Pedro Almodóvar’s Oscar Diary: Zendaya Fandom, Backstage with Pacino, and ‘the Violent Episode’

The "Parallel Mothers" filmmaker shares his epic journey to Los Angeles, from parties to the Academy Museum and the awards show itself.
Pedro Almodovar, Zendaya
Pedro Almodovar with Zendaya in Los Angeles
Iglesias Más

Editor’s note: The following essay was written by filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar shortly after he attended the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. It was provided for IndieWire in an exclusive English translation. Almodóvar’s 2021 film “Parallel Mothers” was nominated for two awards: Best Actress (Penélope Cruz) and Best Original Score (Alberto Iglesias).

Yesterday was an exhausting day, especially in the evening. One of the secret reasons I have for being in Los Angeles (as well as going hand in hand with Penélope to the Dolby Theatre and experiencing in situ if her nomination still has a road to travel or if the prize was the nomination) is to meet with some actors as I think about the cast for my next film, which is starring Cate Blanchett and based on five stories by Lucia Berlin from her book “A Manual for Cleaning Women.” It’s an open secret, but I can’t discuss it, on orders from my production company El Deseo. You shouldn’t talk about things until they’re signed, sealed and settled with contracts.

Not long after we arrive in the city and see our distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, do we hear the first rumors that things have been turned around with regard to the past months in that mysterious obstacle course that is the “Oscar race” (it is a race, but you don’t know what the obstacles are).

The changes, which have been repeated to me like a ritornello in the multiple encounters I have throughout the week, are that “The Power of the Dog” won’t be the winner, not even “Belfast,” but rather “CODA.” And that Penélope is the sure winner in her category, that for some reason she has climbed the obstacles she had to summit virtually. The rumors come from the mouths of specialized journalists and members of the Academy. I’m delighted for the part I played, but here, delight is always accompanied by a B-side of disappointment and fear, because they are just rumors. The categories are wide open, except for Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose), Best Director (Jane Campion) and “Dune,” which will sweep the technical categories.

I try not to think about it, for Penélope’s victory would be historical, just as her nomination in the category is for a Spanish film. Instead, I focus on the Lucia Berlin casting. After my session of meetings, which continue until four or five in the afternoon, we have to go to the Academy Museum. They have been so kind as to fill a room, which they call Gallery, with 12 screens reproducing clips with images from all my films, divided by themes (Family, Sex and Desire, Musicals, Café Müller, Noir, Mothers, Comedy, The Shrinking Lover, etc.).

Pedro Almodovar Academy
Pedro Almodóvar outside the Academy Museum’s exhibit on his workIglesias Más

I looked after the editing of those clips and chose my own themes. It was the first time I got my films to talk amongst themselves from the editing room, using as a basis the themes that have run through them since I started in this profession. It was an exercise in self-discovery that, above all, has reconciled me with my own work, something that I’d never considered because I don’t watch my films.

I felt very proud, particularly of all the people with whom I’ve worked, actors and technicians in particular. Walking among the 12 screens full of close-ups of Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes, Carmen Maura, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Caetano Veloso, Pina Bausch, and many more, I feel like a ghost who has been allowed to visit a place where what is alive is what the screens reflect — which is, in some ways, a metaphor for what happens in this city. Everything revolves around the images projected on domestic screens and on those in the cinemas. In the worst sense, people’s lives matter little compared to those of the characters who make up the story of the films and series, unless people are the inspiration for some of those films, as happens with biopics.

It’s 8.30 p.m. and, after a massage session, I get ready to go to the party held by W Magazine and Saint Laurent. There are problems with the choice of outfit. On these occasions, there is nothing worse than being short (that’s me who, at 13, thought that I was going to be tall, at least compared to the other kids at school) and with an abdomen that says all the time “Here I am.”

I went to the firm’s clothing store two days ago to see what there was for me. I let them put things on me and, at times, so as not to behave like a star, I said yes to almost everything. But the solitude of my room doesn’t allow for lies, much less in front of the mirror. There, harsh reality manifests itself. The jacket that they’ve sent me, under the scrutiny of assistants and salespersons, is beautiful. It would look perfect if I didn’t have an abdomen with such a Manchegan designation of origin.

