Penélope Cruz (28 April 1974) was born in the town of Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain, to Encarna Sánchez, a hairdresser and personal manager, and Eduardo Cruz, a retailer and car mechanic. She has two siblings, Mónica, also an actress, and Eduardo, a singer. She also has a paternal half-sister, Salma. She was raised as a Roman Catholic. Cruz grew up in Alcobendas, and spent long hours at her grandmother’s apartment. She says she had a happy childhood. Cruz remembers “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 focused on dance, having studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain’s National Conservatory. She took three years of Spanish ballet training and four years of theatre at Cristina Rota’s school. She says that ballet instilled in her discipline that would be important in her future acting career. When she became a cinephile at 10 or 11, her father bought a Betamax machine, which was then a very rare thing to own in her neighborhood.
As a teenager, Cruz became interested in acting after seeing the film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. She did casting calls for an agent but was rejected multiple times because the agent felt that she was too young. Cruz commented on the experience, “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.”
Early work, 1989–1996
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 1991, she hosted the Spanish TV channel Telecinco’s talk show La Quinta Marcha, a programme 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 nude. In 1991, Cruz made her feature film debut 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 Rose of 60 Minutes noted that Cruz “became an overnight sensation as much for her nude scenes as for her talent”. When Rose 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 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 “it stars actors of considerable physical appeal, most particularly Penélope 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 Époque 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 films. She recalls learning English “kind of late”, previously knowing only the dialogue she had learned for the casting and the phrases “How are you?” and “Thank you”.
Early critical success, 1997–2000
Cruz’s agent is Hylda Queally, shared with Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet. 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 many 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 Penélope 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.
In the period drama The Girl of Your Dreams (La niña de tus ojos), Cruz portrayed Macarena Granada, a singer who is in an on-and-off relationship with Antonio Resines’s character, Blas. They are part of a Francoist film troupe that travels from Spain during the Spanish Civil War to Nazi Germany for a joint production with UFA. Cruz’s performance in the film was praised by film critics, with Jonathan Holloland of Variety magazine writing “if confirmation is still needed that Cruz is an actress first and a pretty face second, then here it is”. A writer for Film4 commented that “Cruz herself is the inevitable focus of the film” but noted that overall the film “looks great”. Cruz’s role as Macarena has been viewed as her “largest role to date”. For her performance, Cruz received a Goya Award and Spanish Actors’ Union Award, and was nominated for a European Film Award. In 1999, Cruz worked with Almodóvar again in All About My Mother, playing Sister María Rosa Sanz, a pregnant nun with AIDS. The film received favorable reviews, and was commercially successful, grossing over $67 million worldwide, although it performed better at the box office internationally than domestically.
In 2000, she appeared in Woman on Top in the lead female role as Isabelle, a world-class chef who has suffered from motion sickness since birth, her first American lead role. Lisa Nesselson of Variety magazine praised the performances of both Cruz and her co-star, Harold Perrineau, saying they “burst off the screen”, and added that Cruz has a charming accent. BBC News film critic Jane Crowther said that “Cruz is wonderfully ditzy as the innocent abroad” but remarked that “it’s Harold Perrineau Jr as Monica who pockets the movie”. Annlee Ellingson of Box Office magazine wrote “Cruz is stunning in the role—innocent and vulnerable yet possessing a mature grace and determined strength, all while sizzling with unchecked sensuality.” Also in 2000, she played Alejandra Villarreal, who is Matt Damon’s love interest in Billy Bob Thornton’s film adaptation of the western bestselling novel, All the Pretty Horses. Susan Stark of the Detroit News commented that in the film Thornton was able to guide Damon, Henry Thomas and Cruz to “their most impressive performances in a major movie yet”. However, Bob Longigo of The Atlanta Journal Constitution was less enthusiastic about Cruz’s and Damon’s performance, saying that their “resulting onscreen chemistry would hardly warm a can of beans”.
Breakthrough acting, 2001–2005
2001 marked a turning point year when Cruz starred in the feature films Vanilla Sky and Blow. In Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe’s interpretation of Open Your Eyes, she played Sofia Serrano, the love interest of Tom Cruise’s character. The film received mixed reviews but made $200 million worldwide. Her performance was well received by critics, with BBC film critic Brandon Graydon saying that Cruz “is an enchanting screen presence”, and Ethan Alter of the Film Journal International noting that Cruz and her co-star Cruise were “able to generate some actual chemistry”. Her next film was Blow, adapted from Bruce Porter’s 1993 book Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All. She had a supporting role as Mirtha Jung, the wife of Johnny Depp’s character. The film received mixed reviews, but made $80 million worldwide. Nina Willdorf of the Boston Phoenix described Cruz as “multi-talented” and Mark Salvo of The Austin Chronicle wrote “I may be one of the last male holdouts to join the Cruz-Rules camp, but her tour de force performance here sucks you right in.”
