On tonight’s show (28th January), Graham welcomes Oscar-winner Penélope Cruz, iconic Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, X-Men star James McAvoy, rising star Nicôle Lecky, and singer songwriter Ella Henderson

Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar talk about working together for the seventh time, James McAvoy reveals an improvised scene that didn’t make the cut, Nicôle Lecky talks about her ‘high octane’ drama, and Ella Henderson says she needed time away from the limelight to grow

Penélope and Pedro, chat about their new film Parallel Mothers.  

Pedro, talking about working together seven times, says, “For me she is the perfect type of mother.  Before Penelope the type of housewife in Spanish cinema was short and fat – not attractive at all.  Penelope is like an Italian housewife, like Sophia Loren.  Since Penelope all housewives in Spanish films are now very attractive!”

Talking more about the film, Pedro says, “I wrote the first draft in 2009 but I left I because I wasn’t completely happy with it.  I took advantage of being alone during the pandemic to concentrate and re-write it.  To write was the only way to escape the awful situation.”

Asked whether his mother ever saw his work, he says, “She was happy and very proud that her boy was successful, but she never saw my films because she had the intuition that I was a little dirty.  In the 80s and 90s I was actually a very dirty storyteller!”

Penélope talking about the birth scenes in the film, says, “Pedro is so great because he knows so much about almost everything but when there is something he is not an expert in, he is not afraid to ask questions.  He gave me and the other women a lot of freedom and trust.  He pointed the camera at me and just said, ‘Have a baby’”

Revealing her great love for the baby on set, she says, “We were all trying to take care of her and compete for her affection.  I am sure she was really confused.  I also had a crazy reaction when anyone tried to take the real baby or the prop doll away from me.  I think it is a good sign that after four months of rehearsal and three months of shooting that things start to happen in your head.”

James, talking about the challenge of making the improvised thriller My Son, says, “The entire film for me was improvised – the rest of the cast and crew had a script and had all been rehearsing with each other and another actor playing me for weeks.  I had to learn what was happening next as I went along – it was crazy.”  

Revealing one of his improvised scenes didn’t make the cut, he says, “The French director designed the whole thing to preserve the first take so whatever I did was as real, natural and truthful as possible.  Usually, we captured the first thing I did and moved on, but this one time a car came out of nowhere and I was scared so I decided I should hide.  I climbed up a tree – and I went high.  I felt really proud of myself, but when I got down the director said, ‘I need you to do it a different way, because how do you say in English?  It is just a bit f**king stupid!’’

Nicôle, talking about writing and staring in the new BBC Three drama series Mood, which she describes as “A high octane ride,” says, “It has a lot of heart and a lot of humour. I saw a shocking website so did a lot of research and talked to loads of women.  I felt there wasn’t anything on television like a modern-day tale of how women with ambitions to be an actress or a singer were getting into sex work.”

Asked about the fabulous musical numbers, she says, “We had so much fun, and I would turn up on set and think, ‘How the hell have I pulled this off? How have I convinced the BBC to do this?”

Ella performs Brave live in the studio before joining Graham for a chat.

Talking about the success of her first album in 2014, and asked if there was pressure to produce another, she says, “I was 18 and had amazing success and an amazing ride with it, but when I came back from all of that I realised I had nothing relatable to write about, so I just wanted to live a bit, I just didn’t feel normal.  

“I needed the time away to grow – the transition from teenager to young woman is crazy enough out of the limelight so I didn’t want to do it in it.  I did a lot of writing in that time, but I didn’t want to put the pressure on myself – I was like, ‘I’ll know when I am ready to step forward again.’  You have to be mentally prepared for this just as much as musically.”

And finally, Graham pulls the lever on more foolhardy audience members brave enough to sit in The Big Red Chair.

The Graham Norton Show, Friday 28th January BBC One 10.35pm and available on BBC iPlayer.

Notes to editors – All quotes in this release were made during the recording of the show but won’t necessarily appear in the final version.

Next week (4th February) Graham’s guests include Taron Egerton, Minnie Driver, Uma Thurman, Ariana DeBose, and Lola Young.