Penelope Cruz had a great time filming Murder On The Orient Express
Murder On The Orient Express star Penelope Cruz had a great time shooting the film with the all-star cast
In a decidedly unglamorous role in a glamorous movie, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz is "The Missionary" in Murder On The Orient Express, an updated version of the 1934 Agatha Christie mystery with an all-star cast directed by English thespian Kenneth Branagh, who also plays famed detective Hercule Poirot.
Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, behind only Shakespeare and the Bible.
If this new film adaptation brings new fans to the pleasures of her whodunnits, then it can justify its existence.
But if you are a die-hard Poirot fan, you will not be happy, despite the fabulous cinematography, lavish locations, terrific costumes, a marvellous recreation of the Orient Express and Dame Judi Dench.
Because of Branagh. And those moustaches. And that accent. Not to mention the boring second act. But enough of his shortcomings.
Pilar Estravados, Cruz's character, actually appears in another Christie story.
But in an attempt to "update" the story for an international audience, she has been plucked from Hercule Poirot's Christmas and dropped into Murder On The Orient Express, which opens here tomorrow.
A particularly grim and joyless missionary, she walks around with her cross and Bible, talking about God.
She is trapped in a snowstorm along with a bunch of fellow travellers aboard the titular luxury train that goes from Istanbul to Paris.
A passenger has been killed, the train derailed, everyone is a suspect and Poirot has to solve the mystery.
Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi and Daisy Ridley have maybe 10 lines apiece; the rest of the movie is Branagh.
At the Claridge's hotel in London, Cruz, in a Chanel suit, talks about working in close quarters with the rest of the cast.
"We were locked into the little wagon and stuck together there, so I was really shocked when I saw it yesterday," said the 43-year-old, referring to Murder On The Orient Express' London premiere where she finally watched the sets and locations on-screen, because all the main filming was done on a studio lot outside London.
"Some of them I knew well from before, and I have worked with them. But others I had never met, like Josh. But I will never forget him," Cruz said with a laugh.
"I know he has been doing imitations of me and Javier (Bardem, her Spanish actor-husband) everywhere he goes.
"Judi, whom I love so much, I worked with her before in (the 2009 movie musical) Nine, it is always such a pleasure to be next to her.
"So yeah, it was a great month together in London doing this interesting project. Small characters because we are so many, but no way to say no to something like this."
Especially when the vibe on set was so much fun, in part thanks to Branagh and herself.
Cruz, who has two children aged six and four with Bardem, recalled: "(Branagh) would come in and do some test about Shakespeare, like, 'Which is the play that starts with a monologue from a female?' Always the answers came from Judi."
She added: "Then I taught all of them this game called Werewolf. Up to 20 people can play, and it is about lying, manipulating and betraying others.
"I would set up the meetings to play, but I would never go because I would be with my kids.
"And (the cast) would be playing until three in the morning and furious at me the next day because nobody slept because it is an addictive game. We had a good time together."
Murder On The Orient Express was first made into a film in 1974, followed by a TV movie in 2001 and a TV episode in 2010, and Cruz's take on Branagh's version of Poirot is that it is "very modern" and "like a reinvention for audiences".
"It is hard with something that so many people know and admire to bring something new to the screen, to bring a new energy and still keep that essence.
"I think he managed to do that with Poirot."
And her opinion of Branagh's attention-grabbing facial hair?
"I laughed in his face. I couldn't help it. He said to me that the moustache had its own trailer," she said with a laugh.
"I said, 'You are the only one that can make this moustache look so cool.' When I saw him without it, I missed it."
On the topic of accessories, the drab costumes helped Cruz build her character.
She said: "I never worry about, 'Does this look good or bad for the character?' I ask myself, 'Is this right for her? Is this what she would have chosen to wear?' It is more about that, because then it can really help you to find her.
"She doesn't want to get any attention. She has had a traumatic experience and is trying to find her way to heal that trauma. In her case, it is through religion and helping others."
WORKING WITH DEPP
This is her third time working with Depp - after Blow (2001) and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) - and she considers them good friends.
"We met in Madrid with (Spanish director Pedro) Almodovar many years before, when I was like 20, 21. What is funny is that in all our movies together, we always have huge conflicts, we are always hating each other, (which has) nothing to do with our relationship in real life.
"I would love to work more with him because there is never a boring moment with him."
With Christmas around the corner, Cruz and Bardem have some rules for their children. She does not believe in giving them iPads.
Said Cruz: "I remember my childhood (being) free of electronics. Children have to touch and smell books, have paper and learn how to write, not just with symbols and little faces. That makes me sick. I have a big problem with that.
"Children need to play outside and get dirty and jump from trees and follow an ant. The other way is going to bring many more problems than we think."