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Rossy de Palma Receives a Career Award in Reykjavik

The scene could not have been more surreal. Rossy de Palma, the Spanish actress, and model who became an icon, thanks to her work with Pedro Almodóvar, received from the President of Iceland, Guoni Th. Johannesson, the award for artistic excellence from the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF).

What is unusual, at least for this reporter, is that the event took place in front of a hundred journalists and guests from the RIFF in the presidential residence, located on the outskirts of the city. The next day, in her hotel cafe, De Palma exclusively shared her impressions of that moment.

At 58 years old, and having received the Gold Medal for Arts and Letters in France, as well as another honor given to her by the King of Spain, the daughter of an Asturian and a Basque is no longer surprised by anything.

However, in the conversation, the actress born as Rosa Elena García Echave in Palma de Mallorca noted that she has never lost the humility of that girl who came to Madrid in the 1980s to try to carve out a future for herself without imagining what destiny had in store for her.

How does it feel to receive a career award from the President of Iceland?

I really like this award because it says, “creative excellence,” and that’s where I feel I am in my element. The truth is that I have a very little ego as an artist because we are vehicles of something, we are not protagonists or geniuses.

Of course, we can be proud – whatever the profession – of perseverance, rigor, and the will to make something happen. I admire actors a lot because I feel more like an interpreter than an actress, unlike those who work with a method, who are dedicated to that, and, in fact, when they are not shooting, they feel unhappy.

I have too many things that stimulate my curiosity: contemporary art, music, writing, and especially poetry, which for me is the mother of all arts because a painter makes poetry with his colors and a musician with notes.

I am also interested in the therapeutic part of art and all that. So, the award has been very delightful because of “creative excellence” and above all, because the President is very nice.

There’s a photo of you as a girl next to a chicken coop. If at that moment you turned around and told your father, “One day I’m going to be in Iceland and the president is going to give me an award for my career,” how do you think he would have replied?

My father would not have been surprised because he is largely to blame for my “internationality.” In Asturias, the phrase “Yes Mundial” (you are already worldwide) is used a lot when someone surprises you. My father told me that as a child and I believed it.

I always say that geopolitical borders do not interest me – they have a lot of history, blood, and interest behind them. I only believe in the gastronomic ones, the ones that from one small town to another have changed the way of making a dish or native food.

They are to be celebrated because they unite and congratulate us. They invite you to eat and that generates hospitality. I don’t believe much in nationalism. Nobody came from Mars. We are all terrestrials and, suddenly, now I’m here and I feel a bit Icelandic.

How wonderful to take the good of the places! If they push me to define myself, although I have Basque DNA from my mother and Asturian from my father, the most I can accept myself is as Mediterranean because I belong to that. But in the end, I am global and I really like feeling that way.



There are not many Spanish actresses who have the global celebrity that you have. One does not need to explain anywhere who Rossy de Palma is.

It is a bit of the iconic world and what I like about being an icon is that we are angels, we are ageless and that is wonderful. Once you reach that Olympus, it doesn’t matter if you get old because you will always stay there, as something distinctive.

That has a lot to do with the multidisciplinary: acting, music, and fashion give you a very broad spectrum. And Pedro Almodóvar is also responsible for choosing me to work in so many of his films that are part of cinema legend, such as Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).

Are you more grateful to Pedro for having discovered you or for having kept you in his movies all these years?

With Pedro, I have more gratitude in the sense of family environment than in the business side, which at first was a poisoned gift. It’s not that he discovered me. I was already an artist.

The legend says that he saw me in a bar as if I were a simple waitress and, I have nothing against that because I have worked as a waitress for many years to survive. But I came to Madrid from Mallorca with my pop group called Peor Imposible (Worse Impossible).

Pedro, who was very famous in the underground, used to come to our concerts. I wanted to work with him but at that time he had finished Entre tinieblas (Dark Habits), which is tremendous, and many people were overwhelmed by him.

So, I told myself, “I’m going to seduce him from a distance.” He was 20 years old and at that time, everyone wanted to be close to him. One day, when I was wearing a super mega sexy dress made by me because I had been sewing since I was a little girl, Pedro came and asked where he could buy something like that for Carmen Maura.

I replied that everything was made by me, even the earrings. In fact, many of the accessories that Carmen wore in La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire) are my creation. He asked me to play a role in that film.

Those times were the beginning of AIDS, drugs, and a lack of control. It was great to arrive with my group and be able to meet all the artists of the Madrid scene. Pedro was delighted with my spontaneity.

Then he told me that in his next project, he was going to write a character for me that had nothing to do with me and that’s how Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown came out.

What were the drawbacks of being an “Almodóvar girl”?

At first, it was a bit of a drag about being the “Almodóvar girl” but then you get older and when they call you “girl,” it comes in handy.

It has never bothered me because I felt that Pedro is my cinematographic father and maybe if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have made movies and I wouldn’t have been so interested.

You also worked many times with Manolo Caro.

Yes, and there are a lot of directors who also called me but I rejected the projects. I only regret one for Isabel Coixet who is a good friend of mine and surely, one day we will do something together.

One of the magical moments of my life was when we had answering machines. I got home in Madrid and heard a recording of a saying, “I am Louis Malle. It is not a joke. I am Louis Malle.”

You could tell it was a French voice speaking English. It was for this fantastic book project that Marlene Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, wrote. Louis was going to do it with Uma Thurman as the lead and I was going to play a Spanish screenwriter. Unfortunately, Louis died.

Why did you move to France?

I didn’t move. I started going to fashion shows for Jean Paul Gaultier and then Virginie Thévenet called me to make the film Sam suffit (Sam’s Enough). I didn’t speak any French. I only communicated in English.

So, there was a clause in the contract that if they didn’t understand me after finishing the film, they would dub my voice. For me, 75 percent of the acting work is in the voice. It’s the tones and the audio with which you penetrate the emotion.

So I didn’t want to be dubbed in French cinema. I proposed that instead of paying for my trips to and from Spain, they would give me a small apartment, a coach and I would stay there.

French at first was very difficult but I was lucky enough to be in the Montparnasse neighborhood, which is very bohemian, and that’s where I started speaking French a little because when the French like you, they adopt you.

Would you say that the hardest battle was letting you show all your facets?

No, I haven’t felt like showing anything to anyone because it doesn’t work like that. I’m not a careerist. Now, I start to take care of the cinema because maybe with two Instagram posts, I earn the same as making a movie for 15 days – getting up early and that doesn’t interest me.

Before, I didn’t have an artistic vision like I currently have for the theater where I haven’t done anything that I haven’t deeply felt. It is true that, with Pedro, at first, the fact of being hand-tied, and waiting for the phone to ring made me very angry.

Because I have been working since I was 12 years old and I needed that freedom. That’s why I emigrated. I had incredible adventures in Italy because some movies were very bad, with bastard producers of the time and maybe they would run out of money and filming would stop. It was all a mess.

We actresses knew that if we had makeup done when the film was canceled, they had to pay us 80 percent so before the makeup artist arrived, we had already painted ourselves

Why didn’t you want to go to Hollywood?

Because the proposals I received did not seem very interesting to me. Back in 1995 or 1996, Antonio Banderas told me that his agent was asking him about me, asking me to go there because it was time.

I cared more about life than art, I was more interested in being a mother than anything else. As I always say to girls who are just starting out, if they call you pretty, don’t believe it and if they call you ugly, don’t believe it either, because that is a perception of others.

Imagine if I had believed everything they said to me with this nose I have. They made me suffer but this nose was really like a shield. They made me think, why do they do this? Why do they react like this?

They helped me understand the human race a lot. That fascinated me. I breathe through my nose so it works. I have great skin and legs. There are many things to celebrate. Why should I be bitter if they don’t like my nose?

Before the world was more ABCD, more squared. Now, all kinds of morphologies are accepted. Things have opened up a lot and that is appreciated. I love that there is all this diversity and that society has modernized to that level.


Translated by Mario Amaya