Penelope Cruz at the 80th Academy Awards, 2008, where she receives her golden statuette
for Best Supporting Actress as Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
By Jack Wright
PENÉLOPE CRUZ: Born in Alcobendas (28 April 1974), at the time a northern working-class Metropolitan Madrid.
Given her unpretentious middle-class background, one would wonder where she got that natural grace and glamour. Wherever it came from, it’s there. It grabs the camera.
Maybe something from all those years spent in the salon of her hairdresser mother, Encarna, has something to do with it. It couldn’t have come from her car dealer-mechanic father. Even her brother, Eduardo, who is his late progenitor’s namesake, isn’t inclined toward manual jobs unless strumming the guitar is. (Her kid sister Monica is a dancer-actress.)
And if Penélope Cruz has that sultry-intense-magnetic look about her, it would be should be because Andalusia is in her blood, her mother being from the hot south.
By all appearances, Penélope had a passion for ballet early in life. One has to have at least a love for it to put up with its rigors from the tender age of four which was when she started taking ballet lessons. However, that love waned as she teenaged. It’s not very clear why. In retrospect, it seems the ballet is most important only in that it has provided a solid underpinning for her acting career.
“Ballet gave me a military outlook: one does whatever is necessary, knuckles down whatever the weather, rain or shine. And I’m still at it,” she confesses.
Released in Spain in January 1990, when she wasn’t yet 16, Penélope saw Pedro Almodovar’s dark comedy-romance ¡Átame! (Tie me Up! Tie Me Down!). Synopsis: Just out from a mental institution, Ricky (Antonio Banderas) meets up with the love of his life, ex-junkie B-movie actress Marina (Victoria Abril) who doesn’t remember him. Ricky ties her up, thinking it’s just a matter of time before Marina returns his love.
¡Átame! was a huge critical success as well as that year’s highest-grossing domestic movie in Spain.
Penélope, who, as a child, was the leader who prodded her playmates to act out with her the roles in Charlie’s Angels, admits that viewing ¡Átame! was what cinched her decision to be an actress. Forget ballet.
Now an established actress of international repute, she remains the girl from Alcobendas, the place of a happy childhood and a teen. The incumbent mayor of the municipality said in a recent TV interview that she was not a laid-back teenager. “She was even the cover girl in some of the issues of local publications.”
Thus, when she won an Oscar for her role as the crazed Maria Elena in Woody Allen´s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Alcobendas was very much on her mind. In her acceptance speech, she confided: “I grew up in a place called Alcobendas where this,” referring to the golden statuette, “wasn’t a realistic dream.”
At 15, the Girl from Alcobendas debuted in a video for the Spanish avant-garde pop group Mecano’s new song, “La Fuerza del Destino (The Force of Destiny)”. And what a destiny! Chosen among more than 200 aspirants, this not only gave her a break in video acting which, one might say, is a stepping stone to acting in movies. Moreover, Mecano composer Nacho Cano, 28, and Penélope, would have an on-and-off love affair after recording the video. The affair lasted from 1991 to 1996.
The wannabe actress admitted that “at 16, I left home to live with [Nacho] and that left an indelible mark on me. He taught me a lot and I put him up on a pedestal.”
The turning point
The turn of the decade was fateful years for Penélope. Apart from the Mecano video, she was on the Spanish TV channel Telecinco teenage talk show “La Quinta Marcha”. In the same year (1991), she appeared nude in the “Elle et lui” episode of an erotic French TV series called Série rose. More importantly, she made her feature film debut as the lead female role in Jamón Jamón (translated literally to English as Ham Ham), a Spanish comedy where she portrayed Silvia, a young woman who is expecting a child with a man whose mother doesn’t approve of the relationship and pays Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce her, thereby sabotaging that relationship.
This might surprise some people but Jamon Jamon was a film not by Pedro Almodovar but by Bigas Luna. Cruz appeared topless in the film, making her “a major sex symbol”. In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News in 1999, she commented that her part in Jamon Jamon “was a great part, but…I wasn’t really ready for the nudity. . . But I have no regrets because I wanted to start working and [the film] changed my life.”
Charlie Rose of 60 Minutes noted that Penélope “became an overnight sensation as much for her nude scenes as for her talent”. Jamón Jamón received favorable reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: the film “stars actors of considerable physical appeal, most particularly Penélope Cruz as Silvia.”
It must be great to be so praised for one’s first feature film. And justifiably, too. For her performance, Cruz was nominated for a Spanish Actors Union Newcomer Award and a Goya Award for Best Actress. That same year she appeared in Belle Époque (winner of Academy Award for Best International Feature Film and no less than 9 Goyas) as the virginal Luz. People magazine noted that Cruz’s role as Luz showed she was versatile.
