Award winning and Oscar-nominated, beautiful and multi-lingual, actress Penélope Cruz was born in San Sebastain de los Reyes, Madrid, Spain, to working-class parents, Eduardo, a car mechanic, and Encarna, a hairdresser.
She is the eldest of three: her brother Eduardo, is eleven years younger and a singer; her sister Mónica, who looks very much like her, is three years younger and enjoying a career as an actor and a flamenco dancer. Cruz was a natural performer who amused her family as an infant, re-enacting TV adverts for their entertainment. However, she took up studying dance for her choice of performance arts. She studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain’s National Conservatory and also in New York, going on to dance under a series of prominent dancers.
However, when she was 15, Cruz, found her true vocation after winning a talent audition in the midst of 300 other girls. Following this early success she landed several roles on Spanish TV shows and music videos, paving the way for a career in films. One of her first appearances on television was in a music video from a Spanish band called Mecano. Soon afterwards Cruz and band member Nacho Cano were an item. As well as featuring in music videos, Cruz was chosen to present a Spanish television show, 'La Quinta Marcha' aimed at an adolescent audience. In the early days of her career, Cruz exploited her sexiness and took a role in the French erotic TV series 'Serie Rose'.
In 1992, she made her film debut in the dark, surreal and erotic film, 'Jamón Jamón', where she played La hija de puta. Two years earlier, Bigas Luna, the film’s director and co-writer, was unable to cast Cruz as the lead character in the torrid Edades de Lulu, as she was too young. Fixated with her, Luna waited and his patience resulted in her breakthrough performance in Jamón Jamón. Cruz was nominated ‘Best Newcomer’ by the Spanish Actors’ Union, ‘Best Lead Actress’ from the Goya awards and Fotogramas de Plata’s ‘Best Movie Actress’. Cruz is said to maintain the film psychologically scarred her after being required to do nudity and sex scenes.
In her next film she played Elise, in the thriller 'El Laberinto Griego', ('The Greek Labyrinth'), released in 1993. She went on to appear briefly in another thriller; Timothy Dalton’s 1992 TV film, 'Framed'.
Next Cruz played Luz in 'Belle époque' aka 'The Age of Beauty' (1992). Her character was one of four sisters out to seduce a handsome army deserter. The film won an Oscar for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ and amassed a huge amount of gongs elsewhere, including a BAFTA for ‘Best Film not in the English Language’ and virtually swept the Goya Awards (Spain's Academy Awards) in 1993, Cruz won the Spanish Actors’ Union Award for ‘Film: Supporting Performance’. With an impressive apprenticeship to the craft, Cruz earned her place in Spanish cinema as a leading lady. Her resume continued to grow over the following few years, clocking up three or four films each year.
In 1997 came a turning point for her already successful career: Taking the role of Isabel Plaza Caballero in 'Carne Tremula', aka 'Live Flesh'. The romantic thriller was subsequently nominated for an Award from the Spanish Actors’ Union for ‘Film Performance in A Minor Role’. This was the first time she worked with internationally renowned director Pedro Almodóvar, who in turn became her vehicle for global fame and life-long friend. Almodóvar went onto use Cruz in future films – she was his muse, and are very close to this day. Although Almodóvar is said to be gay, he clearly adores her feminine attributes. Describing Cruz, he enthused: “Those eyes, her neck, her shoulders, her breasts! Penélope has got one of the most spectacular cleavages in world cinema.”
Her next film was a sci-fi thriller and ‘Art House Film’, 'Abre Los Ojos' aka 'Open Your Eyes', where she played Sofia, who was caught in a love-triangle. The film impressed Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise so much, that they virtually translated it word-for-word into English and remade it as 'Vanilla Sky'.
Still in 1997, Cruz also proved she is an actress with a conscience and took two months away from working to volunteer in Uganda. She also took time out to visit Mother Teresa’s children’s sanctuary in Calcutta - setting up her own non-governmental organisation to support homeless girls and tuberculosis sufferers in India. Cruz now uses her voice in Public Service Announcements recorded for WFP to speak out about the 800 million people who live on the edge of starvation. She has also made a corporate video calling for support for the agency in its efforts to stop 24,000 people dying of hunger every day.
'Hi-Lo Country' in 1998 was her first English language film. In this cowboy film, Cruz played Josepha who cared deeply for Billy Crudup’s character Pete; playing along side Woody Harrelson as Big Boy. The film was a story of the lasting bond of friendship between two hard-living men. Cruz earned a nomination from ALMA Awards for ‘Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture’. 1999 saw Cruz hit the jackpot playing a nun, in another film directed by Almodóvar, 'Todo Sobre Mi Madre' aka 'All About My Mother'. The Spanish film won an Oscar and a BAFTA for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ and Almodóvar also picked up a number of awards that year for his acclaimed direction. With such a well-respected film ‘under her belt’ Cruz was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
At the age of twenty-five, Cruz made the bold decision to move to the centre of the film industry’s universe: Hollywood. Fully in command and on top of her career, she took on the role of a control freak and successful chef in 'Woman on Top' (2000). Although this romantic comedy was an English-language film, the sound track had a Latin flavour and her character was Brazilian. In Billy Bob Thornton’s western 'All the Pretty Horses' (2000), with the tag line: "Some passions can never be tamed", Cruz was rumoured to be the paramour of Matt Damon. Following this meaty role, Cruz did curb her desire for animal flesh and became a vegetarian. Cruz was nominated ‘Favourite Actress – Drama/Romance’ by the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.
