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TALK TO HER 

Talking to Him: Actor Javier Camara on meeting Pedro Almodovar

In the U.S., Pedro Almodóvar is the best-known filmmaker from Spain, which in terms of American celebrity is like being a tallish dwarf. However, in Spain, Almodóvar is primero, a critically well-regarded and commercially successful artist comparable to Woody Allen here at the height of his popularity.

That's the picture painted by Javier Cámara, who has reason to be tuned to such matters. Cámara achieved modest fame several ago playing "Paco" on TV's Seven Lives -- he says it was Spain's first sitcom -- and later won some film roles. But he had never dreamed of working with Almodóvar, the writer-director of films including Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and among the few Spanish filmmakers to achieve success both at home and abroad.

That changed when Cámara got a call from a relative employed in Almodóvar's Madrid office: Was he interested in a small part in the new Almodóvar? Visiting Pittsburgh last fall for the local premiere of Almodóvar's arthouse melodrama Talk to Her at the Three Rivers Film Festival -- it returns to the Regent Square Theater on Fri, Feb. 7 -- Cámara recalls his nerve-wracking first sight of the director: "Pedro is in his office, and 'Hi,' with his enormous hand. Hi."

It turned out Almodóvar wanted him instead for the lead in a different film altogether. No pressure, though. "He said, 'This is the script,' and popped Talk to Her in my hands," said Cámara, in English, a language he's still learning. "And [he said], 'I wrote this, I scribbled, all my passion, my sentiments, my love and my sadness. If you feel something similar when you read the script, it's yours.' ...

"And he began doing two hours, he make the film, for me. I'm sitting in the [office], and he begins to dance [like one character], he begins to make my character, he begins to speak like the girl," says Cámara. "I look at Almodóvar dancing, and talking, so emotional ... go to my house ... close the windows. When I read the script, I'm so emotional, a lot of sentiments, very very ... It's the most beautiful piece in my life. ... I leave a message [for Almodóvar], 'I'm absolutely afraid, absolutely afraid. And now I don't want to make this, because for me it's impossible, but if you help me, I think I try. Because I understand this story of love.'"

For the role of Benigno -- a nurse in love with a young woman in a coma -- Cámara prepared for four months at Almodóvar's insistence, learning nursing techniques and even Benigno's hobbies, embroidery ("with a group of women like my mother") and knitting.

In November, with Talk to Her about to be ensconced on dozens of top-ten lists, Cámara remembers not knowing at first what to make of Benigno, whom he describes as "a little mad man."

"At the beginning, I thought, 'Benigno's so crazy,'" he says. "I can't understand his action. And Pedro told me, 'It's pure love.'"
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