One of Spain's foremost leading ladies of the 1990s, Penélope Cruz has managed to make her mark with international audiences as well. Born in Madrid on April 28, 1974, Cruz was one of three children of a merchant and a hairdresser. After years of intensive study in ballet and jazz, she broke into acting in 1992. That year, she had starring roles in Jamón Jamón and Belle Epoque, two very disparate films. The former cast her as the desperately poor daughter of a village prostitute, while the latter featured her as one of four lusty daughters of a wealthy man in pre-Franco Spain. Belle Epoque proved to be a huge success, winning nine Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of an Academy Award) and an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Its success gave Cruz a dose of international recognition, and after starring in a number of Spanish films, she enhanced this recognition in 1997 with the Sundance entry Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). That same year, she had a brief but memorable role in Pedro Almodóvar's Carne Trémula (Live Flesh).
In 1998, Cruz had her first starring role in an English-language film, playing Billy Crudup's Mexican-American love interest in Stephen Frears' The Hi-Lo Country. She had another go at English later that year in the Spanish-British romantic comedy Twice Upon a Yesterday, which cast her as a Spanish barmaid living in London. In 1999, she returned to Spain to collaborate once again with Almodóvar on Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother), a wildly acclaimed film that premiered at Cannes that year.
The next two years would prove to be a critical turning point in both Cruz's personal and professional life, with increasingly visible roles in large-scale Hollywood productions as well as a developing relationship with one Tinseltown's most popular leading men. Gaining notice for her roles in All the Pretty Horses in 2000 and Blow the following year, it appeared as if Cruz's career had suddenly kicked into overdrive. After starring alongside Nicolas Cage in the underperforming Captain Corelli's Mandolin in 2001, Cruz dove back into familiar territory with director Cameron Crowe's remake of Abre los Ojos, Vanilla Sky (2001). Developing a close relationship with lead Tom Cruise as his much publicized breakup with Nicole Kidman drew to a close, the pair soon found themselves the center of considerable paparazzi attention as they became Hollywood's hottest new couple.
While "Cruz & Cruise" outlasted most celebrity couplings born on movie sets -- even generating wedding talk -- the duo went their separate ways in 2004. Perhaps not coincidentally, Cruz's career took a backseat to her paramour's while she was dating him; between 2001 and 2004, most of her roles were either minor ones in uncelebrated American indies (Waking Up in Reno, Masked and Anonymous, Noel) or meatier ones in foreign films that failed to gain traction in the States (Fanfan la Tulipe, Don't Move, Bandidas). Luckily, the actress rebounded with a performance thought by many critics to be the best of her career, when she re-teamed with one of her earliest champions, Pedro Almodóvar, for his nostalgic, bittersweet Volver in 2006. Warm, witty, and biting, Cruz's performance kept her name in the running for many year-end awards, even garnering her her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
In 2008, Cruz earned strong reviews for her work in Elegy, but it was her turn in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona that garnered her Best Supporting Actress nods from the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Screen Actors Guild, and winning the trophy in that category from the Academy.
She was nominated the next year for the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Oscar for her sexy supporting turn in Rob Marshall's big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Nine. Despite the film itself doing poorly, Cruz proved that she'd found a solid career trajectory as the 2010's progressed, appearing in projects like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi