Known outside her native country as the "Spanish enchantress", Penélope Cruz Sánchez was born in Madrid to Eduardo (a retailer) and Encarna (a hairdresser). As a toddler, she was already a compulsive performer, re-enacting TV commercials for her family's amusement, but she decided to focus her energies on dance. After studying classical ballet for nine years at Spain's National Conservatory, she continued her training under a series of prominent dancers. At 15, however, she heeded her true calling when she bested more than 300 other girls at a talent agency audition. The resulting contract landed her several roles in Spanish TV shows and music videos, which in turn paved the way for a career on the big screen. Cruz made her movie debut in Laberinto griego, El (1993) (The Greek Labyrinth), then appeared briefly in the Timothy Dalton thriller Framed (1992) (TV). Her third film was the Oscar-winning Belle epoque (1992), in which she played one of four sisters vying for the love of a handsome army deserter. The film also garnered several Goyas, the Spanish equivalent of the Academy Awards. Her resume continued to grow by three or four films each year, and soon Cruz was a leading lady of Spanish cinema. Carne trémula (1997) (Live Flesh) offered her the chance to work with renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (who would later be her ticket to international fame), and the same year she was the lead actress in the thriller/drama/mystery/sci-fi film Abre los ojos (1997), a huge hit in Spain that earned eight Goyas (though none for Cruz). Her luck finally changed in 1998, when the movie-industry comedy Niña de tus ojos, La (1998) won her a Best Actress Goya. Cruz made a few more forays into English-language film, but her first big international hit was Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre (1999) (All About My Mother), in which she played an unchaste but well-meaning nun. As the film was showered with awards and accolades, Cruz suddenly found herself in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Her next big project was Woman on Top (2000), an American comedy about a chef with bewitching culinary skills and a severe case of motion sickness. While in the US, she also signed up to star opposite Johnny Depp in the drug-trafficking drama Blow (2001) and opposite Matt Damon (her rumored paramour) in Billy Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses (2000). Cruz says she's wary of being typecast as a beautiful young damsel, but it's hard to imagine disguising her wide-eyed charms and generous nature (she once donated an entire paycheck to Mother Teresa's children's sanctuary). Fortunately, with Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky (2001) (a remake of Abre los ojos (1997)) and a John Madden collaboration looming in her future, Damsel Penelope isn't likely to disappear just yet.
After filming All the Pretty Horses (2000), she became a vegetarian.
It was rumored that she donated her entire The Hi-Lo Country (1998) salary to the Mother Teresa's children's sanctuary in Calcutta after spending a week there volunteering. This was later denounced by Cruz, according to a Reuters news article in 2001.
Daughter of Eduardo (merchant) and Encarna (hairdresser).
Academic curriculum: Finished 2º B.U.P. (2nd. year of secondary school). Had 4 years of dance performance with Cristina Rota, several dance courses at New York, 9 years of classic ballet at the Conservatorio Nacional and 3 years of Spanish ballet with Ángela Garrido. Also had Jazz Dance course with Raúl Caballero.
Volunteered in Uganda for 2 months in 1997 with then boyfriend Faiz Ahmad.
She founded a non-government organisation (NGO) called Sabera Foundation. Together with Nacho Cano and other Spanish entertainers, they have set up a home, a school and a clinic for homeless girls and people suffering from tuberculosis in Calcutta. Two documentary programs were made for Spanish TV on this project. Unfortunately differences of opinion caused a collapse in the project and Sabera Foundation tragically no longer exists.
Dated Tom Cruise. [2001-January 2004]
She was named after the song "Penélope" by Joan Manuel Serrat.
Her sister 'Monica Cruz' is now a TV star in Spain. She starred in "Paso adelante, Un" (2002) as a young dancer with a famous aunt.
Voted the 7th Sexiest Female Movie Star in the Australian Empire Magazine September 2002.
Lived with Nacho Cano, Spanish musician, part of the trio (famous in Spain) called "Mecano", a pop music group. Penelope appeared in one of the band's video-clips "la Fuerza del Destino" and that's where her romance with one of the two Cano brothers that form part of the group along with the singer Ana Torroja begun.
Best friends with actresses Goya Toledo and Salma Hayek.
Ranked #23 in Stuff magazine's "102 Sexiest Women in the World" (2002).
Likes to keep stray cats.
Learned Italian because she wanted her part in the movie Non ti muovere (2004) really badly. It paid off and she went on to win the Italian equivalent of the Oscars for Best Actress.
Speaks four languages: Spanish, Italian, French and English.
Was accompanied by Matthew McConaughey to the Grammy Awards in 2005. The couple met on the set of Sahara (2005).
Shares her birthday with Jessica Alba & Jay Leno
Two of her boyfriends have been named "Sexiest Man Alive" by People Magazine: Tom Cruise (in 1990) and Matthew McConaughey (in 2005).
Sister of 'Monica Cruz'
Bigas Luna was determined to have her starring as the lead character in the torrid Edades de Lulú, Las (1990), but Penélope was only 14. They agreed that she was too young for the role and Francesca Neri was cast instead. Two years later, Luna's fixation with Cruz resulted in her breakthrough performance in Jamón, jamón (1992), her first film, famous for her somewhat erotic scenes. They eventually collaborated again in Volavérunt (1999).
Claims that Victoria Abril's powerful performance in Pedro Almodóvar's ¡Átame! (1990) ("Tie me up, tie me down!") determined her to become an actress.
Ranked as #51 in FHM's "100 Sexiest Women in the World 2005" special supplement. (2005)