Born Penelope Cruz Sanchez on April 28, 1974 in San Sebastain de los Reyes, Madrid, Spain. Her father, Eduardo, worked as a car mechanic and her mother, Encarna, was a hairdresser. Cruz was born as the eldest of three and a natural performer; Penelope amused her family as a child by re-enacting TV commercials for their entertainment. Although a natural actress, she took up dance for her choice of performance arts. She studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain’s National Conservatory and moved to New York to dance under a series of prominent performers.
When she was 15 years old, Cruz found her true vocation after beating out 300 other girls at a talent agency competition. Following this early success, she landed several roles as a dancer for music videos and on Spanish TV as the host of La Quinta Marcha. Cruz also explored her more sensual side in the French erotic TV series, Serie Rose.
In 1992, she made her film debut in the dark film, Jamon Jamon. The film’s director, who had been unable to cast Cruz as the lead in another film because of her young age, waited until she was old enough for his next film. Her performance earned Cruz a nomination for Best Newcomer by the Spanish Actors’ Union, Best Lead Actress from the Goya awards (Spain’s Academy Awards), and Fotogramas de Plata’s Best Movie Actress. A year later, Cruz played Luz in The Age of Beauty (1992). The film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, virtually swept the Goya Awards, and earned Cruz the Spanish Actors’ Union Award for Best 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, Cruz took the role of Isabel Plaza Caballero in Carne Tremula, for which she garnered more critical recognition. This was the first time she worked with internationally renowned director Pedro Almodovar, who in turn became a life-long friend and her vehicle for global fame. Two years later, Cruz landed a role in another film directed by Almodovar, Todo Sobre Mi Madre. The Spanish film won an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film. With a series of well-respected movies under her belt, Cruz was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
At the age of 25, Cruz made the bold decision to move to Hollywood, California. 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) and as the romantic lead in Billy Bob Thornton’s western, All the Pretty Horses (2000), both of which received critical success. Her next film, Abre Los Ojos, caught the attention of director Cameron Crowe and film icon Tom Cruise. Impressed by the script and the actress, the duo created an American remake of the film, called Vanilla Sky (2001). The movie helped make Cruz a crossover success. During this time she also began dating her co-star, Tom Cruise, putting her firmly in American headlines.
Cruz proved she could hold her own across from heavy hitting actors when she starred opposite Johnny Depp in Blow (2001). That same year, she appeared in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001), and her performance earned her a nomination in the European Film Awards for Best Actress. Cruz’s next film, Waking Up in Reno (2002), saw her play alongside fellow cast memberes Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Swayze. The romantic comedy about two couples headed to a Monster Truck show received little box office attention. In 2005, the actress appeared in Sahara, a comedic adventure film. In real life, Cruz began a relationship with co-star Matthew McConaughey. The couple began a year long romantic relationship, but later split over conflicting film schedules.
Returning to Spanish-language filmes, Cruz appeared in Bandidas (2006) with friend and co-star Salma Hayek. That same year she stared in Volver, another Almodovar film. The director held the role specifically for Cruz, and her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. A year later, Cruz won an Academy Award this time for the Woody Allen film, Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). She is currently dating Spanish actor Javier Bardem, her co-star in the film.
Cruz reunited with Almodovar for the film, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), which was released in 2009. That same year, she had a supporting role in the musical Nine starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a famous Italian director. Cruz played Carla, the director’s mistress and only one of the many women in his life. The film, adapted from the Broadway show, was directed by Rob Marshall and also featured Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren. Cruz received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Carla.
Turning next to comedy, Cruz has a role in the upcoming Sex in the City 2 starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon.