Here at the bathhouse, Paz spends the afternoon flirting and flaunting her way through the saunas and hammams. At one point, a group of bankers enters the room. When they begin singing a rap song, Paz is quick to tell them to be quiet, reminding them not to give Americans a bad name with their “rude behavior.” In need of a massage and out of money, Paz proceeds to persuade an employee to give her a free treatment; the masseuse picks up a bushel of oak branches and whacks Paz’s backside as she gives out a yelp: “Harder!”
María de la Paz Elizabeth Sofía Adriana de la Huerta was born in New York City in 1984. Her father, Iñigo de la Huerta, is the Spanish Duke of Mandas and Villanueva; her mother, Judith Bruce, works as an authority on women’s issues in Third World countries. They were early Soho pioneers, moving to 421 West Broadway in 1980, when the neighborhood was the heart of the city’s arts scene. Mary Boone’s gallery had recently opened downstairs, and Larry Gagosian lived above them on the fifth floor. They vacationed in the Hamptons and the De la Huerta family ranch near Toledo, Spain.
Paz’s childhood was spent visiting art galleries in a baby stroller and dancing to classical music in the family’s living room. At 5, she painted a book entitled “The American Mansion,” a fantastical collection of buildings, houses, and furniture. She insisted on wearing only silk underwear, and had a preference for antique lingerie. Her father bought her a $200 French bed for her dollhouse and elaborate flamenco costumes, though throughout much of her childhood—especially during a protracted dispute with his relatives in Europe—he couldn’t support the family. Abusive and often drunk, he would disappear for days on end.
Paz’s parents split when she was 12, and Iñigo returned to Spain. Judith increased her workload to support her family, consulting with the U.N. and traveling internationally. Paz’s older sister ran with a crowd of drug addicts, and Paz would come home to see people nodding off in the living room. She shaved her head, became a punk rocker, and struck up a friendship with a homeless family living in a squat on the Lower East Side. One day in 1999, when the family—Michael, his wife, Uh-Oh, their daughter, Elu, and a pit bull—were forced to leave the squat, Paz invited them home. They stayed for two years.
“She was just so different from any girl that age,” says the photographer Tina Barney. “I was just dazzled by her punk clothes. They were as cool and rebellious as you can be.” When Paz was 14, Barney photographed her doing her makeup in the mirror of her bedroom, Paz’s mother looking on in horror in the background. The photo, a reverse Norman Rockwell portrait of a very downtown New York family, was published in W magazine and later exhibited at MoMA. At the end of 1999, Paz appeared in the role of Tobey Maguire’s young crush in The Cider House Rules. (Judith had hidden the shooting locations from Iñigo, fearing that he would pull Paz from the production out of spite.)
Paz attended Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn, where she met Zac Posen. “We were taking a costume class where I first began making dresses,” he remembers. “She was this little precocious pixie; all the girls were jealous of her because she had been in The Cider House Rules. We were freaks, but we became corset-making freaks together.” With the help of an acting coach, she honed her craft, and by 20, she had appeared in Ethan Hawke’s Chelsea Walls, Riding in Cars With Boys, and A Walk to Remember.
Paz has spent her twenties continuing to work in feature films, as well as acting in over a dozen short films and DIY student-run creative ventures, two of which she has directed herself. “Actually, it wasn’t her acting that initially attracted me to her at all,” says Gaspar Noé about casting her in Enter the Void. “Her short films are incredible personal excavations, and as much as I love working with her, I think she is her own best director.” Still, paying gigs have been touch and go. At one point last year, desperate for work, Paz got a job serving lawsuits to older men, approaching them in nightclubs to hand them legal documents. Nightclubs are venues she knows well. She’s been clubbing since she was a teenager, and in the days of the Beatrice Inn, it was almost impossible to enter the cavernous den without running into Paz, rock-star boyfriend du jour in tow. She’s dated Orlando Bloom, Jack Nicholson, and a slew of other celebrities. One night in 2007, the New York Post reported that Paz was “dancing wildly, careening all over the place, crashing into people and tables,” and “doing a striptease during that song ‘I Touch Myself,’ pulling down her top, pulling up her dress, making a real gruesome spectacle.”