Veronica Echegui interview

Looks like Penelope Cruz, acts like her too, but Veronica Echegui is more of a live-wire than her amigo could ever be. A seafood dress sense, fleeing the cops and naked interviews - all in a day's work for this sizzling Spaniard.
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Some people call Veronica Echegui the next Penelope Cruz. Some call her the most beautiful woman ever to step out of Spain. Call her what you like but you’re not likely to miss her in a crowd. “I’ll be the one in the red skirt,” she tells me unnecessarily as we arrange to meet in the foyer of one of Central London’s swankiest boutique hotels.

Amidst the flatulent businessmen and bored whistle-stop tourists gathered near reception, she stands out like a lighthouse in the fog, looking every inch the superstar in waiting, with a plum part alongside Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver in The Cold Light Of Day soon to propel her career into orbit.

Having excelled in a string of Spanish movies, most notably Bigas Luna’s My Name Is Juani, she made herself known to British audiences in the Mighty Boosh movie spin-off Bunny And The Bull. Starring alongside Boosh mainstays Noel Fielding, Simon Farnaby and Julian Barratt, she plays a foul-mouthed waitress caught up in a hallucinogenic road trip involving a kidnapped stuffed bear, jars of urine, deranged tramps and suckled dogs. Dubbed as “Withnail & I for the mentally ill” by its own producers, Bunny And The Bull is not likely to disappoint if you prefer your films to veer as far away from the bleeding obvious as it’s possible to get.

Up close and personal, Veronica Echegui proves to be as engagingly off-the-wall as her on-screen persona would suggest.

If I ask you anything you don’t like, feel free to hit me.

I promise. Actually, I would love to be so famous just so I could get away with things like that. People would say, “I met Veronica. She laughed and then she hit me. Such a diva!” I will hit them with passion. I’m not interested in having power over people. It’s about freedom for me.

What kind of interview should we do?

A naked interview.

Clothes off?

Naked, with our clothes on. It’s possible. We can be naked in our thoughts. Sometimes interviews can be torture to do. Then they are torture for people to read. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What is your earliest memory?

I was in a swimming pool and I was drowning. I was very young. It was mid-day, the siesta in Spain. My parents were sleeping in the grass next to the swimming pool. I went into the pool and the next thing I know is that I was under the water. I couldn’t move. I felt helpless. My mother woke and ran towards me.

"I would love to be so famous just so I could get away with things like that. People would say, 'I met Veronica. She laughed and then she hit me. Such a diva!'"

Was it exciting?

Yeah, it was. Exciting without being enjoyable. It was as if I was outside the moment, observing myself drowning. Since then I’ve had a fear of the water but it comes and goes. There have been times when I have gone to the sea and snorkeled for an hour, very enjoyably. Other times haven’t been so enjoyable. I was in Mexico and an Italian guy was teaching me to dive. I had one short lesson and then I went for it. I went ten metres down and my ears went voooooom. I was in terrible pain and I felt I needed to be sick. But you can’t be sick underwater, right? I was thinking, “What am I doing down here with the fish, feeling all claustrophobic? I need to start breathing and get back on land where I felt safe.

Are you naturally phobic?

I’m scared of the things that people can’t control. Violence scares me. People who drink too much or take too many drugs, they scare me. I try not to read too many newspapers because I need to avoid too many nightmarish stories. I’m scared of tigers and wolves, animals much stronger than me. But I wouldn’t say I’m naturally phobic. If I have a phobia, it’s a fear of being alone and helpless in a forest at night.

That sounds like an irrational fear.

It sounds irrational but it’s based on experience. I went to Mexico when I was 21. My grandmother was Mexican and she was always telling me these stories about the bloody rebellions in that country. I knew the history and my mother warned me that I would meet a lot of bad people but I wasn’t afraid. Then I reached the poorest area in the south of Mexico where I hooked up with a guy who was also traveling through the country. There was a lot of tension in the air because the separatists were preparing to fight with the military. We were told that we’d be OK if we stayed in this village but we shouldn’t dare venture into the surrounding areas as there was every possibility of violence breaking out. But we ignored that advice because we were bored with eating rice and needed fruit and other supplies.

So we found ourselves in this neighbouring village. One night we were sleeping in this wooden shack and my friend woke me up, warning me that trouble was near. We both lay there trembling. This gang came into our shack and shone torches in our faces. They didn’t say anything. They just stared for what seemed like hours. My friend reached to turn on the light and all these people rushed out. We spent the night completely terrified, convinced they would return with guns and kill us. It’s something I’ve never forgotten. I always feel vulnerable if I sleep in a place where I don’t feel completely safe.

What kind of teenager were you? A rebel?

Well, I escaped from the police on a motorcycle. Is that rebellious? Does that count?

It sounds promising. Please elaborate.

I was seventeen and staying outside of town where my father had a house. I was staying on my own for the whole summer. It was the kind of place where police would always be hassling you to show your papers, to prove you weren’t a criminal or whatever. But I was too lazy to get my papers together. One evening I was out on my motorbike, not wearing a helmet as usual, and I saw the cops coming from the roundabout towards me in a big Jeep. My mind was frozen for a second. The first word that jumped into my head was, “escape”. So I revved up my bike and zoomed off in the opposite direction.

They came after me with their siren blaring out. I was enjoying the chase but realised I needed to shake the cops off, so I swerved off down this narrow alleyway. For a few minutes I lost them, then they caught up with me again. So the chase resumed for another twenty minutes. Finally I ran out of petrol. The cop approached me and said, “What! You’re an asshole! Give me your papers right now!” I was like “I don’t have papers”. He was hysterical, threatening me with all kinds of things. But I convinced him I was alone in the world and had taken temporary leave of my senses.

