Cruz, Penélope

(1974- )
   With her dark sultry looks, it was almost inevitable that Penélope Cruz became stereotyped in the role of a Latin prostitute when attempting a career in Hollywood; what is remarkable is that she managed to find a balance between such characters, the publicity pressures of a starlet's life (she had a vague romance with Tom Cruise and for it was known as 'The Spanish Enchantress" by the popular press), and more substantial choices for some important directors, including in recent years Fernando Trueba, Pedro Almodovar, Agustín Díaz Yanes, and Isabel Coixet.
   Cruz came from a comfortable middle-class Madrid background, and dance was her first vocation, studying conscientiously under a series of teachers. She claimed it was Victoria Abril's performance in Pedro Almodóvar's ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up!, Tie Me Down!, 1990), that forced her to reconsider her vocation and turn to cinema. She did some advertising and a number of small roles on television before her film debut in 1992 with El laberinto griego (The Greek Labyrinth, Rafael Alcázar, 1993), where she had a brief appearance. But it was Jamón, Jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992) that brought her to the attention of critics and audiences. Her charms at that time were largely sexual, her talents as an actress grew through the decade. In Jamón, Jamón, she came across as a shrill, stubborn nymphet who had men falling in lust with her. Indeed, shrillness was a typical feature of her early roles, one that had not been completely tuned down when she appeared in the Oscar-winning Belle Epoque (Fernando Trueba, 1992), where she played the youngest of four sisters and the one who finally got her man, a role that revealed her liveliness and sense of humor. After this excursion, she selected her projects carefully, working in four roles in 1996, including a very substantial turn in Gómez Pereira's El amor perjudica seriamente la salud (Love Seriously Damages Health).
   Her first collaboration with Almodóvar came as a brief cameo as a young single mother in Carne trémula (Live Flesh, 1997). Despite her youth (she was only 23), Almodóvar saw her nurturing qualities, which he would go on to explore both in Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999) and, especially, in Volver (2006). Before these came Abre los ojos (Open your Eyes, Alejandro Amenábar) in 1997, where she projected vulnerability, but without much substance. The next step toward maturity came with La niña de tus ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams, Fernando Trueba, 1998), a charming performance that brought together all of her qualities for the first time, and which is both touching and comic. In this film, she plays a performer inspired by Imperio Argentina, and she was required to do some singing and dancing in addition to projecting a great deal of charisma: her success earned her increasing critical attention.
   By the late 1990s, she had become well known internationally, and after her role in Vanilla Sky (the American remake of Abre los ojos), she took roles in Hollywood. Many of them were insubstantial (Woman on Top [ 2000 ], Sahara [ 2005 ]), requiring next to no range, but she acquitted herself professionally. One important instance for which she earned numerous awards was the gritty 2004 Don't Move, directed by Sergio Castellito. Finally, Pedro Almodóvar called her once more for the plum role of Raimunda in his hit Volver, in which she played Carmen Maura's resourceful daughter. It was an impressive performance that displayed a range of moods and nuanced intensity. In this film, she proved she had definitely outgrown her nymphet phase; the role earned her a handful of international awards and an Oscar nomination as best actress (the first for a Spanish actress).
   Isabel Coixet's Elegy (2008) took her to new ground. In the first half, she is the object of desire of a middle-aged professor, but her performance gains in stature as we see the authority her honesty achieves and the way she makes the older man fall deeply in love with her. She won an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role of a spitfire artist in Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). Her most recent role is again for Almodóvar, as a femme fatale in Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces, 2009).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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