"I'm going out every night because nobody recognises me," Spanish export Penelope Cruz said of her Hollywood nightlife. That was in 1999. Before she co-starred with Hollywood heavyweights Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, and Nicolas Cage. Before All About My Mother won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Before she won an Oscar for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Penelope Cruz Sanchez was born on April 28, 1974, in Madrid, Spain, to Eduardo, a mechanic, and hairdresser Encarna. Though a happy child, she was also wilful. "My mother used to give me to my grandmother for the holidays and scream, 'I can't take this child'," says Penelope. As a youngster she threw her boundless energy into dancing and studied at Spain's National Conservatory before beating 300 other girls in a local talent agency audition. Bit parts in TV commercials followed, but it was 1992's Oscar-winning Belle Epoque which put her on the map.
She was soon on the A-list of Spanish talent. Pedro Almodovar cast her in Spanish-language films Carne Tremula and in the same year she starred in the psychological thriller Abre Los Ojos, which won several Goyas, Spain's equivalent of the Oscars.
"A tape appeared on my desk," says The Hi-Lo Country director Stephen Frears, who cast Penelope in her first major English-speaking role. "I went and looked at it, and there was Venus. She's absolutely gorgeous. And very, very good, too."
Since then she's worked non-stop, yet Hollywood success hasn't changed her. She still wants to make her family proud and returns to Spain frequently to visit her brother Eduardo and sister Monica, as well as her parents, who are now divorced. She has even flown in for less than 24 hours to spend the day with her grandmother.
She was so thrilled about her role in The Hi-Lo Country she donated her entire salary from the film to one of Mother Teresa's charitable funds. She has done volunteer work in Uganda and Calcutta, and vigorously campaigns for social justice and children's rights.
While her roles have been varied she's played a pregnant nun with AIDS, a bookish writer, a Brazilian chef, and the lover of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels her English-speaking characters to date have been underwritten and less than challenging. Her turn in 2001's Vanilla Sky earned a mixed reception from critics, but for Penelope there was a bright side. Her on-screen love affair with Tom Cruise led to real-life romance.
The demands of their respective careers eventually proved too much, though, and they split in January 2004. Penelope remains good friends with the actor, and was one of the first to visit Tom and Katie after their daughter Suri was born in April 2006.
A relationship with Sahara co-star Matthew McConaughey came to an end in May 2006 and the striking brunette went on to be linked to leading Spanish actor Javier Bardem. The pair starred together in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the film which earned Penelope a best supporting actress gong - her country's first.
Having been photographed together on numerous occasions it became more and more apparent that Penelope and hunky Javier were an item - though they chose to play their cards close to their chests, refusing to be drawn to comment on their private lives.
Their wedding, in July 2010, proved no exception to the rule. The couple tied the knot in typical, low-key fashion, in front of just a handful of friends and family in the Bahamas. And, unbeknown to the rest of the world, the newlyweds were closely guarding a special secret - that Penelope was, in fact, two months pregnant with their first child.
After increasing speculation that mounted as the screen siren continued to wear an array of loose-fitting garments, in September a spokesperson confirmed the happy news that they were expecting a baby in early 2011.