interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
portraits by TERRY RICHARDSON
Oh yeah, she’s hot! Hanging with Jack Nicholson in LA. Turning heads in NYC. But it’s her passionate on-screen presence that’s got everyone talking. Super-talented, constantly searching, creating, growing… What’s not to love?
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re from New York?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I was born in New York where my mother is still living, but I’m half Spanish.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel like an American girl?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — When I’m in America, people think I’m European, and when I’m in Europe, people think I’m American. It’s a bit confusing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Where does your father live?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — He lived on a ranch two hours outside of Madrid, in Extremadura, but now he lives in a chateau in Normandy. He’s quite excentric.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you become an actress?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Well, I kind of fell into it. I started taking acting classes very young, and I really enjoyed it. After that, at 14 or 15 years old, I realized it was something I needed in my life. Not only was it therapeutic, it was how I connected more deeply with other people. I did a few independent films while I was in high school. I had a very traumatic upbringing, so acting was very helpfull for me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What was your first real professional role?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA —I landed my first professional role in The Cider House Rules, a film of Lasse Hallström in 1999. I went to the audition. I was a total punk, 14 years old, and had shaved off my very short, bleached blonde hair. It was a period film—1940’s. Lassa Halstrom fell in love with me. So, instead of getting a girl with really long hair, he got me a $5,000 wig.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Was your childhood traumatic because your parents split up?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Let’s just say there were a lot of trauma. But a lot of beautiful things, too. It was very extreme. There wasn’t a lot of support or safety.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is your mother as beautiful a woman as you?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — My mother is very beautiful. She works for women’s rights in underdeveloped countries. She’s a professional feminist. I think she spent more time taking care of other people’s children.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did that have anything to do with your decision to become an actress?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Well, acting was definitely something I needed, regardless of who my parents were, or what they did. It was good for me. I felt safe. I could really express myself in an environment that had protection built into it. But, in acting there are also plenty of bad situations you can fall into, which I’ve lived through.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Such as?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Having directors who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, taking advantage of you, and not treating you right.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Because you’re young and sexy?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Too young. And, as an actress, you’re vulnerable because your job is to become someone else. You want to please the director, and, if you’re not in the right hands, and you don’t know how to stand up for yourself, it can be very scary. You have to learn to trust your gut feelings and to learn how to trust yourself. In the acting world I’ve started to build a family of directors I like working with, the ones I’ll work with again. You learn to know who’s for real, and who’s full of shit. You become wiser. It’s like a kid living out on the streets, becoming street wise.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Have you made mistakes?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Nothing anybody is going to see. I’ve been lucky.
OLIVIER ZAHM — No bad independent movies that turned into soft porn?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — No. Except with you. [laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — The film we’re supposed to do together.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, our film is going to turn into bad porno.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’ll take that as a compliment. As a young teen actress, were there stars or actors you really loved, or who were role models for you?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — When I was 15, Ethan Hawke directed a film, called Chelsea Walls. I played this young girl. He and Uma Thurman were married at the time. Uma was kind to me, and gave me good advice. She was the right role model for me. For me, she was protective, and that was nice. Maybe she saw a bit of me in herself at a younger age. I feel like the only reason for living—and anyone can take this advice—is to grow, to change, and to help others. You can be homeless, on the street, and live a happier life than someone who doesn’t help others.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, Uma was a support. What about older actresses?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I love French actresses like Isabelle Adjani. She’s really passionate. When I was about 15 or 16, I saw her in The Story of Adele H. She was so raw and organic, and fearless, and courageous. That’s what it takes to be a good actress: you have to be courageous. You have to just put all your cards on the table. I felt like she did that. I found her very inspirational. I love Brigitte Bardot too! How could you not love her? She’s so sumptuous, and such a joy to watch.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s been how long now, that you’ve been working?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Between the ages of 19 and 20, I did five films in a row, in one year. One in Vancouver, one in Montana, one in New York, one in New Jersey, and one in LA One of them, Fierce People, is coming out soon. It’s with Donald Sutherland and Diane Lane. Then I moved to LA for a year, and then I moved back to New York. I was a nomadic actress.