'It's women who wear the trousers in Spain'

George Mills
George Mills - [email protected]
'It's women who wear the trousers in Spain'

A household name in Spain, this no-nonsense actress has played roles ranging from a transsexual to a witch, and she has finally received the recognition she deserves. Meet our latest Spanish Face of the Week: Carmen Maura.


When Spanish actress Carmen Maura first started out in cinema, her family was less than impressed by the idea.

"Being an actor wasn't as cool as it as now," the 68-year-old told Spain's Cadena Ser radio station recently, remembering those early days.

Maura's family didn't understand her dream, and even her children resented her.

"If I had known what was going to happen, I might have made a different decision," she told the radio station of her desire to be on the silver screen.

A one-time cabaret singer, Maura appeared in a series of films through the 1970s and 1980s including Almodóvar's What Have I Done to Deserve This?

"Pedro taught me that every woman has to accept their body for what it is," she told BBC in 2006.

"I remember he told us that 'Marilyn (Monroe) also had a little belly and that didn't matter'".

It was also thanks to Almodóvar that Maura came to international attention — with the 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

It was an experience that nearly made her quit acting: "I had never suffered on set (before)," she told Cadena Ser.

For nearly a decade after that, she didn't work with Almodóvar, only making her return in his 2006 film Volver.

That difficult period must seem a long way off now for Maura.

On September 22nd, the Madrid-born actress won the prestigious Donostia Lifetime Achievement award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

She became the first Spanish actress to do so, following on the heels of Hollywood luminaries including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Julia Roberts. 

She collected the award for her work in over 100 films and countless television shows.  

The winner of four Goyas — the Spanish Oscars  — Maura has worked with Francis Ford Coppola and actors including Natalie Portman and Antonio Banderas. 

Among other roles, in Almodóvar's 1987 film Law of Desire, she played a transsexual in a performance which saw her become a gay icon. 

"This was my first festival and I've always felt such strong emotions here, such happy moments and sad ones," Maura said on receiving the lifetime achievement award. 

"I feel very lucky. In order to win prizes, you have to have a lot of luck.

"When I saw the list on the internet of all the people who have received the award, I was speechless," she told Spanish newspaper El País recently.

"My first reaction was: 'But they only give that to foreigners!'"

That comment shows a rich vein of humility on the part of the actress who lives in Paris.

"I've been very lucky because physically I'm nothing special," she told the BBC in 2006.

"I'm neither here nor there, neither fat nor thin, neither tall nor short, (but) they have offered me and keep offering me completely different things."

The actress who studied both philosophy and literature in Paris received her Donostia during the out-of-competition Official Selection of the film Witching and Bitching.

Directed by Álex de la Iglesia, the comedy horror stars Maura as a witch.

The film also marks the third time that Maura has worked with cult director de la Iglesia: their previous collaborations include 800 Bullets and Common Wealth.

"I make Carmen Maura laugh, and that's why she said yes" to the role, de la Iglesia told Spanish broadcaster RTVE recently. 

The film portrays woman as "highly intelligent" and the men as "a bit stupid", Maura told Spain's ABC newspaper.

"Women in Spain have a lot of power.

"In general, women possess a few extra qualities like intuition and common sense," she told the daily.

"In the villages, you know that in the end, what mum and grandma says is what gets done." 

On a personal level, Maura has had her own problems with men in the past.

In 1997 she admitted to El País newspaper that she had been ripped off by the man she had been living with for 13 years.

He "started to do business with my money all over Spain" and asked "for credit and opened bank accounts for me," she explained.

"You could say I have been very naive, but when you trust in someone enough to live with them, how can you not trust them with everything else?"

"Solitude is the conquest that you have to dedicate yourself to with all of your being," she told the BBC in 2006.

"It's essential that you learn to be alone in life."


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