"We should do a naked interview. Naked, with our clothes on. It’s possible. We can be naked in our thoughts."

Do you have a tendency to attract trouble?

Yeah, I attract freaks. I’d love to stay with someone really mad, telling me he’s going to kill me, just to know that the fear exists, that I can control the situation.

Do you have imaginary friends?

I had a made-up friend called Susanna when I was a kid. She was extremely naughty but a lot of fun to be around. When I was twelve she disappeared. I figured she had run away or that she’d been arrested.

Are you naturally drawn towards the bizarre in your life and your choice of movies?

I’m really passionate about places and people who I don’t understand because I want to. And it’s the same with places, I don’t know, I kind of like difficult situations because I like to see how I react in front of it. Living in Madrid brings that out of me. At night I find myself thinking, “I should go out and look for a gun.” In the centre where I live there’s a lot of junkies, a lot of criminals. Every day brings something different. I suppose that I’m attracted to what scares me. Because I want to face that fear and live through it.

Where and when did you feel most free in your life?

As a kid I used to skate through the streets of Madrid. That felt free. I’d weave in and out of the traffic, pretending I was a comic book superhero. I’d love to still be able to do that. But, if I break my feet, I can’t work as an actress.

In Bunny & The Bull you dressed up as a prawn. Is that the kind of thing you do in real life?

Now that I’ve dressed up as seafood I’d definitely like to do more of it. In fact I’d be happy to dress up as a different kind of seafood every day. Whenever I’ve gone to fancy dress parties I’ve usually dressed as men, mostly shepherds. Though I have gone as Debbie Harry.

In Bunny & The Bull you get to swear like a sailor’s parrot. Are you a champion swearer?

I’m getting better all the time. I had a good swearing adviser on the set of Bunny. But I had previous experience. In Bigas Luna’s My Name Is Juani, I played a suburban girl who came to live in the big city and she was kind of rough around the edges so she swore a lot. But I knew I had to swear better in Bunny & The Bull. I’d practice in front of my mother and brother. “Hey, motherfuckers, when is dinner going to be ready?” They’d say, “Veronica, that’s no way to talk.” And I’d have to explain that I was getting into character. In general, I think swearing is a good thing. If you feel angry, a well-chosen swear word releases all the tension.

Was a lot of alcohol consumed during the making of Bunny & The Bull?

Not when we were filming. At the end of the day we’d usually go down the pub and have a few drinks. But nothing too extreme.

Can you keep up with the guys?

I cannot. No, no, I drink white wine and I go a little crazy after a couple of glasses. I’ll ask men to marry me, that sort of thing. If I’m drunk and find myself having a conversation that is too serious I’ll make an effort to drag the talk to a different place. I was at one party and this guy was talking about skiing. It was getting boring so I said, “You know that skiing in that cold weather is bad for a woman’s complexion?” And he says, “Yeah, I’ve heard that.” So I say, “The best thing for that problem is semen.” And his jaw drops. I say, “Yeah, my father is a dermatologist and he recommends semen to all his female patients to improve the skin, particularly those who ski.” Sometimes it’s necessary to invent stuff just to keep a conversation interesting.

Do you remember when you decided that you wanted to be an actress?

I was nine when I knew for certain. But I always lived in my imagination. I was always acting. I had loads of costumes at home so I was always crazy about taking people to my house and dressing them in my room. I used to have a gang around and I would organise everybody, then we would re-enact scenes from a Venezuelan soap opera.

"I was enjoying the chase but realised I needed to shake the cops off, so I swerved down this alleyway. For a few minutes I lost them, then they caught up with me again."

You are routinely described as “the new Penelope Cruz”. Does that bother you?

It makes me a little tired but it doesn’t worry me. Maybe it’s meaningful for some people but it doesn’t really have any meaning for me.

You were once asked what kind of actors you’d like to have an on-screen affair with and you mentioned John Malkovich and Ed Harris. Do you prefer older men?

Sometimes older men are more interesting. If a man is interesting it doesn’t matter to be whether he’s 25 or 50. Just so long as the chemistry is there. My favourite thing is to see a man bloom like a flower. To see a man completely open up, be completely aware, that’s beautiful to me.

Why is it that only Spanish women smoulder?

Maybe because of our role in history? For centuries, Spanish society was patriarchal and women tended to spend most of their time working in their house. Maybe this is why they smoulder, as a reaction to that way of life. Maybe it’s to do with the food and the weather. But it is hard for me to be objective. It’s easier for me to comment on, say, African people. When Africans move, when they dance, it’s the sexiest thing in the world. I did African dance for a while. Sometimes African women used to come to our class to show us. And their elegance made me feel like I was melting. Amazing.

Why do you think English men make such terrible lovers?

The alcohol, maybe. But the British make up for it by being the funniest. I grew up watching Monty Python. The loudest I’ve ever laughed is when I watched Life Of Brian for the first time. Every scene in that film is painfully funny. I know every word of it by heart.

JW: What are you most hopeless at?

VE: Organisation. I always think everything is going to get solved alone. Like, when I’m about to travel I expect my suitcases to magically pack themselves. But they never do and I’m always faced with last-minute panic.

JW: Anything further to declare?

VE: I want to fly. That’s my main ambition. I believe anything is possible.

Bunny And The Bull is out now on DVD, click below to buy.

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