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As Pelagia, a Greek girl whose near-idyllic life is torn apart by war, PENELOPE CRUZ is at the very center of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and the first actress director John Madden thought of as he read the script.

"She has a radiantly charismatic presence, and extraordinary beauty that isn't about glamour," he comments. "She also has simplicity as well as passion and ferocity, the emotional volatility that the character possesses.

The emergence of Penelope Cruz as an international star has seemed inevitable since her appearance at 17 in the Bigas Luna film, Jamon, Jamon. The role earned her a Goya nomination, Spain's equivalent of the Oscar. as Best New Actress, and she was immediately sought for important projects. Now 27 she has made nearly two dozen features, two of which won Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, Fernando Trueba's Belle Epoque (1992) and Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother (1999). She had previously appeared in Almodovar's Lire Flesh. She worked with Trueba again in 1998's Girl of Your Dreams, and won the Best Actress Goya Award for her portrayal of an Andalusian cabaret singer. Cruz starred in Alejandro Amenabar's Open Your Eyes in 1997.

Cruz moved into English-language films in 1998 with The Hi-Lo Country opposite Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup. Since then, she has starred opposite Matt Damon in All the Pretty Horses, directed by Billy Bob Thornton; Blow, a true story of cocaine smuggling in the 1970's, co-starring Johnny Depp; the comedy/romance Woman on Top, and Twice Upon a Yesterday,  director Maria Ripoll's English language debut. She can next be seen opposite Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky.

A Madrilena, Cruz is the eldest of three children born to Encarna and Eduardo Cruz. She studied ballet for 14 years before studying acting. Her sister Monica is a professional flamenco dancer and her brother Eduardo dreams of playing soccer.

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