Letting go of a vulgar phrase like Ava Gardner had "cojones", said the word in Spanish in a phrase in English, and still look elegant and charming seems something only available to some great Hollywood star, as was Gardner herself. But said by Debi Mazar also works. The American actress (New York, 54 years old) plays in the Spanish series Arde Madrid to Gardner. It is not the main character, but it is around which turns the plot of this series shot in black and white that reflects what Franco's Madrid of the sixties was like. Arde Madrid tells the story of Manolo and Ana Mari, two alleged servants placed by Franco at Gardner's house to spy on communist meetings. The fiction, created by Paco León and Ana R. Costa, is released today in Movistar + in full (eight episodes of half an hour each) and has in its cast also with Inma Flores, Anna Castillo, Julian Villagrán and Leon himself.
Question. How did you become Ava Gardner?
Answer. I was at a party in New York with my friend Rossy from Palma. Talking to her, she told me, I have this friend, Paco León, who is wonderful, I love him very much and he wants you to play Ava Gardner. He did not say if it was a series or a movie. I did not know him, but I told him, great, tell him to call me. A few days later the telephone rang, it was a producer, to organize a call by videoconference. That call took place, and I was very nervous, because I investigated who Paco was and I saw that he was great, funny and very famous. In the video call I was wearing a ridiculous sweater, it was cold and I had these extensions [se señala su pelo recogido como una pin up de los años sesenta]. My hair is very short and thin, so I always wear false hair. We were talking, he did not know English and I barely spoke Spanish, but we understood each other, through the eyes, of the mimic and at a certain moment I took off my ponytail, I waved my hair and Paco loved it. I did not know that Paco loved things like that. We understood each other immediately.
P. And from there to the series …
R. I auditioned and Paco said it sounded Puerto Rican or Cuban, because of my New York accent. He told me that he gave me the paper, but that he had to have a Castilian accent. I learned, I gave my classes. I was very excited, for me it was a dream, because Pedro Almodóvar told me years ago that he was never going to make an American movie with actors who speak English and that he had to learn Spanish because he wanted to work with me. That was like 27 years ago. I started studying Spanish, but I fell in love with an Italian, so I did not learn it. This is like my second chance to work in Spain. I started to see Paco's work, like Carmina or Kiki, love is made, and I thought I had something special. They sent me the treatment of the story first, not the script, and it was amazing. I love that time and I love black and white.
P. What did you know before making the series of Franco's Spain?
R. Not much. For some reason I did not study much Spanish history of this period. Obviously, I knew Franco, but I did not know everything that surrounds the Francoists and these fields that they had and how women learned to be good wives, that everything seems like a sect. An extreme and repressed culture. I do not think Ava when she came here will think much. He was fleeing from something else. She had been married four times, her last marriage was with Frank Sinatra. He had divorced and when he came, I do not think he knew much. She had been a couple of times to work as an actress and fell in love with culture.
P. And you came to Madrid …
R. I have discovered a lot through the series. I have come to know Madrid, its history, the architecture, the buildings, to go to the Reina Sofía, to the Prado. I met the Infanta [Elena], which looks a lot like one of Goya's paintings and I met Eugenia Martínez de Irujo [que hace un cameo interpretando a su madre, la duquesa de Alba]. I want to go to his house, to see the paintings he has. One of the nice things about the series is that it shows how repressed the culture was and that's why after the eighties, I now find in Spain one of the happiest free countries I've ever been in Europe. Happy people that ended with repression.
P. How did you face portraying Gardner?
R. It has been an honor. She is a magnificent spirit. I do not look like her physically, that for me was not on the table, which took away my pressure. Look, I met Frank Sinatra 27 years ago, in Los Angeles. He saw me at a concert, he grabbed me, and he said, you remind me of my Ava. I think it's because of my black hair, and that she was thinner then and had the spirit that she liked. It was pretty nice that Frank Sinatra looked at me like that, but giving him life is more telling the story of who he was as a person. I was not a diva, I had a couple of 'cojones' [dicho así en castellano]. She was tough, courageous, she was ahead of her time, she had culture, she was the muse of Ernest Hemingway, she had great friends who were writers, artists, musicians, she traveled a lot. I did not want children. He loved Spain. I understood it very well, because I have the same passion for life, with a great personality. The difference is that I have children. Interpreting it has been nice. It's a little piece of chess in the series, which is not about Ava Gardner, it's about the people of Madrid and the people who work for her and who were inspired by her. I had no pressure, the real performances come from Inma, Paco, Anna and the rest of the cast.
P. And with PacoLeón and Ana Costa directing …
R. Paco has immense talent. He shows the inner dark emotions of all the characters, with a lot of comedy. There I am, working in another language, trying to make a Castilian accent and not using my New York language. And Paco, who is very specific, knows what he wants, gets up and makes his version of Ava and I tell him, Paco, that's very big, it's very drag queen, and he told me, already, that's my interpretation, but I'm asking you to make it bigger, more dramatic. We found the middle way. It's great that they work together and they are so different. She has her feet on the ground and he is bigger than life. There is a scene where I was sitting on a toilet, naked, all in Spanish, with Inma costing. Some of my favorite sequences are with her, because they are intimate and quiet scenes. I have 20 people around me, men, and Paco made me feel good, I felt his support and I felt free to act.
P. How is the humor of the series?
R. It's so special, it's my favorite. When I watch Spanish television or Pedro Almodóvar's movies, it's a very real humor. Spain in particular knows how to use humor very well. In the series is a dry, very guttural humor. Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Life is crazy. When I saw the series, it's funnier than I expected it to be! And see Paco act, when it's Manolo … look, I was so busy worrying about my own shits, about my interpretation, that I did not realize how different it was like Manolo.