While it was an honour for 34-year old Francesca Neri to be offered the lead role in
Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh, the same cannot be said for her first Hollywood audition in
Kevin Costner's Waterworld. "It was one of the worst audition experiences of my life.
First they flew me to Los Angeles, where I had my first audition with Costner. Then the
next day they told me to do it again but with the producers. 'Why do I have to do the same
thing again?' I asked. 'You just have to do it', they said. Then I flew back to Rome and
did another audition on tape there -the exact same thing. After all that, they told me my
English wasn't good enough to do it. Maybe that was a good thing."
"Like a dream because the types of women he creates are
obviously more Spanish in temperament"
However, Neri did not have to go through a similar experience in order to work on the
latest Almodovar film, Live Flesh. "Over the years I'd met him many times at film
festivals, and each time we'd met he would tell me that we have to work together. For me,
of course, that was like a dream because the types of women he creates are obviously more
Spanish in temperament than what I'm used to doing in Italy. So one day he called me and
told me: I have a role for you. I was incredibly surprised, didn't believe him until this
script arrived." One would think that the language would prove a problem, but she had
already done two movies in Spain, "and so I speak Spanish better than I speak
English", Neri adds laughingly. Live Flesh revolves around five principal characters
who come together on one fateful night in 1992 Madrid. Victor (Liberto Rabal) has fallen
for a woman, Elena (Neri), a drug addict, with whom he had casual sex with a week before.
Elena, however, wants nothing more to do with Victor, and, when he shows up at her
apartment, she uses a gun to scare him away. A shot is fired and the cops are called.
Arriving at Elena's apartment are two partners, David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (Jose
Sancho), who are in the midst of a crisis in their friendship. Sancho, a chronic, abusive
drunk, believes that his wife, Clara (Angela Molina), is having an affair, and he suspects
David of being Clara's lover. What happens when the police break down the door to Elena's
apartment sets off a chain of events that reverberate through time to a period four years
later, when circumstances bring the characters together once again, albeit in a vastly
On reading Almodovar's take on the Ruth Rendell novel, Neri felt she could understand
this confused and complex character whom she plays. "She's very typical of the types
of women I like to play", the actress explains. "I understand her very well. She
lives her life with a consistent sense of her own guilt, but she's far more complex than
that. I like the fact that this woman has, as it were, two faces; but she can only reveal
one face, the other is always hidden with a certain sadness." Neri sees this film as
"Almodovar at his most mature and complex", and as for the reality of working
with the famous director, she pauses slightly. "Obviously he's a genius, and the
opportunity to work with him is special, especially for a woman, because he works so much
on the role. It changed, and the script changed, so much during the shooting, which means
you have the feeling that the role grows along with you. And though there was a lot of
improvisation, we also rehearsed intensely for about a month beforehand. But during
filming, he'd change something once at least every morning."
"I don't like the rigidity of a script; I like
Such a work ethos was gratifying, Neri adds. "I like being surprised. I don't like
the rigidity of a script; I like change." As for Almodovar himself, the actress also
insists, laughingly, "that he's also crazy, much like some of his earlier
Though Neri lives in Rome, she says that working in Italy is tough, which is why she
spends most of her time working in other European countries. "The Italian industry is
very slow and stagnant at the moment; there's little of interest happening here, apart
from the odd Italian comedy which doesn't offer much scope for female actors."
Surprisingly, talking about future projects, Neri hopes to be working in Australia soon
- with Rolf de Heer, no less. "We met a few years ago, because the Italian producer
of Bad Boy Bubby is a friend of mine, so he's developing a project on which I hope to be
working. I love Australia. The last time I was there was during the Brisbane Film Festival
a few years ago when I had something on there." Live Flesh, is being screened at THIS
year's Festival. "God, if only I knew, I'd have been there in a flash. But if I end
up working there, I must improve my English. It's not easy once you hit 34", she says