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Penelope Cruz - Goddesses of the Silver Screen
347    Dibyendu Banerjee    31/01/2024

Noted for her portrayal of sultry characters and known outside her country as the Spanish enchantress, Penélope Cruz Sánchez, the charismatic Spanish film star, was born on 28 April 1974, in Alcobendas, Madrid to Eduardo Cruz, a retailer and car mechanic and Encarna Sánchez, a hairdresser. She had a happy childhood, loved to act while playing with her friends, pretending to be someone else, even used to re-enacted TV commercials for the amusement of her family.

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However, initially, she focused on dance, studied Classical ballet for nine years in The Madrid Royal Conservatory, a music college in Madrid and then took three years of Spanish ballet training and also four years of theatre at the school of María Cristina Rota Fernández, an Argentine-born popular acting coach settled in Spain.

penlope cruz

Penélope became interested in acting as a teenager, after watching the Spanish dark romantic comedy film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), directed by Pedro Almodóvar and at the age of 15, she won a modelling agency competition in which more than 300 other girls had competed.

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The resulting contract landed her several roles in Spanish TV shows and music videos, including the Elle et lui episode of an erotic French TV series Série rose, in which she appeared nude.

penlope cruz
With Javier Bardem in Jamon Jamon (1992)

Nevertheless, those TV shows paved the way for her career on the big screen as she made her feature film debut as the lead female role in the Spanish comedy drama art house film Jamón Jamón (1992). In the film, she played the role of Sylvia, a young woman who is expecting her first child with a man whose mother does not approve of the relationship and attempts to sabotage it by paying a potential underwear model and would-be bullfighter, to seduce Sylvia. On release of the film, Penélope became an instant sensation as much for her nude scenes as for her talent, highly acclaimed by the reputed critics, won a Goya Award for Best Actress and was also nominated for a Spanish Actors Union Newcomer Award.

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In the same year, she drew international attention for her appearance in Belle Époque (1992), which apart from several Goya Awards, also won an Academy Award for best foreign film. In the film, Penélope played the role of the innocent Luz, one of four sisters vying for the love of a handsome army deserter and established the keynote to her sexuality on screen. Interestingly, her first film, El laberinto griego (The Greek Labyrinth 1993), although released in 1993, was completed in 1991, much before the release of the above films.

penlope cruz
Penélope Cruz in Open Your Eyes (1997)

Penélope Cruz worked with the famous Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar several times, which started from Carne trémula (Live Flesh 1997), in which she appeared as Isabel Plaza Caballero, a prostitute who gives birth on a bus and in the same year also portrayed the lead actress role of Sofia in Abre Los Ojos (Open your Eyes 1997) a sci-fi thriller, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, which was a huge hit in Spain, earning positive reviews, as well as eight Goyas.

penlope cruz

After that Penélope played the role of Louise in Twice Upon a Yesterday (1998), appeared as Pilar in her first English-language role in Talk of Angels (1998), and portrayed the character of Josepha O’Neil in her first American film, the contemporary western The Hi-Lo Country (1998). Apart from that, she also appeared in the Spanish period drama The Girl of Your Dreams (La niña de tus ojos 1998), in which she played the role of Macarena Granada, a singer and part of a Francoist film troupe, travelling from Spain during the Spanish Civil War to Nazi Germany. Penélope was profusely acclaimed for her performance in the film, while her role as Macarena was considered as her largest role to date and she received a Goya Award, Spanish Actors' Union Award and was also nominated for a European Film Award.

penlope cruz
In All About My Mother (1999)

However, her first big international hit was All About My Mother (1999), directed by Pedro Almodóvar, in which she appeared as Sister María Rosa Sanz, a pregnant nun with AIDS, which earned favourable reviews and was commercially successful, but performed better at the box office internationally than domestically. As a result, Cruz suddenly found herself in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. In the same year, she also appeared as Pepita Tudó 'La Maja', in Volavérunt (1999) an erotic costume drama set in the early 19th century Spanish court of King Carlos IV, directed by Bigas Luna.

penlope cruz
Penélope in Woman on Top (2000)

The first big project of Penélope Cruz at the beginning of the new millennium was the romantic comedy Woman on Top (2000), about a chef with bewitching culinary skills and a severe case of motion sickness, in which she appeared as Isabella Oliveira and also starred alongside Matt Damon in Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses (2000).

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With Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky (2001)

In the next year, apart from starring opposite Johnny Depp in Blow (2001), a film based on the life of George Jung, the infamous cocaine dealer in the States during the 1970s, she appeared as Sofia Serrano, the love interest of David Aames, played by Tom Cruise, in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky (2001), a remake of a successful film in which she featured, Open Your Eye (1997) and her performance was acclaimed as an enchanting screen presence. Her last film in the year was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001), in which played the role of Pelagia, who falls in love with another man while her fiancé is in battle during the Second World War. Although the film was not well received by critics, it made $62 million worldwide.

penlope cruz
In Head in the Clouds (2004)

Her other films during the decade include the horror film Gothika (2003), in which she appeared in the supporting role of Chloe Sava, a patient at a mental hospital, the romantic drama Head in the Clouds (2004), set in the 1930s, the action adventure Sahara (2005) and the Western comedy film Bandidas (2006), in which she appeared alongside her good friend Salma Hayek, as the lusty dream team. Later, she appeared as Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula, in Pedro Almodóvar’s critically acclaimed film Volver (2006) and became the first Spanish actress ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, alongside nomination for the Golden Globe, the BAFTA Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award. In addition to that, she also shared a Best Actress Award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival with five of her co-stars, as well as receiving a Goya Award and European Film Award.

penlope cruz
With Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

In the later half of the decade, Penélope Cruz appeared as Consuela Castillo, the young lover of an aging college professor played by Ben Kingsley, in Isabel Coixet’s film Elegy (2008) and in the same year, also appeared as María Elena, a mentally unstable woman in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), starring alongside Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem and became the first, and to date only, Spanish actress to ever be awarded an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. In addition to that, she received a Goya Award and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film and also earned a Golden Globe and SAG nomination.

penlope cruz
In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

In the next year, Penélope appeared as Lena in Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos 2009), for which she received nominations for the Satellite Awards and European Film Awards. She then starred again with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), an American fantasy ruffian film, in which she portrayed the strong-willed daughter of the pirate Blackbeard. However, when she became confirmed about her pregnancy during filming, the producers hired her sister Mónica Cruz to double for Penélope in risky scenes. The film was released in the United States on 20 May 2011 and just before its release, Cruz became the first Spanish actress to receive a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 1 April 2011. Her subsequent important films include Woody Allen’s romantic ensemble comedy film To Rome with Love (2012), the crime drama The Counselor (2013), the Spanish-language period film The Queen of Spain (2016) and the mystery film Murder on the Orient Express (2017), based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name. In 2021, she again reunited with Almodóvar for the film Parallel Mothers (2011), which centres on a relationship between two single mothers and received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, her fourth nomination overall, for her performance in the film.

penlope cruz
In Parallel Mothers (2011)

In her personal life, Penélope Cruz had a three-year relationship with her co-star Tom Cruise while filming Vanilla Sky (2001), which ended in January 2004. In July 2010, she married the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, her co-star in her breakthrough role as Silvia in Jamón Jamón (1992). They have a son, born in January 2011 in Los Angeles and a daughter, born in July 2013 in Madrid.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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