From her simple roots in her native Spain to walking the red carpet at major Hollywood events, few people ever thought that Penélope would achieve the things she has achieved. Explore her fascinating journey from a Spanish film star to the muse of renowned fashion designers and film directors everywhere as we take a look at her incredible life story.
A Childhood Far From Hollywood
She may be the face of some of the most exclusive and expensive brands in the world, but Penélope Cruz’s childhood was far from glamorous. The actress was born in a town near the Spanish capital of Madrid called Alcobendas.
Her mother, Encarna was a hairdresser and her father Eduardo was a car mechanic. Penélope’s childhood was simple with the actress describing her family as one “where we had just what we needed to survive”. A natural performer, she often entertained her family by re-enacting commercials she had seen on television.
Putting That Energy to Good Use
Penélope Cruz admits that as a child she was brimming with seemingly boundless amounts of energy, so much so that her parents would often drop her off at her grandparents’ home to get a bit of a break!
She also admitted that because she was and was so “strong and opinionated”, she would often fight with the other children around her, causing some issues at school. While difficult for her parents to handle, all of that energy would propel her to do well in her other love - dance.
A natural performer with tons of energy, young Penélope Cruz was accepted into Spain’s prestigious National Conservatory. There, she studied classical ballet and jazz dance for close to a decade.
It was during this time that she decided to follow her dreams of becoming a dancer and moved to New York City to study dance and theater. She even told “60 Minutes” correspondent Charlie Rose about how her feet would be so damaged from dancing that her toenails would fall off and she wouldn’t notice! We’re sure she doesn’t have this problem as an actress.
From Dancer to Actress
Though she still loves dance, Penélope Cruz became fascinated by film when she was about 11. Her father supported her interests by buying her a Betamax machine - a luxury item in their working-class neighborhood.
Cruz realized that while she loved dancing, she wanted to try acting. In between dancing, she was going from audition to audition to try to break into the Spanish film industry. She finally got her big break when she beat out 300 other young girls at an audition for a local talent agency. The beautiful brunette was soon on her way to Hollywood!
The Director of Her Future
Described by her former agent as “absolutely magic,” PenélopeCruz simply blew casting agents away with her effortless presence and talent.
Though she had been rejected many times due to her age and lack of experience, she finally found an agency that would help launch her show biz dreams. One of those dreams was being able to work with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar who had directed the 1990 film, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down” - a film that Penélope says inspired her to begin acting! Little did she know, she would become Almodóvar’s muse!
Start of Something
Fueled by her newfound desire to become an actress, Penélope Cruz found herself locked away at home watching movie after movie in order to study film legends. Her dedication soon resulted in a role in a music video for Spanish pop band Mecano’s song, “La Fuerza del Destino”.
She could now say that she had experience in front of the camera. She also appeared as Sleeping Beauty in the Spanish children's television show 'Los Mundos de Yupi'. Though she was a young teen, audiences and talent agents knew that young Penélope possessed a huge amount of talent!
Penélope Cruz, VJ?
When most people think of actress Penélope Cruz, they think of glamor and elegance. It’s that elegance and dedication to her craft that makes it hard to imagine her as the host of a decidedly cheesy variety show geared toward Spanish teenagers.
But between 1990 to 1993, Penelope Cruz co-hosted the show “La Quinta Marcha” where she performed different sketches, introduced artists, and wore some pretty ridiculous outfits. Early ‘90s fashion aside, it was easy to see that the camera simply loved her and that this job would open many more doors for the teenager.
A Steamy Debut
Though she had appeared in several Spanish shows and productions, Penélope Cruz didn’t appear on the radar until the release of the Spanish erotic comedy “Jamón Jamón”.
The film, which featured a plethora of intimate scenes and Penélope in various states of undress, quickly made the actress well-known in Spain and beyond. The film was also memorable because it’s where she met the man who would later become her husband, actor Javier Bardem. Who knew that behind those sensual scenes, a real love story was playing out?