In 2001, she also appeared in Don’t Tempt Me, playing Carmen Ramos. The film received negative reviews. Jeff Vice of the Deseret News commented that “unfortunately, casting Cruz as a tough girl is a hilariously bad [idea]” and Michael Miller of the Village Voice writing that “as Satan’s helper Carmen, Penélope Cruz doesn’t hold a candle to her cocaine-huffing enabler in Blow“. Cruz’s last film in 2001 was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, film adaption of the novel of the same name. She played Pelagia, who falls in love with another man while her fiancé is in battle during the Second World War. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was not well received by critics, but made $62 million worldwide. In 2002, she had a minor role in Waking Up in Reno. It had negative reviews and was a box office failure, making $267,000 worldwide. The following year, Cruz had a supporting role in the horror film Gothika, as Chloe Sava, a patient at a mental hospital. David Rooney of Variety wrote that Cruz “adds a serviceably malevolent edge to Chole’s apparent madness”. Cruz’s performance in Fanfan la Tulipe, also in 2003, was not well received, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian commenting that Cruz “deserves a special Cannes Razzie for a performance of purest teak”.
In 2004, Cruz appeared in the Christmas film Noel as Nina, the girlfriend of Paul Walker’s character and as Mia in the romantic drama, Head in the Clouds, set in the 1930s. Head in the Clouds performed poorly at the box office. For Head in the Clouds, Bruce Birkland of Jam! Canoe said, “The story feels forced and the performances dreary, with the notable exception of Cruz, who seems to be in a different film from the rest of the cast.” Desson Thompson of The Washington Post was more critical; his comment about the character’s “pronounced limp” was that “Cruz (hardly the world’s greatest actress) can’t even perform without looking fake”. She also starred in Sergio Castellitto’s melodrama Don’t Move. Cruz, who learned Italian for the role, won the David di Donatello for her performance. She was also awarded the European Film Award for Best Actress for the film in 2004. In 2005, Cruz appeared as Dr. Eva Rojas in the action adventure Sahara. She earned $1.6 million for her supporting role. The film grossed $110 million worldwide but did not recoup its $160 million budget. Moviefone dubbed the film “one of the most famous flops in history” and in 2007, listed it at 24 on its list of “Biggest Box-Office Turkeys of All Time”. Lori Hoffman of the Atlantic City Weekly felt Cruz put her “considerable [acting] skills on cruise control as Dr Eva Rojas” and James Berardnelli of ReelViews described Cruz’s performance as a “black hole”, that she “lacks screen presence”. Also in 2005, Cruz appeared in Chromophobia, screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and released the following year. Mathew Turner of View London said Cruz’s character Gloria, a cancer-riddled prostitute, is “actually more interesting than the main storyline” while Time Evan’s of Sky Movies wrote, “The Cruz/Ifans storyline—featuring the only two remotely sympathetic characters—never really fuses with the main plot.” Her final 2005 film was Don’t Move playing Italia. Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle noted that Cruz “goes all out” with her appearance and Patrick Peters of Empire magazine commented that the film’s director, who also appears in the film, was able to draw a “sensitive performance” from Cruz.
Worldwide recognition, 2006–2009
Cruz appeared alongside her good friend Salma Hayek in the 2006 Western comedy film, Bandidas. Randy Cordova of the Arizona Republic said the film “sports” Cruz and her co-star Salma Hayek as the “lusty dream team” and that they were the “marketing fantasy” for the film. Also in 2006, Cruz received favourable reviews for her performance as Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula, in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. A.O. Scott of The New York Times remarked, “With this role Ms. Cruz inscribes her name near the top of any credible list of present-day flesh-and-blood screen goddesses, in no small part because she manages to be earthy, unpretentious and a little vulgar without shedding an ounce of her natural glamour.” Likewise, Carina Chocano of The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Cruz, who has remarked that in Hollywood she’s rarely allowed to be anything more than pretty, instills her with an awesome resoluteness and strength of character.” She shared a Best Actress award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival with five of her co-stars, as well as receiving a Goya Award and European Film Award, and was nominated for the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award, the BAFTA Award, and the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role. She was the first Spaniard to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In 2007, Cruz appeared in the lead female role in Manolete, a biopic of bullfighter Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez, playing Antoñita “Lupe” Sino. The film was critically panned, and Variety felt that Cruz has “clearly been cast to play the kind of red-hot drama queen she’s pulled off infinitely better in the films of Pedro Almodovar.” After being shelved since 2007, Manolete (originally shot in 2005) released on demand via cable, satellite, telco and online on 7 June 2011 under the title A Matador’s Mistress. She also appeared in The Good Night, playing two characters, Anna and Melody. TV Guide film critic Maitland McDonagh noted that in the film Cruz “expertly mines the contrast between chic, compliant, white-clad Anna and funky, street-wise Melody, who treats [Martin Freeman’s character] Gary like the world-class drag he is”.