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you still take acting classes?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I’ve been taking acting classes for years, and I have a teacher I work with when I work on films. She’s incredible. I think it’s important to learn all of the techniques, and then throw them away when they become like second nature to you. You can call them up when you need them. It’s security: when you need the technique, it’s there. The problems happen when you’re working with a shit actors. You can’t rely on them. You have to pull some tricks out of your bag.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you work on improvisation?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I think the key to being a good actor is to be present. Just to be present. I’m learning so much about that right now, and something that is helping me so much in my acting is yoga. Just breathing correctly. Being present is just as important in acting as it is in life, because things happen spontaneously.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you start doing short films?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — When I was 18, I picked up a Super 8 camera and decided to try making movies, too. I made a movie about Salome, which I also edited, in order to learn how to use the equipment. I was inspired by a monologue I had done from Oscar Wilde’s Salome. I understood her so deeply. There are many layers of meaning in terms what she went through to get a head on a platter. And, I knew aesthetically how I wanted to portray it, so I had to tell the story my way.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You adapted the Oscar Wilde story?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I adapted the monologue. The movie is called The Madness of Salome. It’s about her descent into madness. It follows the way her emotions become increasingly frantic, until she just escapes into a fantasy in her head, because she can’t cope with her overwhelming feelings.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it a sort of self-portrait?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Maybe, but I understood her very deeply. And, I haven’t left Salome behind. I’ve been working on a new feature-length script for two years, which elaborates her story in the Bible, the last time you see her in the Bible. It’s another Salome at the crucifixion. I’m taking the story further.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Not the Oscar Wilde story again?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — No, the Bible version, which seems truer. In that story, her mother was the one who convinced her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, whom she still loved. I will just give you a clue. My feature film script takes Salome, and incorporates vampires. I know a lot about vampires, too.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it a childhood obsession?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, I think it is. I think the obsession with vampires comes from the blood aspect. I think having surgery at a young age, and being cut open, and having scars – that initiated my obsession with vampires. For sure.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What motivated you to go to LA and live there for one year?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I grew up in New York, and I needed a bigger place to dump my shit.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s not very clear.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I had a lot of stuff to get off my back and it was the perfect place. It’s soulless. LA is an enormous dump, and I could just leave it all. I also learned one or two things about the business out there, and I realized that I’m an artist who would rather apply myself to a few projects that I’m passionate about than go out for every audition.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You didn’t fit into the program in LA?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I tried to.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How many auditions a week?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Like five a week, 90% bullshit. That place sucks the life out of people. It has no soul or inspiration. I really don’t understand how most actors live there. You’re not around people, and you’re not interacting with normal people. Everyone you meet is in the business. It’s a very bizarre place.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You must get to know all the other actresses that go to the same audition.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Honestly, it was like tunnel vision. I was never aware of who was around me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There wasn’t a community of young actors and actresses that you could meet in the bars at night?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, there was, but they were all boring. If they ever had been interesting, they’d been too much influenced by Hollywood. I made some great friends in L.A., like Jack Nicholson and it was worth the time I spent there. I lived on the beach. I could breathe the ocean air, but once I got clear, and I wanted to go to a place with more soul, I came back to New York.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you in love with someone?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I was alone. I had boyfriends, but I was alone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s difficult to imagine Paz without someone special.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I’m definitely passionate and romantic. When I find someone I like, I’m completely, irrationally in love.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How old were you when you came back to New York?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Twenty-one. It’s a new life. When I got back to New York, I immediately started shooting a film called Pupa Papa Puta, which I directed and starred in. It was a very meaningful film for me, like the end of a part of my life. Because your experiences are not who you are, whatever conditions you grow up in. So, I was 21, back in NY, throwing away baggage and writing a film. I did two films last year : a horror film, and a film with Willem Dafoe called Anamorph. Now I have seven good films behind me. When I was in LA I did a film in Santa Cruz directed by David Arquette.