While anyone who saw the film “Jamón Jamón” could see that there were clearly sparks flying between the movie’s leads Penélope Cruz and Javier Barden, the actress was actually involved with another famous man - Spanish singer Nacho Cano of the band Mecano.
Nacho and Penélope met on the set of the music video for his 1988 hit “ La Fuerza del Destino.” Still, in her teens, Penélope and the singer were smitten. Cano, a major star in Spain at the time, was often photographed with the burgeoning actress. Sadly, after about five years, the two lovebirds called it quits.
An Uncomfortable Label
Though she had taken part in revealing intimate scenes for a 1991 episode of the French television series “Série Rose,” Penélope soon became uncomfortable with the amount of attention she was getting for her physical appearance and revealing movie scenes.
She even admitted that while she was thankful for the exposure the film “Jamón Jamón” gave her, she “wasn’t really ready for the nudity” - though she added that he didn’t regret agreeing to it because it “changed her life.” She soon found herself seeking roles where she wouldn’t have to expose her body.
New York State of Mind
Though she had starred in a major Spanish film alongside experienced actors, Penélope Cruz still dreamed about life as a professional dancer. With so many years of dance instruction under her belt, the young Spanish woman decided to move to New York City to continue her studies.
At just 19 years old, she and several other Spanish friends lived and wandered around New York’s Greenwich Village. Eventually traveling between Spain and Los Angeles for auditions was taking its toll. Dancing would soon come second place in her life.
It’s no surprise that people tend to gravitate toward others who are similar to them. When Penélope Cruz arrived in New York City she met a then-unknown actor and fellow Spaniard named Antonio Banderas. The “Desperado” star apparently lived just a few minutes away so the two often spent time together.
Penélope often calls this moment in her life “magical” and says that she was inspired to pursue her Hollywood dreams after seeing how successful Antonio became. She also joked that the two would often cook for one another (her making veggie burgers and him making paella).
On a Roll
Though controversial, there’s no denying that “Jamón Jamón” turned Penélope into a star almost overnight. The actress was soon nominated for awards such as the Goya Award (a Spanish version of the Oscars) and others. She then appeared in the critically acclaimed film “ Belle Époque ” and close to a dozen Spanish and Italian movies.
Her foray into Italian cinema would lead to a life-long fascination with Italian culture. She continued to star in well-received films such as Pedro Almodóvar 's “ Live Flesh ” - a move that would begin her long friendship with the celebrated Spanish director.
Friends in High Places
Though Penélope Cruz learned a few phrases to ease her Hollywood homecoming, she had difficulty communicating when arrived in Hollywood. Things were pretty difficult and the actress felt lonely.
Thankfully, she soon found a friend in another Spanish-speaking actress, Mexican actress Salma Hayek. The “Frida” actress offered to let Penelope stay with her when she first arrived in the U.S. and the two soon became best friends. Hayek apparently even let Penelope (who had grown up with a beautician mother) do her hair for a major awards ceremony! Now, that’s a strong friendship!
Now a famous actress in her native Spain, Penélope Cruz dreamed of making it big in Hollywood. She was so determined, that the Spanish actress joked she learned how to say only a handful of phrases in English including the phrase, “I want to work with Johnny Depp”.
In 1997, Penelope starred in the Spanish film “Open Your Eyes” which would later be remade with her as the lead. By 1998, she had been cast along with Billy Crudup in the Western drama “Hi-Lo Country”. Unfortunately, the film flopped and Penelope’s Hollywood break seemed to be over.
Following the failure of her film “Hi-Lo Country”, Penélope began taking more work from Spanish and other European filmmakers including a role in a Spanish historical film called “The Girl of Your Dreams”.
The film once again garnered the actress multiple award nominations and positive reviews from film critics. This praise was further multiplied when Penélope landed a role in Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s dramedy “All About My Mother”. The film was an international financial success, giving her another opportunity to try to make it big in Hollywood.