Obviously, it couldn’t be a bed of roses throughout for the Spanish actress who was then beginning to make her presence felt in a big way on the world stage. Playing Carmen Ramos in the Mexican-Spanish co-production comedy, Don’t Tempt Me (2001), she received a scathing review from film critic Jeff Vice of the Deseret News. “Unfortunately, casting Cruz as a tough girl is hilariously bad,” he pointed out. Cruz’s other movies in 2001 were Captain Corelli’s Mandolin where she played Pelagia who falls in love with another man while her fiancé is fighting in World War II; and Blow, with Johnny Depp. Mandolin was not well received by the critics either. It made $62 million worldwide, though, as did Vanilla Sky which received mixed reviews but made $200 million.
Blow was a let-down at the tills. And while Johnny Depp was commended for his excellent performance as George Jung, Penélope Cruz, as Jung’s wife Mirtha, was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.
Here is a list of some 90 awards and nominations won by Penélope Cruz for the 60+ movies she’s made so far.
Just a decade after the fateful early years of her acting career, Cruz was poised for stardom of global reach. And she was only 26 too. She had high-profile Hollywood movies lined up. No sooner had Captain Corelli’s Mandolin premiered than All the Pretty Horses, in which she co-starred with Matt Damon, hit the marquee. And there was Blow. Billy Bob Thornton, director of Pretty Horses, was so sure that “it doesn’t matter that she has an accent. She’s going to have a very, very long career. She’s too strong to hold down.”
By 2011, Penélope had received her star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, becoming the first Spanish actress, and still the only one, to own a star. (However, there are several Latinos before and after Penélope on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For example, in 2009, Cuban-born Cameron Díaz was inducted into the Walk, the first Latino to be so honored. After Penélope got her star, Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez was awarded hers in 2013. Shakira was a recipient in the same year as Penélope.)
And now she’s 47. And she has just earned a Volpi Cup for playing Janis in Parallel Mothers. She has become a rare species – that European actress that has attained lasting Hollywood stardom. Her career trajectory closely resembles Sophia Loren’s.
There’s another thing that Penélope Cruz has: a reputation for having affairs with her co-stars: Matt Damon (All the Pretty Horses), Nicholas Cage (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky). . . And other Hollywood heartthrobs she hasn’t co-starred with: Ben Stiller, Matthew McConaughey, Vincent Pérez, Timothy Dalton, Brad Pitt, Adrien Brody, etc.
So much so that her detractors claim she romances famous actors to promote her own career.
Against Hollywood’s SOP, though, Cruz never got married. That is, not until years after Spanish hunk Javier Bardem and she were first thrown together on the set of Jamon Jamon where there was palpable good chemistry between them. But once the shoot was over, they went their separate ways. They would ask mutual friends how the other was getting along and that was all. It took Vicky Cristina Barcelona in 2007 to make that happen.
Only then did Javier and Penélope begin dating. They got married in an intimate ceremony in July 2010 on their good friend Johnny Depp’s private island in the Bahamas. They have two kids, Leo, who was born in Los Angeles in 2011, and Luna, born in Madrid in 2013. Mostly, the family lives in their home in the exclusive Valdelagua subdivision in the town of Guadalix de la Sierra which is farther away from central Madrid than Alcobendas.
These days Penélope laughs when telling the story about Leo and Luna asking why she’s “always crying”. They refer to when she won the Coppa Volpi tearfully in Venice last 11 September 2021.
Will she cry if and when she takes another Oscar in March of 2022?
Per Variety’s early prediction, Parallel Mothers is a contender for Oscars Best Picture, Best Director (Pedro Almodovar), Best Actress (Penélope Cruz), and Best Original Screenplay (Pedro Almodovar).
Related post: The Cruz-Almodovar Dream Team Takes Venice by Storm
>Featured image/Joelle Maslaton, CC BY-SA3.0
>Alcobendas (2015)/Asqueladd, CC BY-SA3.0
>Penelope Cruz fractal photo/Dave Gates, CC BY2.0
>Atame poster uploaded by c@artelesmix, Fair use via Wikipedia
>Charlie’s Angels cast photo/ABC Television, PD
>Cruz at 18 (1992)/Batalletes 9 — Jamón Jamón, (RTVC, 1992).ogv: Ràdio Televisió de Cardedeu. CCBY3.0
>Jamon Jamon poster, Fair use via Wikipedia
>Vicky Cristina Barcelona/Bill Strain, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
>Captain Corelli’s Mandolin poster, Fair use via Wikipedia
>Cruz’s star at Hollywood Walk of Fame/Loren Javier, CC BY-ND2.0
>Cruz, awardee of the star on Walk of Fame/Angela George, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
>Vanilla Sky poster, Paramount Pictures, Fair use
>Bardem and Cruz at the Goya Awards, Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA4.0
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