Penelope Cruz is nervous.
The Spanish star says she always feels trepidation on a movie set, despite an Academy Award and acclaim for performances in both English and Spanish.
"Every time I am making a movie I feel insecure, and I feel scared, and that's part of the way I work," said Cruz, who stars as an actress caught between her film-director lover and a rich, ruthless businessman in Pedro Almodovar's Cannes contender "Broken Embraces."
"If one day I would be on the set feeling too secure — that would really scare me."
None of that nervousness shows in the film, a color-drenched blend of romance, melodrama and humor. Cruz is radiant, and Almodovar styles her in visual homages to Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and other classic cinema stars.
She also appears in a hilarious movie-within-the-movie, a rapid-fire comedy with more than a passing resemblance to Almodovar's 1988 breakout film "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
Cruz, 35, who won this year's supporting-actress Oscar for her feisty, funny turn in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," said she found the comedy in "Broken Embraces" harder to play than its drama.
"It's a very delicate and subtle tone, especially with Pedro," Cruz said. "He's like an orchestra director — very, very precise."
The movie is Cruz's fourth collaboration with Almodovar, who first cast the actress as a prostitute in 1997's "Live Flesh" and has since had her play a pregnant nun with AIDS in "All About My Mother" and a passionate, volatile cook in "Volver."
She has become something of a muse to the Spanish director, whom she first met when she was 17.
"The way he shoots and the ideas that he has, they blow me away," Cruz said. "When he comes to the set with the news about how everything is going to be shot every day, it is always so unexpected, always so interesting.
"It's almost like the movie becomes an entity of his own and it speaks to him … I think in that way he has no ego, and I really respect that."
The admiration is mutual. Almodovar includes Cruz in the group of actors he works with again and again, performers "who are visceral, who are heartfelt."
"I want them to be in deep contact with their emotions, with nothing in between, with no prejudices," Almodovar said.
He has also compared Cruz to screen icon Sophia Loren.
"That's too big of a compliment," said Cruz, who recently finished working with Loren on "Nine," Rob Marshall's big-budget movie musical based on Federico Fellini's "8 1/2." It is due for release in November.
"I adore her," Cruz said. "She's anamazing woman, and she's been very good to me."
Cruz said the cast of "Nine" — which includes fellow Oscar winners Loren, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard and Judi Dench — spent months practicing singing and dancing for the film.
Cruz's jitters reached epic proportions when she had to record a song at London's Abbey Road studios, where The Beatles once made music.
"You feel very vulnerable, because you can't hide anything," she said of singing. "But it was so much fun. After you are there and you start singing and everything starts to come together, if you can really be in the moment and enjoy it, it's an amazing experience."