Here to Stay
With a second opportunity to make it big in show business, Penélope Cruz once again found herself cast in an American film, this time as the lead role in the romantic comedy “Woman on Top.''
The film received positive reviews and quickly led to another major role in a large Hollywood production, the film “All the Pretty Horses” with Hollywood heavyweights like Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton. Her success in these films led to another major film - the American remake of “Open Your Eyes”, a Spanish film she had starred in just years before.
The Year of Fame
If there were ever an important year in the life of Penélope Cruz, it would have been 2001. That was the year that the Spanish actress became a household name in many parts of the world after starring alongside Tom Cruise in “Vanilla Sky” and with Johnny Depp in the film “Blow.”
Penélope had achieved her goal of working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and was finally being taken seriously as an actress. Her fame, of course, was boosted by her very public relationship with actor (and “Vanilla Sky” co-star), Tom Cruise.
Growing up in a small town outside of Madrid, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz probably didn’t imagine that decades later she would be seen on the arm of one of the biggest stars in the world - Tom Cruise.
The couple met on the set of “Vanilla Sky” after Tom had divorced his ex Nicole Kidman in a very public divorce. Suddenly paparazzi photos emerged of Penélope and Tom canoodling around the world and attending red-carpet events together. The two dated for almost three years with many thinking they would eventually get married.
Trouble in Paradise
Though she had an A-list celebrity in her arm and was slowly (but surely) becoming a famous actress in Hollywood, all wasn’t perfect in Penélope Cruz’s life. Being attached to such a big star meant that her personal life was suddenly being scrutinized.
In 2003, an Australian magazine called “New Idea” insinuated that Penelope was being unfaithful to the “Mission Impossible” star. Penelope sued the magazine for its defamatory statements which she later won to the tune of several thousands of dollars and forced them to issue a retraction.
No Hard Feelings
As difficult as it is to maintain a relationship in the public eye, it's even harder to deal with a break with the whole world watching - something Penélope Cruz and Tom Cruise know all too well.
Many gossip magazines blamed Tom Cruise’s involvement with Scientology as the reason for their breakup. Though both celebrities have denied this, it’s clear that the two are still friends. Since their breakup in 2004, they’ve been spotted several times, spending time in a platonic way with the actress calling the “Top Gun” star a “very good man”.
Get Down to Business
Let’s be honest, with her stunning good looks it's hard for Penélope Cruz to make any outfit look bad. Whether it's wearing the latest styles on the red carpet or serving as the face of some of the fashion industry’s most exclusive brands, she has an innate sense of style that cannot be denied.
It was this interest in fashion that inspired Penelope to open a store in 2004 in Madrid’s swanky Salamanca area called Amarcord. Like the star’s own personal style, the shop stocks both casual and more expensive pieces.
From Fame to Flops
Though it once seemed like her career was on a roll, by 2004, things had changed dramatically in Penélope Cruz’s life. Not only had her relationship with Tom Cruise come to an end, but it seemed that her star power was beginning to wane too.
The actress just couldn’t seem to find success in her roles during this period. Despite starring in films with actors like the late star Paul Walker in “Noel” and alongside Charlize Theron in “Head in the Clouds” her films and romantic life seemed to be flopping.
An Epic Disaster
For many stars, the idea of starring in a major blockbuster is often too tempting to pass up … even if the script isn’t very good. Still wanting to prove herself to American audiences, Penélope Cruz starred in the action film “Sahara.”
Despite the film's huge budget (estimated to be around $160 million), the film flopped terribly, earning the title of “one of the most famous flops in history.” Not only did the film flop, but Cruz’s performance was panned. One silver lining, however, was that the film introduced her to the film’s star, actor Matthew McConaughey.