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What does the title, Pupa Papa Puta, mean?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Pupa means doll, papa is dad, and puta means whore. One of those tongue twisters. It’s about child molestation, but I told it as a fairy tale. There is a toy maker who makes a doll that he can fuck, and there is this guy that comes and steals the doll. It’s also about people who love without loving, who fuck alone… The doll comes alive the way Pinocchio came alive, and then you see the repercussions that she goes through, realizing that it was her father. You have to see it. I can’t explain it. It’s all in black and white. I used old records in the soundtrack to get that fuzzy effect, like you have in an old movie.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What happens to the doll?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — She dies, and turns into a real girl. She’s dying in the street, and then is stripped of all her clothes. At the point that she’s naked, she’s striped away all of the pieces. She wiped away the debris of herself, of that life. You can interpret it any way you like. I don’t like to tell the ending because everyone gets a different idea from it. But it was important for me. It’s something that Black Book magazine put together with me and Crispin Glover.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In New York, now more than ever, the independent directors have really been consumed by the system. It’s more and more difficult.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Well, independent film scripts have become like every fucking film script that you ever read. It’s like every independent film is actually a studio film these days. If you go to a film festival, and every film is an independent film. But I’m not opposed to doing big Hollywood films. I’ve done big movies, and I’ll do more. It’s a matter of the substance of the role, and that’s it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — They really took over.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, they did. I’m starting my own film company. It’s called Paz y Amor, peace and love, my name in Spanish. I have a cameraman on call all the time, so we can manipulate real situations in an organic way.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your next project?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — My film premiere. And, I just did a modeling job for Alberta Ferreti, and, starting in month, I’ll do a film directed by Amy Redford with Anthony Mackie. Saffran Burrows and the legendary Amos Poe wrote it. Then I’m doing The Tourist with Ewen McGregor. Then I have another top secret project.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s a lot.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, but I don’t like talking about things that haven’t happened yet.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you superstitious?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — No. But erase all of that. Ask me what I have coming up again.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s coming up?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Top secret. I have several films coming out, and I’m in school. I’m studying fairytales at the New School, and I’m studying French. But my teacher picks on me. Elle est très méchante.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think your life is a fairytale?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I’m very romantic, so maybe I do look at my life like it’s a fairytale.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You like to look at yourself?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — No, I seek out beauty in others. So my attention is on you, not me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I wish that were true.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I’m fairly oblivious to it, actually. I had a man come up to me on Halloween night with you, and ask me what it’s like to know that every man in the room wants to fuck me? I said, I didn’t notice, because I really don’t notice. Because I’m a romantic, and I’m in love with someone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Why do you want to learn French?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — So many of my favorite films are in French, and my father lives in France now, and I love the way the language sounds. My favorite line in any movie ever was in a French film, La Belle et la Bête, by Cocteau, when she says to the beast: “J’aime avoir peur avec vous”. That was the sexiest thing I’d ever heard. Everybody is fucking scared in this world, but if you can just have somebody to hold on to, and be scared with. How beautiful is that?
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you describe the kind of men you fall in love with?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — I don’t think I have the best taste in men. The kind of man I fall in love with is a very simple man. He likes good food, good sex, and good wine. Simple.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you like a real man.
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Yeah, I like macho.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you trust men?
PAZ DE LA HUERTA — Is that a question for Purple Fashion? They have to pass a year or two with me, and maybe then I’ll trust them.
[Table of contents]
LondonRead the article
San FranciscoRead the article
MilanRead the article
New YorkRead the article
ParisRead the article
Monte-CarloRead the article
São PauloRead the article
Los AngelesRead the article
Summer 2007: Alex
by Terry Richardson
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
by Ariel Wizman
by Anna Dubosc
Paz de la Huerta
by Olivier Zahm
Retrospective Maison Martin Margiela
by Juergen Teller
Prête à tout
by Jeremy Scott
by Karl Lagerfeld
The New Decade Starts Now
by Alexei Hay
by Richard Bush
by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin
by Chikashi Suzuki
by Marcelo Krasilcic
by Terry Richardson
by Chikashi Suzuki
by Juergen Teller
A Place In Mind
by Stefano Pilati
by Juergen Teller
Letter to Olivier Zahm
by Thomas Hirschhorn
The Real Richard
by Glenn O'Brien
New York Nudes
by Marlene Marino
Oastia (the death of pasolini)
by Mehdi Belhaj Kacem