Grab some popcorn and get comfy as we round up some of the best Spanish actresses in world cinema.
Over the years, Spain has produced outstandingly skilled actresses, much to the delight of movie and TV watchers the world over.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the Spanish stars that are currently triumphing in the art of acting, as well as a few interesting biographical details about each performer.
Let’s begin with our featured star…
Penelope Cruz was born on April 28th, 1974 in Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain. Seemingly a born performer, Cruz primarily initially focused her career aspirations in the world of dance. She joined Spain’s National Conservatory and studied classical ballet for nine years, before turning her focus to acting at the age of 15.
Cruz’s acting career began in Spanish TV shows and a number of music videos before breaking through into movie roles.
Her career then began to develop, and movie roles soon followed: Cruz had an (admittedly relatively minor) role in Framed in 1992, The Greek Labyrinth in 1993, and then Belle Epoque in 1992, which would go on to win an Oscar and further raise Cruz’s profile.
Cruz continued to build her CV over the subsequent years, starring in roles that steadily grew in prominence prior to her breakthrough as a leading lady with a role in Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh in 1997. In the same year, she starred as the lead actress in the thriller Abre los ojos (in English: Open Your Eyes).
The latter went on to win eight Goyas in total, though Cruz was not among the recipients. However, Cruz would not have to wait for long to win one of the most coveted awards in acting; she won the Best Actress Goya for her role in The Girl of Your Dreams in 1998.
From there, Cruz built and developed her experience, with her first international major hit – another Pedro Almodóvar piece – entitled All About My Mother, in which she played a nun. The film was a breakthrough hit for Cruz on the international stage, leading to Hollywood roles, including Woman on Top in 2000, the adaptation of the novel Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and the well-regarded thriller Blow in 2001.
Cruz also starred in Vanilla Sky (2001), an adaptation of Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), reprising the role she had played in the Spanish-language version of the film, with Cruz receiving praise for her role once more.
The adaptation also featured actor Tom Cruise; the two leads would eventually develop their on-screen chemistry into a romantic relationship in real life following Cruise’s divorce from Nicole Kidman, before eventually splitting in January 2004.
A celebrated career would, however, reach its climax in 2008, when Cruz won an Oscar for her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a romantic-comedy-drama film that delighted fans and critics alike. Cruz’s role enabled her to become the first ever Spanish actress to win an Academy Award.
The film also proved fruitful on a personal note, also. Cruz originally met Spanish actor Javier Bardem while filming a little-known film, Jamon Jamon, in 1992. The duo were reunited while working on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and rumours of a romance soon followed. Cruz and Bardem married in 2010, and went on to have two children together: Leo Encinas Cruz in 2011, and Luna Encinas Cruz, in 2014.
Cruz has shown her range in the years since, starring in Sex In The City 2 in 2010, as well as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011, which she filmed while seven months pregnant with her son Leo. Cruz also worked with Pedro Almodóvar once more in 2013’s I’m So Excited, having also starred in Twice Born in 2012.
In addition to acting roles, Cruz has also turned her talents to co-producing, returning to her roots with the Spanish film Ma Ma in 2015, as well as starring in the comedy sequel Zoolander 2 in the same year. More recently, Cruz played the role of Donatella Versace in The Assassination of Gianni Versace; a role that was, like much of Cruz’s portfolio of work, very well received.
Outside of acting, Cruz has also modelled; it was reported that, in 2006, she was earning around $2 million a year as a representative for L’Oreal. Cruz is also well-known for her charitable efforts. She has volunteered in numerous countries, including Nepal and India, and also assisted Mother Teresa at a leprosy clinic. She has also posed for anti-fur campaigns on behalf of PETA, as well as supporting the Red Cross, UNICEF, Greenpeace, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Like Penelope Cruz, a number of other Spanish actresses have made a name for themselves on the silver screen, including…
Paz Vega was born María Paz Campos Trigo on January 2nd, 1975 in Seville, Spain. Her stage name, which translates as “peace meadow”, is taken from her grandmother’s name.
Vega has said that she was inspired to become an actress after attending a play, La casa de Bernarda Alba, at the age of 16. At the same age, she was accepted at the Centro Andaluz de Teatro stage school, where she studied until the age of 18 before moving to Madrid in order to pursue acting opportunities.