A New Love
Though their film “Sahara” was a flop, actors Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz’s relationship was red-hot. Though he admitted that there was a “bit of a language barrier” between him and the Spanish beauty, he called Penelope one of the “best listeners I’ve ever met.”
Beginning in 2005, the two stars were photographed together off and on the red carpet. Sadly, just about a year after meeting on the set of their film, the two parted ways (allegedly when McConaughey locked eyes on his now-current wife, model Camila Alves!).
The Star She Was Meant to Be
Though she was still reeling from her breakup with rom-com superstar Matthew McConaughey, Penélope Cruz’s career was back on track. The star was cast in Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar 's critically acclaimed film “ Volver.”
The dramatic role resulted in universal praise and several acting award nominations including becoming the first Spanish actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Actress in a lead role). Though she didn’t win the oscar that year, Hollywood took note - Penelope was more than just a pretty face, she was a super talented actress.
In 2006, Penélope Cruz got to do what most of us dream of doing - she got the opportunity to work alongside her best friend, award-winning actress Salma Hayek. The two beauties starred in the Western-themed comedy “Bandidas.”
While many thought that the promise of both actresses in tight historical corsets would be enough to gain audiences, the film unfortunately flopped. Though, we wouldn’t complain if we got paid to wear fun costumes and hang out with our best friends!
Officially a Star
Though Penélope Cruz had proven her acting chops in critically-acclaimed films like “Volver”, her role in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona'' earned her an Academy Award, making her the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar. Playing an over-the-top ex-wife of an artist, Penélope seemed to deliver the greatest performance in the movie - pretty impressive considering she starred alongside talented stars like Scarlett Johansson and future husband Javier Bardem.
The film was also important because it became a meeting place to work with Javier again, the last time since they had starred in “Jamón Jamón”.
Superstar and Fashion Designer
When it comes to red-carpet fashion coverage, Penélope Cruz is one of the most highly-anticipated and beloved celebrities by fashion and celebrity journalists. Her natural beauty and sense of style have been put to good use by the Spanish actress in a variety of creative endeavors.
In 2007 she and her sister Monica began designing collections for the Spanish fast-fashion chain Mango and became the faces of the popular fashion chain. With her close relationships with some of the world’s greatest designers, we’re sure she picked up a thing or two!
A Steamy Reunion
Though actor Javier Bardem admits that he and future wife Penélope Cruz had “obvious chemistry” on the set of their dramedy film “Jamón Jamón” (which he once referred to as a “document of our passion”), the Spanish actor took a step back due to Penélope’s young age at the time filming.
This time, however, the two couldn’t deny their attraction as they worked on the set of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”It became clear to anyone watching the film that the passion between the film’s leads went beyond just acting.
Though the obvious chemistry between Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem was hard to deny, the real-life couple weren’t the only ones heating the scream.
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” featured a memorable love scene (spoiler alert) between Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. As steamy as the intimate scenes between the two actresses were, they were actually supposed to be a lot raunchier. The film’s director, Woody Allen even joked that the film was initially supposed to be for audiences “over 18” but ended up making it milder. We can’t imagine those scenes being any more sensual!
Make Your Move
Many of us have been there - we like a person but we’re afraid to show our feelings because there’s a chance the other person may not feel the same. It turns out that even international stars are also scared of rejection.
Actor Javier Bardem remembers that neither he nor Penélope would “make the first move” and that he was nervous because shooting for their film (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) was coming to an end. Thankfully, the two were able to let loose at a wrap party and confess their true feelings for one another.
A Secret Love Affair
Though Penélope Cruz had been linked to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, her relationship with Javier Bardem was different. The two Spaniards worked hard to keep their budding relationship under wraps … at least for as long as they could!
Soon tabloids were reporting that the two had been spotted holding hands and kissing. Paparazzi shots soon emerged of the couple getting cozy in the Maldives. Tabloids couldn’t wait to get the scoop on one of Hollywood’s most talented couples and the pressure was on to get photos of the notoriously private pair.
