Elena Anaya Scratches Beneath the Surface in ‘The Skin I Live In’

Elena Anaya is having trouble finding the right words. Adding to the distracting whirr of overhead helicopters—the media literally won’t stop hovering over Pope Benedict XVI during his four-day visit to Madrid—is the 36-year-old Spanish actor’s relative greenness when it comes to conducting interviews in her second language, and it’s trying her patience. “My English is such bullshit,” she says while attempting to convey the personal import of her latest film, this month’s Pedro Almodóvar–directed thriller, The Skin I Live In.

Thankfully, as Vera, a human experiment held captive for six years by Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a deranged and vengeful plastic surgeon, she’s able to communicate reams of dialogue—and near-savage desperation—through her piercing green eyes. “The character is such a good actress, and that’s something that Pedro needed from my performance. He said, ‘Vera needs to lie to Robert and so you need to lie to the whole audience.’ That was a challenge because it was acting inside of acting, but without moving a muscle, without saying a word—just by waiting and looking,” says Anaya, whose breakout performance came as the eroticized babysitter in 2001’s Sex and Lucia. (Until now, she’s probably best known to American audiences as Agent 99 to Justin Timberlake’s 66 in his “SexyBack” music video.)

Although she and Almodóvar had already worked together on Talk to Her—an equally poetic ode to obsession and disfigurement—Anaya says, “I had such a tiny part in that one, and so it was like taking a small bite of a really delicious meal. This time, I ate the whole thing.” Anaya, who “screamed, laughed, and cried” when Almodóvar offered her the meaty part, says The Skin I Live In sharpened her aversion to going under the knife. “I think sometimes people get too carried away with plastic surgery, and I don’t mean those who need to smile again because they lost a part of their face in an accident. It’s so ridiculous when young people completely change their faces to look even younger. I find wrinkles to be beautiful.”

Almodovar the Musical

Pedro Almodovar’s classic, campy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown will soon ride the melodramatic giggles of theater geeks everywhere onto a Broadway stage. The film steps off the silver screen and soft-shoes, taps and, we hope, pirouettes onstage as a musical that should premiere November 4th at the Belasco Theater.

Though the 1988 original can be remembered as practically having been a musical, with its vivid, larger than life characters and their violent outbursts, it sure will be interesting to see adultery, abandonment and spiked gazpacho crammed into two hours punctuated by songs and accompanying dance numbers. (Almodovar himself tipped his hat to his old film in his recent Broken Embraces, with Penelope Cruz re-enacting the spiked gazpacho scene.) The musical will be directed by Bartlett Sher, who took home the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival for South Pacific, collaborating with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ Jeffrey Lane on book and scored by David Yazbek of The Full Monty.

Where Celebs Go Out: Penelope Cruz, Katie Couric, Gabrielle Union

At the New York Film Festival premiere of Broken Embraces:

● PENELOPE CRUZ – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Oh, I have many because I love food so much!” And in Madrid? “I go to many that are out in the countryside, but whoever goes there for the first time should go to Botin. It’s the oldest restaurant in the world.” What did you like about it? “Everything!”

● PEDRO ALMODOVAR – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Mr. Chow’s — we had dinner there the other day, and it was really very impressive.” And in Madrid? “In Madrid, there are many. Casa Lucio is one of my favorites.”

● LAUREN BACALL – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Oh, please, don’t ask me about that! I’m going to see a movie!”

● ANDREA ILLY – Favorite restaurant in New York? “Here we have many good restaurants: Le Bernardin, Le Cirque, these kind.” And in Rome? “In Rome, we also have many restaurants, like Lapergola — these kind of beautiful restaurants — or the Hotel de Russie, a beautiful place as well.”

At the Library of American Broadcasting’s Giants of Broadcasting Awards:

● KATIE COURIC – “I don’t really spend a lot of time hanging out in bars [laughs], which I think is a good thing. But I like BLT Steak because I’m a big carnivore. I like this really, beautiful restaurant outside Washington called L’auberge Chez Francois, where I took my parents on their anniversary. I love Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. Those are three good ones.”

● KEN BURNS – “Well, I like Burdick’s Restaurant in Walpole, New Hampshire. It’s been around since 2001. It is a small, little village in New Hampshire, but people quite often drive from New York or Boston. That’s four or three hours to have a meal there. The fact that I am a silent partner in it is part of full disclosure. I live in Walpole, New Hampshire; I travel a great deal, and I basically don’t cook anymore. I’ll eat every meal I can in this restaurant. It’s a broad mix of Continental cuisine done in a very informal and really charming atmosphere, and I don’t know anybody who has been there that hasn’t just fallen in love with it. The proprietor, the man whose genius it is, is Larry Burdick, the well-known chocolatier with a boutique chocolate business. He used to work here, as a dessert chef for many fine restaurants, and moved to our little village 15 years ago to manufacture his chocolates, which are second to none. But he and I had always complained that what we needed was a good restaurant, and we were able to do that.” What about in New York? “I like Bar Pitti on 6th Avenue between Bleecker and Houston. It’s next to Da Silvano, which gets a lot of attention. Bar Pitti is just quite simply the best Tuscan cuisine in the United States. It’s simple. Everyone who goes there knows about it. You can’t get a better side dish of spinach. The tagliata is amazing. Every dish — I’ve never had a bum dish there. And it’s sort of our go-to place. We bring the kids; we go late; we go early. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

At the New York Film Festival premiere of Capitalism: A Love Story:

● MICHAEL MOORE – What are some of your favorite restaurants or bars? “[Laughs] I don’t do commercials!”

● MORGAN SPURLOCK – “I love La Esquina ’cause it’s right next to my office. It’s this incredible restaurant, right on Kenmare and Centre Street and Lafayette. Amazing food, fantastic. I love Balthazar. I probably have lunch there once a week because my office is also very close to there. Puck Fair is probably my favorite bar in New York City — Irish bar. I love Puck Fair. I love just the energy. It’s probably the best pint in New York City. Yeah, it’s a great energy, great vibe.”

At the Quicken Online launch party for Bank of Mom and Dad:

● FARNOOSH TORABI – “Cafe Frida on Columbus Avenue & 77th Street for Mexican food.”

Spotted on Columbus Avenue, in town for Clinton Global Initiative:

● LISA LING – “My favorite place these days in L.A., which is where I live, is a place called Baby Blues Barbecue. It’s Southern-style barbecue, and it is comfort food. And over the last few months, I had been needing a lot of comfort, so it was a perfect kind of place to feed that desire and that craving.”

At the Sophie’s Voice benefit for spina bifida research:

● COUNTESS LUANN DE LESSEPS – “I was just at Jean Georges on Central Park West, which I haven’t been to in a long time, and it was so nice ’cause we got to sit outside and the weather’s still nice … so that’s one of my favorite places in New York. In Milan, Sant Ambroeus. They come from Milan, and they have a place in New York and Southampton.”

● GABRIELLE UNION – “Let’s start with Miami! They have this new place called Eight Ounce Burger that I love; love Il Gabbiano on the water, off of Biscayne; love the spa at the Mandarin. In L.A., there’s this place called Happy Foot on Ventura that gives, like, the most amazing foot and body rubs, but you’re fully clothed. It’s kind of awesome.”