Blanca Suarez

If someone were to describe the plot of the new Pedro Almodóvar film, the listener might fairly imagine something akin to The Human Centipede (2009) or Saw III (2006). Besides matricide, suicide, and fratricide, there is also forced cosmetic surgery, including a vaginoplasty—on a dude. But fear not. In the hands of the master Spanish auteur, The Skin I Live In is far from a gross-out. “He’s turned the whole genre around,” says one of the film’s stars, 22-year-old Spanish newcomer Blanca Suárez. “The film is nothing like a horror movie. It makes you think.” In typical Almodóvarian style, The Skin I Live In is sublimely over-the-top. “The first time I watched it,” Suárez remembers, “I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to burst out laughing, but I didn’t dare because the atmosphere was so dark.” In the film, Suárez plays Norma, a meek, mentally disturbed beauty seemingly straight out of a Tennessee Williams play and transplanted to the modern-day Spanish suburbs. After witnessing her mother’s suicide, Norma suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, among various other conditions. Even in a world populated by extreme characters, Norma might be the most out-there—she shifts from quiet to hysterical in a flash. “When playing an insane character, you tend to overact,” she explains. “Pedro wanted me to do the opposite.” Most of Suárez’s scenes are with Antonio Banderas, who plays her father, a vengeful plastic surgeon. Although the actress is no novice in front of the camera, sharing the big screen with an established star like Banderas proved daunting. “He was aware that it was stressful,” she admits. “He normalized things and said, ‘This is business as usual.’ ” Suárez’s role in The Skin I Live In is a far cry from her sexpot public image in Spain, where she began acting at 18, and is mostly known for playing a boarding-school ice princess on the teen horror-soap El Internado. Now Suárez is back to her usual business of starring in the second season of El Barco, a sci-fi drama. She isn’t sure if The Skin I Live In will be her Penélope Cruz–like vehicle to catapult her to Hollywood. “This is quite an unusual film,” she warns. “Not everyone will be prepared to accept it.”