By 2009, the rumor mill had gone into overdrive concerning Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem's relationship. Then, in 2009, tabloid magazine “Us Weekly'' reported that Javier had “put a ring on it” and proposed to the Spanish actress.
Though the two fervently denied any engagement, it was clear that they were both serious about one another. But those rumors were further ignited when Javier had this to say about his future wife in an interview with “GQ” - “There is beauty and there is being sexy. Penélope has both." Awww!
Dancing Into the Hearts of Movie Critics
Proving that those years of dance instruction and strict dedication to the craft hadn’t gone to waste, Penélope Cruz starred in the film adaptation of the musical “Nine.”
In the film, Penélope plays the protagonist’s mistress and is just one of many of the film’s major stars. In order to prepare for the role, Penélope had to get back into her old dance routine schedule, practicing for hours a day for three months. The hard work paid off - her steamy song and performance gained her several nominations including Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
A Passionate Admission
After years of trying to deny their relationship, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem finally declared their love in the most public (and adorable) way possible - when Javier was onstage at the 2010 Goya Awards (a prestigious Spanish awards ceremony).
As he picked up an award for "Best Actor" in the film “Biutiful” he told the audience (and a clearly emotional Penélope), "I share this joy with my friend, my companion, my love: Penélope. I owe you a lot and I love you so much." We’re sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room!
The Sweet Smell of Success
Already the face of the cosmetics brand L'Oréal, Penélope Cruz was synonymous with the beauty industry. But in 2010, she joined fellow megastars Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet as the ‘spokesmodels’ for the French luxury beauty brand Lancôme.
Penelope soon began starring in campaigns for the brand’s classic fragrance Trésor. It turns out that not only was Penélope the face of the scent, she was actually a long-time fan! She told one fashion outlet, “ La Nuit Trésor by Lancôme. Trésor has been my perfume since I was a teenager.”
With the pressure to keep their relationship a secret no longer hanging over their shoulders, Penélope Cruz and Javier Barden had no problem flaunting their relationship.
From awards shows to sitting courtside at basketball games, the two were snapped everywhere. One place that was kept secret, however, was the private wedding the two had in a friend’s house in the Bahamas in July 2010. While details are generally unknown, it was reported that the bride wore a gown designed by designer John Galliano as they exchanged their vows in front of family members.
And Baby Makes Three
Throughout her career, Penélope Cruz has never made it a secret that she was thankful for her close-knit family and traditional upbringing. It’s no surprise then, that the actress would want to start a family of her own.
Much to the delight of fans, it turned out that as she and Javier were exchanging vows, Penélope was actually pregnant! In January of 2011, the Spanish couple welcomed their first child, a son named Leo Encinas Cruz. A Few years after the birth of Leo, the couple welcomed a baby girl named Luna.
Keeping Things Hush-Hush
Before Penélope and Javier welcomed their first child, Leo, the two worked hard to keep Penélope’s pregnancy a secret - especially because she was starring in the fantasy action adventure film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
Starring alongside friend Johnny Depp, she joked "I was pregnant and a pirate. A beautiful experience,". Though she was able to shoot all of her required scenes, some of the film's riskier or more physical scenes required her to use her lookalike sister Monica as a body double - a perfect example of sisterly love!
A Hollywood Dream, Realized
Though most celebrities would never admit it, one of the most amazing accomplishments they could achieve is receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - a path in front of the famous El Capitan Theater covered with plaques dedicated to some of the most important figures in show business.
In 2011, Penélope Cruz not only got solid proof of her stardom but she actually made history as the first Spanish actress to land a much-coveted star. With husband Javier Bardem and star Johnny Depp by her side, Penélope posed with her new star.
A Very Risky Directorial Debut
When most actors make the transition from actor to director, they usually part in a traditional film or television series, but not Penélope Cruz. The Spanish actress decided to put her sensual spin on a short film advertisement for the popular lingerie brand, Agent Provocateur.
