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January 9, 2006

Penélope Cruz: Will She Say I Do, or I Don't

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"I'm taking advantage of who I am"

Cut to five years later, after a few lackluster movies (most notably Vanilla Sky) and her breakup, albeit amicable, with Cruise, and Cruz finds herself at 31, older and much wiser to the ways of Hollywood's inner workings. Cruz knows exactly who she is and where she's going. "Instead of trying to pretend to be what I am not, I'm taking advantage of who I am," she says. "I am who I am, and I am a Spanish actress who has been very lucky to have this opportunity to work here, but who is also working in other places."

Translation: Bring it on. In addition to her charitable work and budding photography career, Cruz owns a clothing store in Madrid, where she also owns a house near her family. She's designing a line of jewelry and handbags with her younger sister, Monica, for a company in Japan. As for her acting career ‑- well, she's got a firm handle on that, now doing only films that she wants to do, not what Hollywood wants her to do. While she hasn't entirely turned her back on big popcorn movies like Sahara, last summer's sleeper hit that led to her relationship with McConaughey, Cruz is now concentrating on small, prestigious independent films. Films like Don't Move, the 2004 Italian drama for which she spent months learning Italian (she speaks four languages) and which won her the Italian Oscar for her performance as a rape victim who falls in love with a married man. And films like Volver (due in theaters June 2006), the latest comic drama from Almodovar, with whom she has had her greatest successes and whom she calls her "hero." "I became an actress so that Pedro would call me," she says. "It was always my dream."

Cruz is guided by her own passion these days. "I want to play characters that really make me feel things," she says. "I'm more alive that way." She's also taking a more proactive role by developing projects for herself. First up, Bandidas, an English-language comedy she and Hayek commissioned for themselves in which they play south-of-the-border bank robbers.

Credit her fiery Latin heritage, her nine years of ballet lessons (in which she would dance until her feet literally bled) or her no-nonsense, middle-class upbringing in Madrid for instilling in Cruz a devotion to hard work. Whatever the cause, she takes a fierce, no-holds-barred approach to life. "I can do a lot in a day, and I'm not even hyperactive," she says with a laugh, adding that her intensity is such that even her friends and family think she needs to dial it down a notch. "I have a lot of friends in Spain who think that I have to relax. I exhaust them." She adds that her 21-year-old brother, Eduardo, thinks she's too bossy. "He's always begging me to have a baby," Cruz confesses, his thinking being that then his big sister will give everyone else a break. "I was 11 when he was born, so I'm like his second mother," she says, laughing. "I'm very annoying."

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