In this film, as he has done since ANNIE HALL, Allen explores the success and failure of relationships through the psychology of the characters, rather than through the external devices of formulaic Hollywood love stories. "People are very complicated and relationships are very hard to sustain because people have incredibly detailed needs," says Allen. "And if these needs are not met, you get annoyed. It's exactly like Juan Antonio says in the movie, if there's one element missing, it can be like salt or something from your diet-you've got your Vitamin A and C and Niacin and Iron-but if you don't have some tiny little element, it can kill you. It could also be an added element that changes the chemistry, like the presence of a sibling, a mother, a best friend, a boss, a shrink, or a change of occupation. In the case of Juan Antonio and Maria Elena, the two of them fight like cats and dogs all the time even though they are passionately crazy about each other. But the presence of Cristina in the chemical equation somehow makes it possible for their relationship to work. They channel enough of their affection to Cristina and Cristina to them, and Cristina drains off some of the anger and irritation or makes it less heated."
Of the trio, Scarlett offers "I think they see in one another what they don't like to see in themselves, and Cristina provides a buffer for them. When they love her together it allows them to appreciate one another without having their relationship combusting." "For Maria Elena it's totally natural and normal to live with two people at the same time," says Cruz. "And inside a situation that is not common, she feels safe. Because she's so full of contradictions, it makes sense for her. It's a very peculiar way of thinking: she doesn't see Cristina as a threat for her relationship with Juan Antonio, she thinks Cristina brings balance into their relationship."
Allen teams for the third time with Scarlett Johansson, after MATCH POINT and SCOOP. "Every now and then in my professional life, I find an actress with the kind of gift that inspires me to create parts for," says Allen. "She's very smart, sexy, very gifted, and with a big range. And she's lightning fast with her sense of humor and is a phrase-maker which always impresses me." "I think Woody and I have a very similar sensibility and sense of humor certainly, and when I read his scripts I feel very connected to them," says Johansson. "I think we just appreciate each other as artists and we enjoy working together because we're always laughing and having a good time. It's wonderful to be able to work with your friends, and I think that's why we keep doing it."
Allen had never seen Penélope Cruz in a film until he saw her Oscar-nominated performance in Pedro Almodovar's VOLVER. "I just thought she was amazing," he says. "And of course I couldn't wait to get her for my movie. And then her agent called and said Penelope knew I was doing a movie in Spain and she called and said she knew I was doing a movie in Spain and wanted very much to be a part of it. To me, that was the greatest thing I could hear. Maria Elena is a force of nature, and that's what Penélope is. She's beautiful and amazingly sexy in a way that no other woman in the world is-a very special kind of beauty. And she's a tremendous actress and she conveys it. Of course it's overwhelming."
Javier Bardem, a recent Academy Award-winner for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, joined the cast as the flamboyant Juan Antonio. "He was maybe the only actor in the world who could have done this role for me," says Allen. "I needed a Spaniard who was sexy without being movie actor conventional pretty, but deeper than that. I've seen him in movies, and I thought he was just the greatest. I was thrilled to work with him-I didn't know that that would ever happen in my life."
For the role of Vicky, Allen looked for someone who had a contrasting personality to Johansson and Cruz. "[Casting Director] Juliet Taylor said you've got to meet Rebecca Hall," says Allen. "And as soon as I saw her I thought she was right. Rebecca has got a real beauty and dignity to her, and of course she's a wonderful actress."
Patricia Clarkson, another Academy Award nominee, plays Judy, Vicky and Cristina's host in Barcelona. "She is again another example of where I got the chance to work with an actress that I've loved for a long time," says Allen. "Judy represents the direction that Vicky could go eventually, when you get married to a safe guy and don't take the risk. If she had to do it over again, she would not have made that choice, or would she?"
While the actors (aside from Allen regular Johansson) felt a bit nervous about working with a filmmaker they admire, he soon set them at ease. "He is such a nice man," says Bardem. "Every time I needed him, he gave me the right answer, a very helpful answer for me to really understand what I had to do. And working with Woody Allen is like having jewels in your mouth. The dialogue is so brilliant and so very helpful for any actor to move ahead and find the reason of the scene through the words."
"With somebody else I would have been scared to play a character that approaches every situation with the same level of energy," says Cruz. "When you have a character that is so extroverted and so loud and brings so much chaos, I think, maybe because of fear, I wanted to do some of the scenes a little bit quieter. And I tried a couple of times to make things smaller and he said, 'No, she lives in that state permanently.' He gave me a clear direction-'Be brave!'-and I think he was completely right about that."
Allen decided to enlist a narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) to comment throughout the action of VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA as it unfolds. "The story has the quality of a tale," he says. "It's the story of what happens to these two girls in the summer. And I thought somebody should just relate it, and it would work that way. And it would save me a lot of boring expositional scenes, and the story could be moved quickly forward or in any way I wanted, by the narrator effortlessly."