Now she had made the transition to English-speaking films and with Los Angeles as her home. Next on Cruz’s agenda and call sheet, was to star opposite Johnny Depp in 'Blow' (2001). In this true story, Cruz played Jung’s wife; a beautiful, self-indulgent party-girl named Mirtha. Filmed on the Greek island of Crete, 'Captain Corelli’s Mandolin' (2001) saw Cruz play Pelagia, a doctor’s daughter and love interest for Corelli played by Nicolas Cage. Like herself, her character was an educated and strong-willed woman. She went on to be nominated in the European Film Awards for ‘Best Actress’.
In 'Vanilla Sky' (2001), Cruz picked a pay cheque of two million US dollars up along with an ALMA Awards nomination for ‘Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. The film starring Tom Cruise was a re-make of 'Abre Los Ojos', one of her earlier projects from 1997 – she played the same part of Sophia. Although Cruz was now an internationally renowned actress, 'Vanilla Sky' was the film that made her a household name as she became famous for being Tom Cruise’s girlfriend. They were splashed across tabloids and gossip magazines world wide – after all, they not only looked like each other, they had the same surname! It was a symbiotic relationship: she raised her profile in America while Tom raised his image as an irresistible Hollywood hunky-heart-throb.
Nonetheless, their relationship only lasted until January 2004 but they are still good friends: Penélope was one of the first people to visit Tom’s new born baby girl Suri. She remains resolutely private about her personal life and loyal to anyone who has meant anything to her. She claimed: “Tom is a very good man, and I am very close to his whole family. I love his children, and his mum, and all of his family, and he’s a great man.”
Unlike Tom, Penélope didn’t follow Scientology but has studied it. Having read many books on the subject, she has maintained Scientology helped her with things in her life and grateful to it because of what she has learned. Cruz also argued Scientology has the best anti-drug programme in the world and deserves a lot of credit for it – it has helped some of her friends, in the past, to overcome drug addictions.
Cruz’s next film was 'Waking Up in Reno' (2002) which saw her play Brenda the Call Girl, alongside fellow cast Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Swayze. The romantic comedy was about two trashy couples who headed for a holiday in Reno to see a Monster Truck show and in turn, revealed their immorality. 'Masked and Anonymous' (2003) written by Bob Dylan and Larry Charles, saw Cruz star along side Dylan and Jeff Bridges as Pagan Lace. Set against a fictitious backdrop of a nation on the brink of revolution, it was a story about slimy promoters who planned a benefit concert and wanted a performance from legendary singer Jack Fate (Dylan), who had been sprung from jail. A rock journalist (Bridges) investigated the concert, attempting to determine just who would benefit.
Cruz also learned Italian because she wanted a part in the Italian film, 'Non Ti Muovere' (2004) aka 'Don't Move'. It paid off and she landed the role of Italia, a sexy downtown mistress to a successful surgeon. For this she won two ‘Best Actress’ awards and was nominated twice for ‘Best Lead Actress’. In 2005, she appeared in 'Sahara', a funny action and adventure film, where Cruz played Eva Rojas, a doctor searching for the source of a plague that had broken out in Africa. Alongside her was Dirk Pitt, played by Matthew McConaughey, on a mission to discover a battleship hidden somewhere under the Sahara desert.
Despite opening at number one in the US box office and grossing $18 million on its first weekend, the film flopped and failed to make as much as was used to produce it. In fact, Sahara is considered one of the biggest financial failures in Hollywood history, but this did not derail Cruz's career. She and McConaughey began a year long romantic relationship that started during filming. Cruz was later reported to have said it was too hard to have a relationship when you only see the other person every six weeks [due to filming in different locations].
'Chromophobia' (2005) was an ensemble film, created by Martha Fiennes who wrote it, her brother Ralph Fiennes starred in it and Magnus Fiennes conducted the film’s musical score. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The film was shot entirely in the UK and the Isle of Man. Cruz played Gloria (yet another mistress) in this dark comedy drama that focussed on characters in a society where privilege and birth were no longer powerful enough to protect the fortunate few, and where the American values of money, beauty and success have become the cornerstones of contemporary London life.
'Bandidas' (2006) was another film written by Luc Besson, this time in conjunction with Robert Mark Kamen. The comedy western’s plot line states: In turn-of-the-century Mexico, two very different women become a bank-robbing duo in an effort to combat a ruthless enforcer terrorizing their town. Cruz, who played Maria, got to work for the first time along side her best friend Salma Hayek who played Sara. The pair started a rumour they were a lesbian couple after Cruz put her hand on Hayek’s bottom at a press day for the film. 'Volver' aka 'To Return' (2006) was another film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Here at the age of only 32 Cruz played the role Raimunda, a mother. She called this part the “coming-of-age gift” and said it was the first time she played a real woman rather than a girl.
Almodóvar had this film on hold for some years and was adamant Cruz was to play the sexy, tough, mendacious, vulnerable and melodramatic mother – she gave the performance of her life and the rewards rolled in: nominated in 2007’s BAFTA’s and Academy Awards for ‘Best Actress’ (she lost out to Helen Mirren in The Queen). The film and Cruz went on to win 5 awards and be nominated 11 times across Europe. In 2008, Cruz gained greater recognition when her role in romance comedy-drama 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' earned her an Academy Award. The gong made her the first Spanish actress ever to receive an Academy Award and the sixth Spanish actor overall to land one and was one of numerous accolades for the role in the film.
However, Cruz managed to get more than just worldwide recognition from the movie as this is where she met her future husband; the Oscar Award-winning Spanish star Javier Bardem. They started dating in 2007 while on the set of the film and went on to marry in a private ceremony in July 2010. Later in the year, Cruz's spokesperson confirmed that the couple were expecting a child in March 2011, a revelation that was made after she was spotted with a bump on the set of Pirates of the 'Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'.
Her latest roles include parts in 'The Counselor' (2014) and 'Grimsby' (2015).