Paz de la Huerta: Behind the Nude

Scott Macaulay chats with Paz de la Huerta, the actress who plays the enigmatic Nude in Jim Jarmusch's latest film, The Limits of Control.

One of the great pleasures of Jim Jarmusch’s new The Limits of Control is solving for oneself at least a few of the film’s many mysteries. The story of a Lone Man who treks across Spain on an assignment involving matchboxes full of diamonds, coded messages and a series of idiosyncratic messengers, The Limits of Control is both an immersive film environment requiring viewers to interact with its textured riddles and a spy movie. Among these puzzles is a character simply identified in the credits as “Nude” who is played by Paz de la Huerta. “She’s an enigma,” de la Huerta says about her character, who is first seen naked and pointing a gun while reclining in the Lone Man’s bed. “Hopefully the audience will feel about her what they wish.”

The 24-year-old De la Huerta was born in New York City and made her screen debut in Nicholas Hytner’s 1998 film The Object of My Affection, broke out with her part the next year in Lasse Hallström’s The Cider House Rules, and has since alternated between studio films and independent movies like Ethan Hawke’s Chelsea Walls and Amy Redford’s The Guitar. While growing up, she also bounced between New York and Spain, where she spent summers with her father. “My father lived on a ranch when I was a little girl,” she says, “and we were completely separated from city life. I thought the Spanish landscape had a lot of mystery to it — for me, there are so many hidden things in Spain — and the women there are quite secretive.”

Of the Nude’s secrets, de la Huerta says, “She has an innocence about her, but she’s also a bit tragic and very mysterious. I think she’s very honest but then again she plays a lot of games. She has this deep connection to the Lone Man. For me to play her, I had to tune into something in myself, a sense of doom.”

She continues about the experience of making the film: “When I do a film, I start living the life that I think my character might live, and [when I did this], strange things started to happen. It was all about being open to the moment, being there in Spain, inside this haunted, mysterious building [Madrid’s modernist Torres Blancas]. Also, for me film is a group effort, and the way Jim makes movies, with an amazing team [around him] — he made me feel secure and safe so that I could go really far with my role. The brilliance of Jim is that he makes an atmosphere that is so complete from the moment you walk on the set. Everything is created so purely for you that you just have to be present. ”

In mid-May, de la Huerta will be seen in another high-profile film, French provocateur Gaspar Noé’s long-awaited Enter the Void. She plays a stripper in Tokyo who is looked after by the spirit of her slain brother as he departs from the world. “It was an incredible experience,” she says of her experience on the film, “both completely healing and traumatizing at the same time. I was alone in that foreign city for four months while making the film, and I feel I lived what that girl, Linda, goes through.”

As we conclude our conversation, de la Huerta, who has a passion for music and is also a painter and designer, tells me that after shooting The Limits of Control in Spain that she’s become interested in flamenco. “I may want to commit to it,” she says, “become a flamenco singer or dancer.” But like Jarmusch, who chose as the key flamenco piece in the film a peteneras, the slower, tragic and somewhat taboo form of the genre, de la Huerta is attracted to its darker and, yes mysterious elements. “Making Jim’s film and being in Spain was very emotional for me,” she says. “My character’s sense of doom and all that she goes through is very much like flamenco, with all the tristesse.  In even beauty there is a sadness.”