Elena Anaya

Starring in director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest feature, “The Skin I Live In," might just be the Spanish actress' big break.

CANNES, France — Elena Anaya is in a daze.

Although the Spanish actress got eight hours of sleep last night — no doubt a record for anyone attending the Cannes Film Festival — she starts the interview by confessing: “I’m destroyed. I have no energy.”

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Anaya explains that she’s suffering not from some mystery ailment, but rather an excess of strong emotions following the premiere of “The Skin I Live In,” director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest feature in which she plays the title role of Vera.

“I have a happiness inside that doesn’t fit. It’s too big, it’s too beautiful, what’s happening,” she exclaims, dressed in a blue short-sleeved silk top and black trousers by Spanish designer Miguel Palacio.

Though she has been acting since the mid-Nineties, the 35-year-old is virtually unknown outside of Spain, aside from a small role as the vampire Aleera in “Van Helsing” and her appearance in Justin Timberlake’s video for “SexyBack.”

That could all change following her collaboration with Almodóvar, who famously launched the Hollywood careers of Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

The latter has reunited with his mentor on this movie, playing a twisted surgeon who holds Anaya’s character captive in a deserted mansion and uses her as a guinea pig for experiments in skin grafting.

Like “The Sixth Sense,” the psychological thriller hinges on a plot twist that makes it tricky to discuss without giving too much away.

The crux of the character, Anaya says, is an inner strength that springs from an animal instinct for survival.

“Skin is just skin, just the packaging that envelops our essence, our goals, our feelings, our fears, our nasty thoughts,” she notes. “This character has an inner core that can’t be touched and mutilated and changed, and that keeps this character alive.”

Anaya spends many of her scenes in sleek bodysuits by regular Almodóvar collaborator Jean Paul Gaultier, but just as often, she is in the buff — either on the operating table or the object of sexual lust.

“It wasn’t a problem because Pedro is one of the most respectful directors I have worked with and all those moments where I have to be naked or half-naked, he was very concerned and very worried that I felt comfortable, and actually, I did,” she says.

On reading the script, she was less concerned by the nudity than by how she would achieve the luminous, otherworldly glow that characterizes Vera’s artificial skin. Enter cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine and special effects firm El Ranchito, whose efforts lend her an almost untouchable air.

Vera whiles away the hours locked in an antiseptic room practicing Pilates and yoga, displaying an athletic prowess that belies Anaya’s sparrow-like frame.

“I had to practice the discipline of yoga for quite a while before we started filming. I adore it so much, I want to keep it as part of my life forever,” she says.

It’s helping to keep her grounded as she deals with speculation about where her career might go from here — even if “The Skin I Live In” left the festival empty-handed.

As Anaya recalls the premiere of the movie in Cannes, she lets her Latin exuberance bubble over.

“You saw my face in the magazines?” she asks, mimicking a crazed grin. “I was, like, possessed. I was so happy, I almost started crying when we walked up the red carpet.”

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