In 2008, Cruz appeared in Isabel Coixet’s film Elegy, which was based on the Philip Roth story The Dying Animal, as the lead female role, Consuela Castillo. Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter described Cruz’s performance as being “outstanding in an otherwise lame male fantasy [film].” Later that year, she starred in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona as María Elena, a mentally unstable woman, which was praised. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle noted, “But the revelation is Penélope Cruz, who has never been better in an American film. Suddenly, and for the first time, her stardom makes sense. As Maria Elena, José Antonio’s gifted and neurotic ex-wife, Cruz is on fire – hysterically funny, abandoned, passionate, poignant, with a performance full of shading and wide in range. She’s as fun and as powerful as Anna Magnani, and beautiful besides. Cruz just needed somebody to turn her loose.” Likewise, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian singled her out for praise, writing: “Cruz, playing Maria Elena, the passionate and crazy ex-wife of a moody Picasso-ish artist, looks as if she has wandered in from a more hefty film entirely; everything she does and says seems to mean more, count for more. This isn’t to say that she gets bigger laughs, or perhaps any laughs, but she certainly walks off with the film”. Cruz received a Goya Award and her first Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also received a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Cruz was the first Spanish actress to ever be awarded an Academy Award in that category and the sixth Hispanic person to ever receive the award.
Cruz’s next film was the kid-friendly G-Force voicing a guinea pig spy named Juarez. G-Force was a commercial success, making over $290 million worldwide. Also in 2009, she appeared in the film Broken Embraces as Lena. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com noted in her review for the film that Cruz “doesn’t coast on her beauty in Broken Embraces, and she has the kind of role that can be difficult to flesh out”. Cruz received nominations from the Satellite Awards and European Film Awards for her performance in Broken Embraces. Cruz’s final 2009 film was the film version of the musical Nine, playing the character Carla Albanese, the lead character’s mistress. Variety reported that Cruz had originally auditioned for the role of the film within a film’s star, Claudia, which eventually went to Nicole Kidman. Cruz said that she trained for three months for the dance routine in the film. Claudia Puig of USA Today commented that while Cruz “does a steamy song and dance”, her “acting is strangely caricatured”. Cruz’s performance as Carla was nominated for Best Supporting Actress from the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards.
Cruz’s only film of 2010 was Sex and the City 2, the sequel to the 2008 film, in which she appeared as a banker in a cameo role. A commercial success, the comedy film was largely panned by critics. Cruz appeared in her biggest Hollywood turn to date in Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the film series, opposite Johnny Depp. In the film, Cruz portrayed Angelica, a former love interest of Jack Sparrow, who blames him for her corruption. Cruz was the only actress considered for the role, as she fit Marshall’s description. He invited her for the role as they wrapped the production of Nine. The actress spent two months working out and learning fencing for the role. During filming, Cruz discovered she was pregnant, leading the costume department to redesign her wardrobe to be more elastic, and the producers to hire her sister Mónica Cruz to double for Penélope in risky scenes. On Stranger Tides ranks among the highest-grossing films of all time, grossing more than $$1.046 billion in box-office receipts worldwide. On 1 April 2011, prior to the film’s release, Cruz received the 2,436th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the El Capitan Theatre. She became the first Spanish actress to receive a Star.