Anyway, I don’t wear it. I opt for everything else: a black silk shirt with the logo that can’t be seen, a pale pink hat and sneakers in the same color. I feel insecure. My two assistants decide to alleviate my insecurity and assert themselves. The last thing I want is that it looks as if I want to attract attention in Hollywood, two days before the Oscars ceremony, but I’m weak and even though they don’t pay me I feel obliged to wear some element from Saint Laurent.

Fortunately, Cate Blanchett is acting as a UN Good Will Ambassador, and she sends me a message in which she alludes to the harsh reality of refugees. She references refugees of every ethnicity and skin color, all those who flee from injustice, war, hunger, slavery (not just Ukraine but also Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, and many other countries). They are represented in a blue ribbon, which Cate asks me to wear on my suit. I put on the ribbon with enthusiasm. Within the frenzy that surrounds us at this moment, at least I find an element that moves me and connects me with the world and the barbarity that dominates us.

We arrive at the Saint Laurent party and I meet with a load of nominees, some of them fans. I can’t get used to people saying to me “I grew up with your films,” not only because it makes me feel old — that’s irrelevant — but out of pure modesty. One of them is Joachim Trier, the director of the delicious “The Worst Person in the World.” He tells me how he liked “Dark Habits” (1983) and “Matador” (1985), which makes him a historical fan.

Pedro Almodóvar with Paul Thomas Anderson

After that, I meet with Paul Thomas Anderson. We first met a long time ago, in 2002, at the Cannes Film Festival. I presented him with the Best Director award for a film that has what for me is an unpronounceable title, “Punch Drunk Love,” and we celebrated intensely that night in the discotheques on the French Riviera. I also meet the two protagonists of his “Licorice Pizza,” Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, both brimming over with the same charm as in the film and I have to tell both of them so. It’s been years since we’ve seen two presences like theirs in the cinema, so fresh, so seductive, so personal. I fell in love with them, just like the camera that shot them in the film.

The place where the party is held, in Los Feliz, offers stunning views of Los Angeles. There are times when it is wonderful to see that some of the places in this city, mythologized by films, really do have the same power of fascination in reality. Downtown is like a kind of mirage, a ghost skyline that recalls “Blade Runner 2049.”

I come across Zendaya and I behave like any fan. I ask her for a photo and am surprised at how tall and beautiful she is. I am used to seeing her with her neglected complexion in “Euphoria,” and I’m surprised by the splendor of the actress’s natural beauty. I tell her, and it’s true, that I’m longing to see her in films with real characters where she can develop what she has already demonstrated, that she is a great actress, an adult actress. As proof, you have her performance in the very uneven “Malcolm and Marie.” (I don’t think she understands a single word I say to her.)

It’s 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. We still have more than two hours before leaving for the Dolby Theatre. Inevitably, I think of this same situation, 20 years before, when I came here nominated for “Talk to Her.” Two Oscar nominations, two wars, very different in this case. Then it was Iraq: The Americans had invaded Baghdad, with 90 percent of the Spaniards against it and those in the PP (our right-wing party) in favor (20 years have passed and the weapons of mass destruction still haven’t appeared). I remember seeing the deserted Baghdad night and the barking of a dog on my computer. It’s the first image I have of all that outrage.

On the way to the Dolby Theatre, the whole city seems like the setting for a war film, with controls on each corner, more police than pedestrians, and helicopters in the sky like “Apocalypse Now.” Only Wagner is missing. It’s scary. Now there’s another war, a real war, with tanks, missiles, thousands of dead and wounded, curfews, a nightmare that reminds us of the worst of the last century, something that it seemed would never be repeated; but in the streets of Los Angeles, especially where I am, on Sunset Boulevard, there are enormous billboards with films by Netflix dominating the whole boulevard. (The only film advertised that isn’t by Netflix is ours.)

