Ari and Louise
The two were introduced through mutual friends when Banderas, then a little-known actor in the United States, was filming Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Cruz was studying English. "We were curious and full of life," says Banderas, 61, who lived three minutes away from Cruz in New York City's Greenwich Village area.
Those years of her life were "magical," Cruz, 48, says. "I was really blown away and happy by everything that was happening to Antonio. I remember going to the premiere of Philadelphia because he invited us. It made me think, like, "Maybe this is possible [for me]."
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As their friendship blossomed, Cruz would cook for Banderas. "I was in a very healthy period," recalls Cruz. "I was doing these vegetarian burgers that were amazing, and I would buy the ingredients at D'Agostino, my favorite supermarket."
Banderas has returned the favor, making paella for Cruz, her family—and lots of other people, too. "Half of Hollywood has tried my paella," he says.
Through the years, both actors have frequently worked with celebrated director Pedro Almódovar, but have shared surprisingly little screen time. Together, they had a brief cameo in the auteur's 2013 comedy I'm So Excited and Cruz starred as Banderas' mother in the 2019 drama Pain & Glory, but they didn't film any scenes together.
Courtesy AccuSoft Inc./IFC Films Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martínez in Official Competition (2022)
So why haven't they costarred more often? "It's a mystery for us too," says Cruz. "A lot of people have been asking, "'Why you don't work together more?'" Quips Banderas, "When we got to America, I suppose that to put two Spanish people together was probably an overdose!"
They make up for lost time in Official Competition, a dark comedy from directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. Cruz stars as Lola, an eccentric movie director who puts the stars of her new film—vain Félix (Banderas) and serious theater vet Iván (Oscar Martínez)—through bizarre exercises like binding them together in plastic wrap.
Both Banderas and Cruz say they didn't base their quirky characters in the satire on anyone specific from Hollywood, but Banderas admits he's seen his fair share of strange behavior from past costars.
"I worked with a very famous actor who just made a person come up behind him all the time with incense," he says. "Everywhere, all the time. And you're like, 'Why do I have to smell incense?' But you shut up because you don't want confrontation."
Official Competition is playing in select theaters nationwide.