The five-minute (though who was counting) ad featured a variety of women wearing the lingerie collection called L’Agent collection designed by Penélope and her sister Monica. As a special treat, husband Javier Bardem even makes an appearance! Talk about too hot to handle!
It would seem that in order to maintain a film career, one would have to live in La La Land, but Penélope Cruz defies that stereotype. The Spanish actress continues to live in her native city of Madrid and retains close connections to her Spanish family and culture.
Citing wanting to raise her children “myself”, Penelope moved back to the Spanish capital city after having lived in Los Angeles for several years. Not only was she close to her family and friends, but she wanted to distance herself from a city where everyone was “always talking about the industry”.
An Unexpected Hobby
Penélope Cruz has starred in some of the most thought-provoking and deepest films in recent years, yet behind that serious dedication to the craft of acting, she actually has a surprisingly silly hobby- karaoke.
The Spanish actress began performing karaoke to cope with her anxiety. The usually serious actress said, “I do it to have a laugh – and to laugh at myself when I need to.” And if you’re wondering what the “Volver” star chooses when she gets onstage, “My favorites are Blondie and I also love to rap: Biggie and Eminem.” We can’t imagine!
Though she has often played characters with questionable pasts, in real life, Penélope Cruz is actually quite straight-laced. Unlike so many other celebrities, she is known for her strict dedication to a healthy and balanced lifestyle - one that includes staying away from any illicit substances and even adult beverages!
She jokes that her reputation precedes her so much that when she showed up at an Oscar party once, many of her friends said "Wow, I can’t believe it’s 2 am and you’re still here!" Apparently, she parties only “once every two years!’
While many celebrities are given designer gowns for special events, it’s not every day that a major fashion icon makes you his muse. In 2018, the late Karl Lagerfeld, the long-time creative director of French luxury brand Chanel chose Penélope Cruz to be the brand’s ambassador.
Penélope, who had worn Chanel’s creations since she was 19, was excited to work with the “king of fashion.” Though Karl passed, Penélope is still often seen wearing elaborately designed Chanel fashions and even wore some of the late designer’s pieces in her 2009 film, “Broken Embraces.”
A Classic Made New
Celebrities, they’re just like us. In 2017, Penélope Cruz decided to show off her less serious side and recorded herself singing a version of Dionne Warwick’s classic tune “I Say a Little Prayer for You” while at a fancy Hollywood event.
Unlike our singing in the shower, however, Penélope got some A-list celebrities to help her belt out the words to the song including Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet. If anyone would have known the lyrics it would have been Julia, whose 1997 movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” famously featured the hit.
Staying off Social Media
Like many people of a certain age, actress Penélope Cruz has a “strange relationship with social media.” The Spanish star has said that she feels social media affects how people interact with one another and so she tries to “use very little of it in a very careful way.”
The mother of two also feels that social media is especially bad for younger generations and is “not ideal for human growth.” She is apparently so strict about using it that she said she won’t allow them to have social media until they’re 16! Tough love!
Penélope Takes on a Fashion Icon
Though she has played some incredible characters throughout her film career, one of the most famous roles she has played has been that of Donatella Versace in FX’s "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace."
The film, which was critically praised, featured Penélope wearing the fashion industry icon’s signature platinum locks and heavy Italian accent. In order to prepare for the role, Penélope actually spoke to Donatella and asked for her blessing, saying “I think she knows how much I like her and respect her.”
Hollywood Power Couple
Penélope Cruz and her husband, actor Javier Bardem, are not only some of Hollywood’s most talented actors, but they’re one of the few couples to both receive Oscar nominations in the same year In 2022, Javier was nominated for his role in “Being the Ricardos” while his wife was nominated for her work in “Parallel Mothers.”
Though neither of them took home the gold that night, they’re one of the few married nominees in the awards show’s history. Given their talent, we have a feeling it won’t be long before they both win in the same year!