Penélope Cruz was the main topic of dinner conversation at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday night.
“She’s an incredible force, great beauty and an inspiration of how to have an incredible career in Hollywood with elegance — and an international career,” said Zac Posen, who has dressed the star throughout the years. “She always looks so elegant. I think she’s a classicist.”
Cruz was the honoree at MoMA’s annual film benefit, presented by Chanel. The event supports the preservation of the museum’s film archive, which includes more than 30,000 films, and honors iconic film talent with a dinner that always draws a who’s who of the film industry.
Guests who came out to support Cruz, even as the pandemic continues to complicate large in-person gatherings, included Anne Hathaway, Kristen Wiig, Diane Kruger, Rosalía, Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow, Rebecca Hall, Riley Keough, Pom Klementieff, Zac Posen and Jordan Roth. Every guest was vaccinated and tested in advance of the evening, and eager to sing Cruz’s praises.
“Penélope is such a hard worker,” said Rosalía, who made her film debut with Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2019 film “Dolor y gloria.” “Between scenes, she would say ‘Should we rehearse the song? Should we sing it together and practice it?’ And I was like wow, so she really doesn’t stop, she’s that amazing,” the singer continued. “She’s one of my favorite actresses ever. I was nervous. She instantly made me feel comfortable, she gave me advice about things, I admire her a lot and I love her.”
Cruz, wearing a custom red dress inspired by a look from Chanel’s fall haute couture collection for the occasion, is an ambassador for the design house. This past September, she wore a silver Chanel gown while accepting her award for best actress at the Venice Film Festival, for her role in Almodóvar’s latest film “Parallel Mothers.” But Cruz noted that her favorite Chanel look links to a different Almodóvar film, from 2009.
“There was one very iconic dress that I wore in ‘Broken Embraces’ that I think Chrissy Turlington had worn in one of the shows, and then Lily-Rose [Depp] wore at the [2019 Met Gala],” Cruz said before dinner. “That was a one-of-a-kind piece that Karl created, and if you see that movie, it has a very special place in the film.”
While many guests in the crowd were also dressed in Chanel, theater producer Jordan Roth was supporting a young New York designer by wearing a cloak that was particularly on-theme for the event. “I found out about the screens and I thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to a film benefit, let’s wear a film, shall we?'” Roth said of his dramatic look, which incorporated several actual mini electronic film screens, designed by recent Parsons grad Lu Chen. As for his favorite Penélope Cruz film, Roth was diplomatic. “Can we say all of them? Because she has such an extraordinary body of work, and I feel like each one was a reinvention.”
The accolades continued upstairs during dinner. First up onstage to toast Cruz was her “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” costar Rebecca Hall, who recalled the convivial atmosphere that Cruz created offset, with a focus on good food, wine and dancing. “It seemed woven into her ethos as an actor that to act well, you must live well,” Hall said. “I’ll never forget walking the streets of Barcelona at some ungodly hour of the morning with Penélope out front barefoot standing in her heels. Work hard, play hard: it’s a lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.”
Ricky Martin — a cohost for the evening — also spoke highly of his time on and offset with Cruz while filming “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” “I don’t know if this is common, but on our days off, we were together. When we had days off, we would spend time, and I don’t know if that magic happens every time,” he said, before addressing Cruz directly. “I’ll never forget how warm and generous you were. It was my first time in front of the cameras in a long time, and there you were.”
The evening continued with a video compilation of Cruz’s filmography and additional video messages from Lupita Nyong’o and Almodóvar, who’s on promo tour for “Parallel Mothers.” Cruz and the director have worked together on seven films, and Almodóvar praised the magic of their chemistry and reminded Cruz her promise to take care of him in old age.
Afterwards, Cruz took the stage, visibly moved by the kind words from her director. She recalled growing up in Spain in a town without a local cinema, and watching Betamax tapes once her father brought a video player into their home. “I spent hours watching and rewatching films,” she said. “When I played with my friends I would pretend I was someone else. A different character, sometimes from a movie I had seen, sometimes from my own imagination. I was convinced I was acting; my friends were convinced I was crazy.”
But it was Almodovar’s 1989 film “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” that sealed the deal for her. “Watching what Pedro and his actors were doing made me feel like I had to do just that. That I had to be part of that universe,” she said.
After dinner, the evening closed out with a performance by Grammy-nominated singer Giveon.
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