Despite the bubble in which we live, the images of the war in Ukraine and the apocalypse of the surrounding countries rise in the air like holograms as visible as the palm trees, which remain fixed and insistent in these hours when all the stars of the cinema and television universe are in the hands of make-up artists, hairdressers and stylists. Their war is a war of nerves.

I’m not exaggerating. It crushes my heart to think of it, this real war. I wear Cate’s blue ribbon to remember that we are not insensitive to so much pain, death, rape, poverty, and the unlimited seed of all the hate and thirst for vengeance generated by a war.

On the road to the Dolby Theatre, I look out the car windows, uncomfortable inside my tuxedo, and I see the differences in those same streets from 20 years ago. Now, they are almost deserted, with the exception of five or six people with placards in favor of abortion, who offer us green ribbons. I hesitate for a moment but, although I share the cause, I prefer not to hang any more ribbons on myself.

As soon as we arrive, at the start of that grand bazaar that is the preface to the red carpet, the publicist of the film, Melody Korenbrot, asks me if I want to join the flow on the red carpet lined by media professionals — who look at you with scrutinizing eyes or beg you to dedicate a few words to them — or if I want to continue along a parallel path also carpeted in red, which leads us to the grand foyer of the theatre. I opt for the low profile, as the nominees are Penélope and Alberto. I’m going as a plus one.

Pedro Almodóvar and Nominee Denis Villeneuve take a selfie at the 94th Academy Awards Oscars at the Dolby Theater on Sunday, March 27, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (photo:Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) via AP Images
Pedro Almodóvar and nominee Denis Villeneuve take a selfie at the 94th Academy AwardsAP

When I arrive at the enormous foyer, I get a bottle of water and try to take a selfie with a large photo of Jack Lemmon receiving his Oscar behind me. More than the award, what shines is his characteristically marvelous smile. Denis Villeneuve and Kenneth Branagh come up to me. I meet them everywhere. I wish both of them luck, although it’s an incompatible wish because they’re competing with each other. Branagh asks me if it’s true that I’m going to do a film in English. I confirm that the project exists, but there are days when I can’t get over the fear it produces in me. He reminds me that he is also an actor.

The ceremony will start in an hour, so people in the large foyer drink a lot of champagne and chatter. I go sit down because it’s the moment when they’re going to give the eight Oscars excluded from the main ceremony. In that minor celebration, only the nominees and their families are there and, so that viewers don’t see the gaps that will later be filled by celebrities, they have placed extras (we are all extras but also in this there are classes, and these are the extras of the famous extras). They are beautiful, rigorously chosen for their parts.

All those who are important in the industry have protested to the Academy about these untelevised awards, but it is an insistence by ABC, which is obsessed with increasing the ceremony’s viewing figures that had dropped considerably the year before. It’s tough, but that’s how it is. The Oscars gala, like any award ceremony, is really a television program whose subject is the presentation of the most important awards in show business. They have to satisfy their spectators, who get bored to death when they don’t see a famous face (if possible on the verge of a nervous breakdown) and instead see unknown, emotional people who at that moment of their wins remember all their relatives with a drama as if they’ve been victims of a tsunami.

Out of dignity, I take my place, from which I will not rise until four-and-a-half hours later. (Hadn’t they promised that this time the gala would be shorter?) Alberto Iglesias is nominated for the music of “Parallel Mothers” and the director of animated short film “The Windshield Wiper,” Alberto Mieglo, is also Spanish. Behind me, I have Francis Ford Coppola and his wife. I greet them. Francis has slimmed down considerably. I tell him that even now, he is still a master for me. This man, with a reputation for being fierce, has always been very pleasant with me since I met him during the shooting of his film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

It is freezing cold in the stalls. In the United States, the ideal temperature is 59 degrees. I have bronchial hyperreactivity and it drives me crazy. My first gesture when I enter my hotel room is to turn off the air conditioning, even if it’s August, and I forbid anyone from turning it on again. The only star who attends these awards is Nicole Kidman, with her husband. Between awards, I go to greet her, and at that moment her husband is taking off his jacket to put it on her, before she is cryogenized like Walt Disney.

It begins. The Spanish short filmmaker Alberto Mielgo wins for “The Windshield Wiper” and Hans Zimmer steals the statue from Alberto Iglesias.

Finally, Penélope arrives accompanied by Javier Bardem, and the real gala begins. What went before was a succedaneum. After the first award, Javier has to take off his jacket and put it around his wife before she, too, is cryogenized.

The awards proceed, and you have already seen what happened, so I won’t say anything about that. I start to get a tremendous headache. Despite not taking off my sunglasses, there is a spotlight on the upper part of the stage that hits me directly in the eyes and activates my migraines. I go to the green room with Penélope and Javier Bardem. He greets everyone with an enviable delight. Penélope is wearing a black dress with a train several meters long. So as not to step on it, I prefer to hold it up in the air, behind her, as if I were a page. We meet with Nicole Kidman, who looks at us surprised by the image we offer. I say to her: Look at what we directors do with the actresses! And she is left thinking about it.

Almodovar with Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Al Pacino, and Penelope Cruz

Inside the green room, I can drink a glass of water and take my analgesic so that the rest of the night isn’t a hell. I greet Robert De Niro, for whom time doesn’t pass. We both remember that in 1992, at the Cannes Film Festival, we were both awarded the sash of the Legion of Honor, the highest-ranking decoration in France. Javier has seen Al Pacino farther off and exclaims: “I’ve seen God.” When I go up to that group, it’s a mass of talent. Javier doesn’t stop hugging him and Pacino smiles, delighted. I say: “You, Al Pacino. Me, Al Modovar.” Javier roars with laughter. I think it’s the worst joke I’ve made in my life.

We go back to the gala. My favorite moment is when they appear at the back of the stage, walking until they reach the center: Coppola, escorted by Pacino and De Niro. A standing ovation to celebrate the 50 years of one of the great monuments that cinema has given. Classic, transparent, unhurried, like the rhythm of the three men who receive the unanimous applause, the film hasn’t lost even one frame of perfection. “The Godfather.” You can’t say more.

It’s the night of the two trios. I manage to get emotional even with the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and John Travolta, who remind us that 30 years ago “Pulp Fiction” won the Oscar for its script. Between the three, they read the nominees for Best Original Screenplay of this year. Again, cinema celebrating the best of itself, reminding us that “Pulp Fiction” was the most important film of the 90s and poison for the legion of imitators who no sooner appeared than they disappeared.

Afterward, the parties. Without realizing it, I’m still doing casting for my film with Cate Blanchett as I meet some actresses. All the ones I wanted to see are at the Vanity Fair and Guy Oseary parties. I scan them with my eyes, and talk to all of them, as I avoid explaining the reasons for my scrutinizing look.

I criticize the show with some trusted friends. Even as we complain, I admit that however long the ceremony may be, and however many decisions may be taken by the organizers, whenever they invite me, I’ll be here. It’s a weakness.

Presenter Chris Rock speaks onstage as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, bottom left, listen from their seats at the Oscars, Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Chris Rock presents at the OscarsChris Pizzello/Invision/AP

I have deliberately avoided the violent episode that is the only thing talked about the next day. I was barely four meters from where it happened. In the general overhead shots, I am the little white head you see in the photo.

I refuse to let that episode mark the gala and be the protagonist of a ceremony where many more things happened and of much greater interest. For example, “Drive My Car,” without a doubt my favorite film of the year, won Best International Feature Film. And also “Summer of Soul,” my favorite documentary, won its category.

Still, as I said, I was very close to the protagonists. What I saw and heard produced a feeling of absolute rejection in me. Not only during the episode, but afterward, too, in the acceptance speech — a speech that seemed more like that of a cult leader. You don’t defend or protect the family with your fists, and no, the devil doesn’t take advantage of key moments to do his work.

The devil, in fact, doesn’t exist. This was a fundamentalist speech that we should neither hear nor see. Some claim that it was the only real moment in the ceremony, but they are talking about the faceless monster that is the social media. For them, avid for carrion, it undoubtedly was the great event of the night.

I’m writing these moments before the car comes to pick us up and return us to Madrid. So long. Oh, and go back to the cinemas!

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