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      Facts

      With her expressive brown eyes, lustrous dark hair and flawless olive skin, Penelope Cruz burst on the scene as a teenager lending an air of sultry innocence and a flair for drollery and nudity as the sexy ingenue in Bigas Lunas' American art-house hit Jamon Jamon (1992). She solidified her status as a rising star playing the virginal Luz in Ferdinand Trueba's 1994 Oscar-winning Belle Epoch.

      Born in Madrid, Cruz began studying dance as a teenager. At age 15, she auditioned for a talent agent who signed her immediately. Within two years, she had segued to the big screen in El Laberinto Griego/The Greek Labyrinth (1992) before her breakthrough in Jamon Jamon.

      As a rising star in her native Spain, Cruz got to work with top directors and played myriad parts ranging from the Virgin Mary in Per Amore, Solo per amore/For Love, Only for Love (1993) to a medieval bride in Celestina (1996) to a pregnant prostitute in Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh (1997) to the supportive girlfriend of a man disfigured in car accident in Alejandro Amenabar's Open Your Eyes (1998). She re-teamed with both Trueba and Almodovar for two her best screen performances to date. Purportedly based on a true incident, Trueba's The Girl of My Dreams/La Nina de tus ojos (1998) allowed the actress to pay homage to her grandmother in her portrayal of an Adalusian cabaret singer trapped in Nazi Germany who catches the attention of propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. Almodovar once again had her playing a woman with child in the Cannes favorite Todo sobre mi madre/All About My Mother (1999) although this time in a sly bit of irony, the fragile beauty portrayed a nun.

      Attempting to broaden her employment opportunities, Cruz began acting in English in the British mini-series Framed (1993). She went on to appear as the sweet charge of an Irish governess in the period drama Talk of Angels (shot in 1994; released theatrically in 1998) and lent her luminous looks to the thankless role of the Mexican girlfriend of Billy Crudup's cattle rancher in Stephen Frears' The Hi-Lo Country (1998). Cruz also played a bookish barmaid who catches the eye of Scotsman Douglas Henshall in the fantasy romantic comedy Twice Upon a Yesterday/If Only/The Man with Rain in His Shoe (1998). The actress' status as a rising international star was firmed when she landed the female lead opposite Matt Damon in Billy Bob Thornton's screen version of All the Pretty Horses and the lead as a South American chef coping with her newfound success when she lands a TV show in the USA in the comedy Woman on Top (both 2000).

      Cruz would soon gain ground in Hollywood with roles as sexy, exotic types in Blow (2001) with Johnny Depp and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) with Nicolas Cage, but it would be a role opposite superstar Tom Cruise--both on screen and off--that would propel the actress to the forefront of Hollywood. After being naturally cast as Cruise's love interest Sofia in Vanilla Sky (2001), writer-director Cameron Crowe's intriguing but not-quite-fulfilling Americanized reworking of Open Your Eyes (Cruz played the same role she did in the original), Cruz embarked on a highly publicized relationship with her world-famous leading man, shortly after his notoriously acrimonious split with Nicole Kidman. The couple was catapulated to the front of the headlines, and Cruz became a well-known personality. Her noteriety did not immediately translate into more film roles, however; in 2002 she appeared briefly in the aimable but unremarkable comedy Waking Up In Reno opposite Thornton, and in 2003 she delivered a nice turn as Chloe a mental patient who believes she consorts with demons and begins to suck her former therapist (Halle Berry) into her dark world in the otherwise preposterous thriller Gothika. She then played support to Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend in the wartime melodrama Head in the Clouds (2004) as a bohemian drawn into a strange menage.

      The actress then took on the role of Eva Rojas, the paramour of master explorer Dirk Pitt ( Matthew McConaughey) in Sahara (2005), the Paramount Pictures adaptation of Clive Cussler's bestselling adventure novel, and interest in the film was fanned by the off-screen romance between Cruz and her leading man.



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