Verónica Echegui – the new Penélope Cruz? Glass catches up with the rising Spanish star

Verónica Echegui – the new Penélope Cruz? Glass catches up with the rising Spanish star

Being billed by many as “the new Penélope Cruz”does not faze Verónica Echegui, who made her name in Bigas Luna’s My Name is Juani and has won a slew of awards for her performances in My Name is Juani, The Least of the Bad, and Kathmandu Lullaby. She can currently be seen in the TV series Fortitude with Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Eccleston, and will be shooting a film by Francesco Amato with Toni Servillo this summer. We manage to grab half an hour with her while she prepares for a flight to Los Angeles.

How do you pronounce your name?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s Aitch-é-gee. But it’s difficult for everybody, even in my country [Spain]. Aitch-AY-gee. [says it twice, pronouncing it differently each time]

What was it like working with Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding on Bunny and the Bull?
[Laughs] Wow, that was like six years ago! Well, I was a fan of the Mighty Boosh. The project was so unexpected. I came to London for the first time, and met the director, who was hilarious. He’s a genius, Paul King. We spent the summer in Nottingham. We did the whole film in the studio; it was pretty interesting… we were [all] together the whole time, and we had lots of laughs. Noel is – you know! It was pretty fun. And it was the first opportunity I’d had to work on an English film.

You say you like doing ‘naked interviews’, in which you (figuratively!) open up. Do you find that sort of openness is a Spanish characteristic?

No, I don’t think so. It depends on the person, actually. I personally am pretty open, especially about the project I’m in. I like to talk freely about the processes [in filmmaking], because I want people to get close to the story I’m telling.

Veronica Echequi £

What are the main cultural differences between England and Spain?
Hmmm. I think it’s something about the way we behave. The Spanish shout, a lot. I think we’ve very explosive; it can be bothering sometimes, even though I love it! I love being Spanish, and I love my country. We’re very, very shouty; we’re very noisy. English people have more… calm. On the surface. And politeness. Also, you read a lot of books. Everywhere I go, I always see English people reading books. You have that cultural habit, and it’s a very healthy habit.

Where are you living now? Madrid?
I don’t know where I live, right now. I’m travelling around. I’m going to Los Angeles, but then I’ll be back in Madrid, because I have to do a show. But then I’m going to Rome [in August, for three months] – I got a part in a film there. And then I’ll probably come back here [in London]. So I don’t know where I live anymore!

Your film My Name Is Juani is about a girl wanting to escape to Madrid. How is Madrid different from other cities in Spain?
Madrid is like London here. Everything happens in Madrid. It’s a non-stop, 24-hour city, a city of opportunities. And that’s what Juani, my character, wants: she wants to be an actress, and she’s really [wanting to] change her life. She’s from the suburbs, where nothing happens… she’d probably just have kids, stay with her boyfriend, and nothing else.

What’ll you be filming in Rome?
It’s called Lasciati Andare, which means ‘let yourself go’. Have you seen The Great Beauty? The main actor is called Toni Servillo, and this new film is just him and me [and Filippo Timi]. It’s a comedy. I’m dying to do it! A good comedy is something that happens [rarely]. Toni and I are like a strange couple in the film. Well, we’re not a couple exactly, but we bump into each other, and enter into each other’s lives, and I’m crazy, and he’s mad… it’s a beautiful story, and a very funny one.

You often play pretty off-the-wall characters. Do you find it equally rewarding to play characters who are more low-key, more subtle?
I play those characters too, but those films aren’t really famous or well-known. I actually feel more comfortable when I play subtle characters… it’s more of a challenge if I have to play a person who’s mad, crazy, extreme … In my life, I think I’m quite shy. I don’t look like that, but I’m not a crazy person! But I think that’s why I love this job. These characters can let you go, and you can do whatever.

Which of your roles has been the most challenging for you as an actress?
There are a couple. Once I had to play a junkie who went to prison [in the film My Prison Yard]; she was very different to what I’d played before. But Elena from Fortitude [was also a challenge], definitely. It was so complex, and there were a lot of things I couldn’t understand at first. I had to find out about these things, about her behaviour.

People like Elena, they try to do things with the best intentions. She wants to fit in, she wants to start from scratch, because of all the things she’s been through. She just needs to get to a place like Fortitude and disappear. She wants to be a part of these people, but something in her nature works against that. Something about the situations she provokes that she’s not able to control.

Kathmandu Lullaby, which was filmed in Nepal, was also a challenge. I spent four months there. I was the main character, and the only actress in the cast, because the rest were local people. They were amazing, but they weren’t actors. It felt so real; they really helped me out. But sometimes it was very difficult to shoot there. It’s not like filming in Britain. The whole story [of the film] was heartbreaking, and it took me a lot of time to deal with it.

I was playing a teacher who was trying to change things, and she’s very lonely, and all she’s trying to do is give children things she didn’t have in her childhood. And she’s so crazy about education, about changing these children’s lives, that she’s not paying attention to her life… I spent four months [filming] there, and I met a lot of people, and – oh, the terrible stories that I heard, about sexual trafficking, which is massive there.

There are a lot of abandoned children, and lots of people taking advantage of them, to traffic their organs. The whole country is very messy. It’s like there’s no law there. And [Kathmandu] is a wild city. It was a tough time for me.

What was it like to work with Bigas Luna? What is your favourite film of his?
He’s a genius. He died a couple of years ago, but he has rediscovered our history, as a director. And he’s the guy who discovered Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Jordi Mollà, and many other actors. My Name is Juani had nothing to do with the films he’d done before! It was an avant-garde new film, and I had the luck to be in it.

What’s your favourite Bigas Luna film?
La Teta y la luna (The Tit and the Moon).

What’s your ideal location for a film shoot?
The Caribbean!

How did you feel about the atrocious reviews received by The Cold Light of Day? Can you tell when a film is going to get bad reviews?
At the time, I didn’t really care. I was aware that it was an action film. And you never know. Sometimes, things become incredible from script to screen. [I did the film] because I wanted to practise; I wanted to be in a big film like that, and to see what it was like to work in an action film. I liked the director, but … in this case, I wasn’t really expecting anything from the film, other than having fun and learning.

I heard the film got no amazing reviews, but… I don’t ever look at reviews. I’m crazy about acting, and I just go and do my job, and once it’s done, I like to watch it, and then I say goodbye.

Were you satisfied with the film personally?
Um, well … I don’t know. I looked at [my performance] very technically, and thought, ‘I could have done this, I could have done that’. I already knew the film was, you know, an action film. When I went to see the film with my family and friends… we were celebrating. I wasn’t really judging [the film].

Tell me about your new film, Hunter’s Prayer. How does the shooting of it compare to the shooting of The Cold Light of Day?
It looks like an action film; that’s how they market it. But it’s a real character-driven story… it has a lot of layers. It’s not just about chasing someone through Europe; it’s about what happens to [Sam Worthington’s] character. I think [Sam’s] done a brilliant job. I have to say, I’m very impressed! He’s an amazing actor, and he’s very into what he’s doing… It’s true that there’s a lot of action, and chases, but there’s a lot of things happening that are worth seeing.

Out of all the films you’ve made, which has been your favourite, and why?
My Name is Juani. Because of the director. We didn’t know each other [beforehand], but he really trusted me, and let me do whatever I wanted to, and I appreciate that. I also loved Fortitude. I’m in love with the [crew], because… they listened to my ideas, and let me cooperate.

And that doesn’t happen often. Actors are not puppets: we want to be part of things, we want to try things, we want to create. The best projects I’ve ever been a part of have been the ones that were real team efforts, where we were all bringing things to the story and making it grow.

Have you come any closer to achieving your dream of working with Del Toro, Burton or Gondry?
I’d like to do a second season of Fortitude. That’s my dream!

by Arjun Sajip

Photographs by Ruben Vega

Hunter’s Prayer will be released later this year; Fortitude began airing on Sky Atlantic last week, and will run for a total of 12 episodes.