In 2012, Cruz appeared in the first ever Nintendo commercial to promote New Super Mario Bros. 2 and the Nintendo 3DS XL in which she played the role of Mario in the ad. She spoke Italian again, this time in Woody Allen’s romantic ensemble comedy film To Rome with Love, in which she portrayed a street-smart prostitute who agrees to pretend to be the wife of a newlywed. Fond to work with her again, Allen compared Cruz’s play in the film with that of Italian icons Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren. While the film received mixed reviews, Cruz was reviewed favourably for her “exuberantly, cartoonishly sexy” performance, which The Week cited as a stand out. The same year, Cruz also reunited with Italian director Sergio Castellitto in his war tale Twice Born about an infertile Italian woman who returns to relive her past in Sarajevo. An adaptation of Castellitto’s wife Margaret Mazzantini’s same-titled bestseller, Cruz portrayed the transitional character at different phases in her life, ranging from her early twenties to her late forties. Despite receiving little praise from critics, Cruz’s performance opposite Emile Hirsch earned positive reviews.
In 2013, Cruz appeared in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, featuring an ensemble cast consisting of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt and husband Javier Bardem. The crime thriller follows a lawyer who, tempted by the lure of quick money, finds himself involved in drug dealing with ruthless Mexican cartels. Cruz plays his girlfriend, Laura, the only innocent character in the story. The film received mostly negative reviews from critics and became a moderate commercial success at the international box offices. The same year, Cruz along with Antonio Banderas made a cameo appearance in Pedro Almodóvar’s farcical comedy I’m So Excited, which marked a return to the director’s light, campy comedies of the 1980s and 1990s. The film received mixed reviews, but earned a worldwide gross of more than US$11 million.
In 2015, Cruz co-produced and starred in the Spanish drama film Ma Ma, directed by Julio Medem. In it, she plays Magda, a gutsy mother and unemployed teacher, who is diagnosed with breast cancer, a role which Cruz later cited as “one of the most complex, beautiful characters I’ve ever been offered, the most difficult.” The melodrama was screened in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received generally negative reviews for its weepie story line. Cruz however was praised for her “aces performance,” which earned her an eighth Goya nomination at the 30th awards ceremony.
Cruz’s first film of 2016 was the American comedy, Zoolander 2, co-starring and directed by Ben Stiller. In the sequel film, Cruz portrayed a secret Interpol agent who enlists models Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel McDonald, played by Owen Wilson, to help find out who is killing the world’s most beautiful people. Specifically written for her persona, Cruz, a fan of the original 2001 film, was one of the first actors to be cast in their parts. Upon its release, the film received generally negative reviews from critics, who felt that it had “more celebrity cameos than laughs.”
Cruz’s other film that year was Louis Leterrier’s British spy comedy Grimsby, in which she played a powerful philanthropist, opposite Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong. Cruz was reportedly offered $400,000 for her appearance in the film, which was released to generally mixed reviews from critics, who felt that the actress was highly underused and “looking even less invested here than she did in Zoolander 2.”
Also in 2016, Cruz reteamed with Fernando Trueba on his Spanish-language period pic The Queen of Spain, a sequel to Trueba’s 1998 drama The Girl of Your Dreams. Set in the 1950s, twenty years after the events of the original film, Cruz reprised the role of an actress, who has become a Hollywood star and returns to Spain to film a blockbuster about Queen Isabella I of Castile. Selected to be shown in the Berlinale Special section of the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, the Spanish comedy-drama was screened to lukewarm reviews, but received five nominations at the 31st Goya Awards, earning her Cruz her ninth nomination.
Loving Pablo, a Spanish drama film directed by Fernando León de Aranoa was released in 2017, starring Cruz in the role of Virginia Vallejo, and her husband, Javier Bardem, in the role of Pablo Escobar. Based on Vallejo’s bestselling memoir Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, the film was launched to mixed reviews during the 74th Venice International Film Festival. In order to play the role of the Colombian journalist, Cruz studied hundreds of interviews of Vallejo. Cruz had a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel of the same name. The mystery–drama ensemble film follows world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot, who seeks to solve a murder on the famous European train in the 1930s. Cruz plays missionary and passenger Pilar Estravados, a Hispanic version of the novel’s Swedish Greta Ohlsson, opposite Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judi Dench. The film has grossed $306 million worldwide and received mixed to positive reviews from critics, with praise for the cast’s performances, but criticism for not adding anything new to previous adaptations.
As of December 2017, Cruz has various film projects in different states of production. In 2018, she made her television debut by co-starring in the role of Donatella Versace in the second season of the FX anthology series American Crime Story entitled The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Her performance was highly praised by critics and she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. In addition, Cruz reteamed with Bardem on the Spanish-language psychological thriller film Everybody Knows, directed by Asghar Farhadi.
She then reteamed with Almodóvar in Dolor y gloria (2019; Pain and Glory), about a director contemplating his life. In Wasp Network (2019), Cruz played the unsuspecting wife of a Cuban pilot secretly working against Cuba’s government.