Penelope Cruz is on cloud nine. Set to marry her boyfriend of three years, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, she is getting her wedding gown ready. Mike Jagger’s girlfriend and Utah born fashion queen, L’Wren Scott, will design the dress.
Cruz and Bardem (remember the dark, evil guy in Coen Brothers’
No Country for Old Men
) have been in love since 2007, when Woody Allen brought them together for his
Vicky Christina Barcelona
. Shot in sunny Spain, the film turned Bardem into a romantic hero. A painter, who woos three women, including Cruz, he was immensely good. Cruz must have flipped for this rustic Romeo.
Interestingly, Bardem and Cruz first met on the set of
as early as 1997, but I suppose Spanish master Pedro Almodovar, who helmed this movie, could not help ignite the spark between his actors.
However, if there is one man who turned Cruz into a fine actress, it is Almodovar, and undoubtedly so. The two met when she was just 17, and that was 18 years ago. In one of her media interviews, she said: "We have something for each other. We connect. We have developed a good friendship working together. We also hang out as friends and talk about everything in our lives.”
Cruz -- whose first film was
, a 1992 Spanish work – caught the eye, so to say, with her extraordinary portrayal of a nun in Almodovar’s
All About My Mother
But, her Hollywood movies that followed were disastrous. Whether it was the Matt Damon-starrer,
All the Pretty Horses
or Tom Cruise-controlled
or Nicolas Cage-enacted
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
, Penelope floundered, reaffirming the popular notion that she was good merely in Spanish cinema.
She certainly had a problem with English, and this was apparent in the 2001
, where she seemed to struggle with her diction and delivery.
The film was damaging in another aspect. Her tumultuous affair with her leading man, Cruise, even as he was going through a messy divorce with his long-time wife, Nicole Kidman, may have made the new couple the hottest in Hollywood and a darned favourite of the paparazzi, but it pushed Cruz to cinematic wilderness.
While Cruz and Cruise cuddled and coupled between 2001 and 2004, her roles shrivelled and shrunk. Most of them were minor ones in uncelebrated American indies, such as
Waking Up in Reno
Masked and Anonymous
. Sadly, even the few meatier parts in non-English movies –
Fanfan La Tulipe
– did not help.
Her old mentor, Almodovar, had to rescue a sinking Cruz in his magnificent 2006
. As Raimunda in a small Spanish town, Cruz was marvellous as a woman haunted by her mother’s ghost and forced to commit a murder. Feeding a film unit, and switching from wrath and fear to girlishness and garrulousness, Cruz stole the show and told her critics that she had a lot of pluck still left in her. But
was in Spanish, and she had to prove that she could do an English movie with equal ease.
Then came her Jeeves, bespectacled and haggard, an image that did not quite give the impression of a knight in shining armour: Woody Allen, still nurturing his muse, Scarlett Johansson, decided to cast Cruz in his
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
. If Allen resurrected himself with this film, Cruz proved that she could comfortably handle an American production. As Maria Elena, the Spanish wife of painter Juan Antonio (essayed by Bardem), she breathed fire into his relationship with Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Johansson).
Elena may have got Cruz an Oscar for a supporting role in
Vicky Christina Barcelona
, but doubts about her English fluency remained. For in the Allen work, she speaks English with the obvious Spanish accent. However, Cruz says that after living and working in America for a few years now, she is more relaxed and confident. “You need the language to survive. That is how you learn”.
But she is getting there. This year, Rob Marshall’s latest,
, inspired by Fellini’s
got Penelope an Oscar nod for a supporting part. A musical, she plays a moviemaker’s (essayed by Daniel Day-Lewis) mistress, pained by his love for his own wife and the hopelessness of the affair. And
seems to have prophetically pushed her closer to Hollywood’s charmed circle.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been watching Penelope Cruz since her turbulent teenage days