Penélope Cruz Sánchez (born April 28, 1974) is a Spanish actress. Signed by an agent at age 15, she made her acting debut at 16 on television and her feature film debut the following year in Jamón, jamón (1992), to critical acclaim. Her subsequent roles in the 1990s and 2000s included Open Your Eyes (1997), The Hi-Lo Country (1999), The Girl of Your Dreams (2000) and Woman on Top (2000). Cruz achieved recognition for her lead roles in Vanilla Sky and Blow. Both films were released in 2001 and were commercially successful worldwide.
In the 2000s she has appeared in films from a wide range of genres, including the comedy Waking Up in Reno (2002), the thriller Gothika (2003), the Christmas movie Noel (2004), the action adventure Sahara (2005), the animated G-Force and the musical drama Nine. Her most notable films to date are Volver (2006), for which she earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), for which she received an Academy Award. She was the first Spanish actress in history to receive an Academy Award and the first Spanish actress to receive a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Cruz has modeled for companies such as Mango, Ralph Lauren and L'Oréal. Penélope and her younger sister Mónica Cruz have designed items for Mango. She has donated both her time and money to charities. Cruz has volunteered in Uganda and India, where she spent one week working for Mother Teresa; she donated her salary from The Hi-Lo Country to help fund the late nun's mission.
Penélope Cruz Sánchez was born in Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain, the daughter of Encarna Sánchez, a hairdresser and personal manager, and Eduardo Cruz, a retailer and auto mechanic. She was raised Roman Catholic. Throughout her childhood, Cruz lived in Alcobendas, a working-class town, although she spent "a lot" of time at her grandmother's apartment. Cruz is the oldest of three siblings; she has a younger brother, Eduardo, who is a singer, and a younger sister, Mónica, who is an actress. She has said that she had a happy childhood, and Charlie Rose of 60 Minutes described Cruz's childhood as a "simple life." In a foreshadowing way, Cruz remembers when she was four years old, "playing with some friends and being aware that I was acting as I was playing with them—I would think of a character and pretend to be someone else."
Initially, Cruz had no ambition to be an actress and focused on dance, having studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain's National Conservatory. She received three years of Spanish ballet training and four years of theater at Cristina Rota's New York school. She commented that "I used to take my toenails—they would die from dancing—so I would just take the whole toenail and throw it away, and not feel anything," however, ballet instilled in her discipline that would be important in her future acting career. She became a fan of movies at age 10 or 11. With no movie theaters nearby, her first relationship with cinema was watching movies on Betamax. Her father bought this "[Betamax] machine", of which Cruz recalls that it was very rare to own one in her neighborhood at the time.
When Cruz was a teenager, she began having an interest in acting after seeing the film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. She began doing casting calls for an agent, but was rejected multiple times because the agent felt that she was too young. Cruz commented on the experience that "I was very extroverted as a kid. [...] I was studying when I was in high school at night, I was in ballet and I was doing castings. I looked for an agent and she sent me away three times because I was a little girl but I kept coming back. I'm still with her after all these years." In 1989, at the age of 15, Cruz won an audition at a talent agency over more than 300 other girls. In 1999, Katrina Bayonas, Cruz's agent, commented, "She was absolutely magic [at the audition]. It was obvious there was something very impressive about this kid. [...] She was very green, but there was a presence. There was just something coming from within."
In 1989, 15 year-old Cruz made her acting debut in a music video for the Spanish pop group Mecano's song "La Fuerza del Destino". Between 1990 and 1997, she hosted the Spanish TV channel Telecinco's talk show La Quinta Marcha, a program that was hosted by teenagers, aimed at a teenage audience. She also played in the Elle et lui episode of an erotic French TV series called Série rose in 1991, where she appeared totally naked. In 1992, Cruz made her feature film debut at 18 as the lead female role in the comedy drama art house film, Jamón, jamón. In the film, she portrayed Silvia, 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 Javier Bardem's character to seduce her. People magazine noted that after Cruz appeared topless in the film, she became "a major sex symbol." In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News in 1999, Cruz commented that "it 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 it changed my life." Charlie Ross of 60 Minutes noted that Cruz "became an overnight sensation as much for her nude scenes as for her talent." When Ross asked Cruz if she was concerned about how she would be perceived after her role in the film, Cruz replied, "I just knew I had to do the complete opposite."
Jamón, jamón received broadly favorable reviews, with Chris Hicks of the Deseret News describing Cruz's portrayal of Silvia as "enchanting." Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, film critic Roger Ebert wrote "[The film] stars actors of considerable physical appeal, most particularly Penelope Cruz as Silvia." For her performance, Cruz was nominated for a Spanish Actors Union Newcomer Award and a Goya Award for Best Actress. The same year she appeared in the Academy-Award winning Belle Epoque as the virginal Luz. People magazine noted that Cruz's role as Luz showed that she was versatile. From 1993 to 1996, Cruz appeared in ten Spanish and Italian films. At 20, she went to live in New York for two years at Christopher and Greenwich to study ballet and English between movies. She recalls learning English "kinda of late" only knowing the dialogue she had learned for the casting beyond that, she could only say, “How are you?” and “Thank you.”
In 1997, Cruz appeared in the Spanish comedy film Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health. She portrays Diana, a fan of The Beatles band member John Lennon; she tries unsuccessfully to meet him. Years later, after multiple failed relationships, Diana re-unites with an acquaintance under unusual circumstances. Also in 1997, she appeared in the opening scene of Pedro Almodóvar's Live Flesh as a prostitute who gives birth on a bus and in Et hjørne af paradis (A Corner of Paradise) as Doña Helena. Cruz's final appearance in 1997 was the Amenabar-directed Spanish sci-fi drama, "Abre Los Ojos"/ Open Your Eyes. She plays Sofia, the love interest of Eduardo Noriega's lead character. Open Your Eyes received positive reviews, and was later remade by U.S. director Cameron Crowe as "Vanilla Sky" (who cast Cruz in the same role and Tom Cruise in Noriega's role), but "Open Your Eyes" was not commercially successful. Kevin N. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal commented in his September 2002 review that Cruz "has been getting some really bad reviews for her recent American work, but I personally think that she's a more than decent actress, especially here, where she's charming, moving and always believable. [...] There's one shot in particular, where Cruz enters a room in a greenish glow, which is right out of Hitchcock's picture [Vertigo]."
The following year, Cruz appeared in her first American film as Billy Crudup's consolation-prize Mexican girlfriend in Stephen Frears' western film, The Hi-Lo Country. Cruz stated that she had difficulties understanding people speaking English while she was filming The Hi-Lo Country. The film was critically and commercially unsuccessful. Kevin Lally of the Film Journal International commented in his review for the film that "in an ironic casting twist, the Spanish actress Penelope Cruz [...] is much more appealing as Josepha [than in her previous roles]." For her performance in the film, she was nominated for an ALMA Award for Best Actress. Also in 1998 Cruz appeared in Don Juan and The Girl of Your Dreams.