Did Pedro Almodóvar Save Penelope Cruz's Career?

Penelope Cruz is profiled in Vanity Fair's November issue, and Ingrid Sischy explains that a string of terrible films like Vanilla Sky could have finished her. But Pedro Almodóvar jokes: "I was there to save her."

Earlier this year, Cruz became the first Spanish-born actress to win an Oscar when she was named best supporting actress for her role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This fall, she'll star in two new films, Broken Embraces, her fourth film with director Pedro Almodóvar, and Rob Marshall's musical Nine, but Vanity Fair takes a look back at her career and reveals that if several directors hadn't realized her potential, she may have never found success in Hollywood.

There are only a handful of actresses who have started their careers in a non-English speaking country and gone on to become A-list actresses, such as Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, and Ingrid Bergman, but Sischy writes:

Like some of those actresses, Cruz isn't cookie-cutter pretty-she even has a bit of a schnoz-but her unusual features come together in a memorable aria of real beauty.

We really can't see any imperfections in Cruz, and Woody Allen seems to agree, saying:

"I don't like to look at Penélope directly. It is too overwhelming."

Almodóvar says the reason Cruz's career got off to a rocky start with films like Vanilla Sky, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Gothika, and other films that were not considered commercial successes is that other people in Hollywood couldn't see past her beauty:

"It was bad luck for Penélope, because some of the movies were very ambitious, but this happens. They only saw her as a beautiful girl. It is the problem with the market, the agents, the studios, the film industry as a whole that labels actors in a way that is not very subtle at all. The problem is that it happened with 10 or 12 movies for Penélope, and it could have been the end." Then he laughed: "But I was there to save her. I'm joking now."

Penélope, who grew up outside of Madrid, was inspired to become an actress by watching Almodóvar's films as a teenager. Seeing his film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! changed her life. She explains:

"That was the day I decided to be an actress," Cruz says. "I fell in love. I'd found what I wanted to do. I really didn't want to have to be in an office. I was a good student, but not happy. I thought, I have nobody in my family and no friends who can make a living out of anything related to an artistic profession, but I want to try. I decided to look for an agent."

Later, after she'd acted in a string of somewhat successful American films and become known as a celebrity, but not a great actress, Almodóvar's 2006 film Volver relaunched her career.

Penélope was born to be an actress," says Almodóvar... "She is someone who is extremely emotional, and if she was not an actress it could be a problem for her. It's luck she has chosen a profession that allows her to express something that would be too much for a normal person. Otherwise she would suffer a lot. And even now maybe she suffers too much." Apparently this tendency goes way back. "I've always been a worrier," says Cruz. "Since I was a little girl I've always felt that if I had a moment of peace I'd wonder: Are you sure you can afford to feel like this?"

Of course, she still refuses to discuss her emotions concerning one area of her life: her relationship with Javier Bardem. She refuses to discuss the persistant rumors that the two are expecting a child. Sischy seems to see it as a triumph that she gets Cruz to let this one little detail slip, writing;

I brought up a U2 concert that she and Bardem had attended in Paris, mentioning that I'd heard she was playing air guitar during some of the songs. She squealed with delight, saying, "Javier is even better at air guitar!"

The Passions Of Penelope [Vanity Fair]
OMG! Penelope Cruz Feeds Pregnancy Reports; Visits The Ob-Gyn Clinic [N.Y. Daily News]