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Penelope Cruz Biography


Home > Actresses > C > Cruz, Penelope > Biography


Birth Name: Penelope Cruz
Born: 04/28/1974
Birth Place: Madrid, ES




Named for Joan Manuel Serrat's 1967 song, "Penélope," Penélope Cruz Sanchez was born on April 27, 1974, in Madrid, Spain. The firstborn child of salesman Eduardo Sanchez and his hairdresser wife, Encarna, young Penélope demonstrated a flair for drama at an early age and often recruited her younger siblings, Monica and Eduardo, Jr., to perform in family skits. Starting from the age of six, Cruz studied classical ballet at Spain's National Conservatory under the intense tutelage of prominent dance instructors. In her mid-teens, however, Cruz got bitten by the acting bug and decided to pursue a career as an actress.

Kicking off her thespian career in 1989, Cruz appeared in a series of high-profile music videos and TV shows before making her inevitable leap to the big screen. At 18, Cruz made an impressive film debut in the Spanish romantic-comedy "Jamón, jamón" (1992) directed by Bigas Luna. A big winner at the Venice Film Festival, "Jamón, jamón" was largely remembered today for Cruz's nude scenes. In later interviews, Cruz would recall the experience of shooting the intense film as having been "psychologically scarring," due to her youthful naiveté and inexperience. Cruz had far a better experience with her next project, the period romance, "Belle Époque" (1992). Directed by award-winning filmmaker Fernando Trueba, "Belle Époque" marked Cruz's her first leading role as Luz, one of four sisters vying for the love of a handsome soldier. In addition to garnering the Academy Award that year for Best Foreign Picture, "Belle Époque" also took home several Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars. Capitalizing on the huge career boost afforded by "Belle Époque," Cruz quickly racked up more screen credits in her native Spain, establishing herself as a major leading lady.

In 1997, Cruz would begin the first of her many collaborations with famed director, Pedro Almodóvar. The first was the psychological thriller, "Carne Tremula." Based on the 1986 novel, Live Flesh by British novelist Ruth Rendell, the film starred Cruz's frequent co-star (and future real-life boyfriend), Javier Bardem. Two years later, Cruz and Almodóvar reunited to make the brilliant "Todo sobre mi madre" (1999). A blunt, brutally honest examination of drug addiction, AIDS, and the role of women in modern Spanish society, "Todo sobre mi madre" ("All About my Mother") won scores of accolades; most notably the 2000 Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. While always a competent actress, under Almodóvar's direction, Cruz's performances transcended expectations. The revered director seemed to agree, making Cruz his muse of sorts - much like a Marlene Dietrich-Josef von Sternberg collaboration, minus the drama and controlling influence. Over the next decade, she and Almodóvar would collaborate at least twice more, including 2006's Oscar-nominated "Volver," followed by "Los Abrazos rotos." (2009).

Cruz's next project, the romantic fantasy-comedy "Woman on Top" (2000), however, would prove to be a watershed moment for her career. Starring as Isabella, a talented chef who suffers from motion sickness, "Woman on Top" delighted critics and showed Cruz in top form, combining her sultry dark looks and razor sharp comic timing to excellent effect. The film's critical acclaim led to Cruz landing two co-starring roles the following year in American films; first, opposite rumored on-set boyfriend Matt Damon in "All the Pretty Horses" (2000) and later, opposite Johnny Depp in the intense drug drama "Blow" (2001). While the films enjoyed only mediocre box office receipts, critical praise for Cruz's performances were uniformly positive, despite comments that her English still needed a bit of work.

Later that year, Cruz officially "arrived" in Hollywood by landing a coveted supporting role in the Tom Cruise vehicle "Vanilla Sky" (2001). An ambitious drama directed by Cameron Crowe, "Vanilla Sky" grossed over $100 million domestically. Although reviews were generally mixed, a handful of critics - including Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun-Times - named "Vanilla Sky" as one of the best films of 2001. The movie - not to mention Cruz's career - also benefited tremendously from publicity fueled by news of an on-set Cruz-Cruise romance - especially considering he was still married to Nicole Kidman at the time. He and Kidman would separate not long after, leading to an acknowledged relationship between the biggest star in the world and the relatively unknown Spanish vixen. The couple eventually broke up in 2004 - amid rumors that the actress was not fully behind the Scientology religion her boyfriend so fervently embraced. But unlike the bitter split between Cruise and Kidman, he and Cruz remained friends.

Cruz's next movie, "Sahara" (2005) turned into a similar P.R. coup. Although the film was considered a huge flop, the buzz surrounding Cruz's off-screen relationship with her "Sahara" co-star Matthew McConaughey helped the movie open at number one at the box office, raking in over $18 million in its first weekend. In truth, Cruz's foray into decidedly more commercial fare upset many of her fans, who believed her talents were being squandered in Hollywood blockbuster wannabes. Luckily, 2006 proved to be a banner year for Cruz in many respects. Professionally speaking, Cruz regained a great deal of her artistic street cred by eschewing Hollywood for her next project and going back to the basics. Teaming up again with her lucky charm, director Pedro Almodóvar, Cruz scored rave reviews for her performance in "Volver."

A big winner at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, "Volver" also received two Golden Globe nominations that year: one for Best Actress and the other for Best Foreign Language Film. Cruz would also go on to make history as the first Spanish star to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. That same year, Cruz also signed a $2 million deal to become the face of Lancôme cosmetics, adding to her international profile and her reputation as a fashion-forward icon. Back on the big screen, Cruz delivered a strong comedic performance in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008), playing the beautiful, talented and mentally unstable ex-wife of an equally brilliant Spanish artist (Javier Bardem), who woos two American women (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) on summer vacation. Off-screen, Cruz began dating her equally beautiful co-star, Bardem. Hailed by critics for her fiery, but often touching performance, Cruz received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. She also earned Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit award nominations, then reeled in the big one when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Getting back to work after her big win, Cruz starred in "Nine" (2009), Rob Marshall's musical loosely based on Fellini's "8 ½" (1963) that focused on a struggling film director (Daniel Day-Lewis) who tries to make a movie while dealing with all the demanding women in his life - his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Cruz), his star (Nicole Kidman) and even his diseased mother (Sophia Loren). For her work in the film, she received Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She next reunited with director and old friend Almodóvar for "Broken Embraces" (2009), a neo-noir about a writer blinded from a car accident who pines for the lost love of his life (Cruz).