Penelope Cruz on Acting in Translation

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Penelope Cruz was born in Madrid, Spain, and grew up speaking Spanish. Today, she is a globally acclaimed movie star who has acted in three languages: her native Spanish, English and Italian.

Acting in more than one language is quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. After all, at least one study has shown that for most people, it’s impossible to stop thinking in your native language, even when you’re speaking a second language that you’re fully fluent in. How does this subconscious translation affect acting? For Cruz, at least, it definitely makes the process of getting into and staying in character more challenging. In an interview with W Magazine, she explained:

“There is a part of your brain that has to stop when you’re acting. You have to be in the moment and dare to fly. Words can’t be on your mind.And yet, when you are working in a foreign language, you have to be thinking about the words every single second. It’s difficult, but I’m not complaining. It’s just the way it is.”

That said, the slight difficulty of acting in translation is obviously not holding her back at all. Indeed, there have been some roles in which being able to speak more than one language was a clear advantage for Cruz. For example, in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, Cruz’s character speaks Spanish. However, Allen, who wrote the script, does not. Instead of hiring an outside translator, the director allowed Cruz and her co-star Javier Bardem to handle the translation themselves:

“He gave us the script he wrote in English, and he gave us the freedom to translate and improvise. Woody told me recently that he still doesn’t know if we are talking about the atomic bomb. And it’s the same thing in To Rome With Love—he doesn’t speak Italian. I translated my lines. So he still doesn’t know what I am saying.”