have happened to her that have almost destroyed her. That’s what makes her choose a road of self-destruction and she doesn’t even know it. But I hope that no one judges that before seeing it.