Similarly to many Spanish actresses, Vega’s first big break came on a TV show rather than in a film. Her television debut was in Menudo es mi padre, and in 1997, she starred in two other series: Más que amigos and Compañeros. Both roles were well-received, but it is arguably in 7 Vidas – a TV sitcom that was often referred to as the Spanish version of the US hit Friends – that she truly made her mark.
Following her film debut in Zapping, released in 1999, Vega continued to build her CV with movie roles. In 2001, she was nominated for two Goya awards; Best Leading Actress for Solo mia and as Best Breakthrough Actress for Sex and Lucia, the latter of which she won.
For English-speaking audiences, her first film of note is likely to be Spanglish, which was released in 2004. Vega accepted the role of Flor, a Mexican woman who has moved to the US in search of a better life. Vega took the role despite the fact that, at the time, speaking no English; she had to learn her lines in Spanish, then memorise them phonetically in English. Nevertheless, the efforts paid off: Vega received third billing for her part, with Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni as the leads. Interestingly, her role in the film proved pivotal for Vega’s career, and she received a special honour from the Phoenix Film Critics Society for her part.
Following Spanglish, Vega’s CV began to grow, and she has gone on to play roles in a number of feature films, including The Spirit in 2008, in which she starred alongside Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Samuel L Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson. Vega has also branched out into TV roles; in 2016, she played Renata in four episodes of the cryptic Netflix drama, The OA.
Vega is also a model and, in 2011, replaced fellow Spaniard Penelope Cruz as the spokesmodel for L’Oreal Spain. Vega is married to Venezuelan national, Orson Salazar; they met on a Spanish island, and have gone on to have three children together: her son, Orson, was born in May 2007, daughter Ava in July 2009, and son Lenon in 2010.
Vega is also known for her representation of the Spanish province Andalucia; in recognition of her work, she has been award the Medal of Andalucia and the Seville Gold Medal.
Elsa Pataky was born Elsa Lafuente Medianu on July 18th, 1976 in Madrid, Spain. As with Paz Vega, Pataky takes her stage name from her grandmother. Pataky’s first career choice was journalism, which she studied at the Universidad CEU San Pablo.
The acting bug soon bit, however, and Pataky began to take acting classes, while also joining the Teatro Cámara de Ángel Gutiérrez. Eventually, she left college due to an offer to star in the Spanish TV series Al salir de clase. Pataky went on to play the role of Raquel Alonso on the show for 189 episodes between 1997 and 1998.
Further TV roles followed, including TV series such as Queen of Swords in 2000 and Los Serrano between 2003 and 2004. In addition to her TV work, Pataky continued to act in Spanish movies, as well as making appearances in English-speaking films such as Snakes on a Plane in 2006 and Give ‘Em Hell, Malone in 2009.
It is, however, her role as Officer Elena Neves in Fast Five (2011) that truly launched Pataky to widespread international recognition. Playing opposite the franchise lead, Dwayne Johnson, Pataky received praise and recognition for her skill, which led to a greatly increased profile in the USA. Pataky reprised the role in Fast & Furious 6 in 2013, Furious 7 in 2015, and The Fate of the Furious in 2017.
Alongside her undeniable acting achievements, Pataky is also a skilled linguist: she can speak Spanish, English, French, Romanian, and Italian. Furthermore, Pataky’s personal life has also been the subject of a large amount of speculation and intrigue. In 2006, she began dating The Pianist actor Adrien Brody. The couple became engaged in May 2008, but subsequently separated in 2009.
In 2010, Pataky was introduced to Thor actor Chris Hemsworth by their shared management company ROAR in 2010. The introduction went well; Pataky and Hemsworth were engaged within five months of meeting, and married five months later on December 26th. Hemsworth and Pataky share three children; their first daughter, India Rose Hemsworth, was born on May 8th, 2012, and twins Tristan and Sasha Hemsworth were born on March 18th, 2014.
Elena Anaya Gutiérrez was born on July 17th, 1975 in Palencia, Spain, as the youngest of three children. By the age of 17, Anaya had decided to pursue acting, enrolling on a drama course offered in her local town by popular Spanish actor, Manuel Morón.
From there, Anaya auditioned for, and was accepted to, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Madrid – though her connection to Morón remained, and he recommended her for a role in the 1996 film, África. Anaya succeeded in the subsequent audition, playing the titular part and drawing much praise as a result.
From there, Anaya built a successful career, earning a number of roles in TV shows and Spanish-speaking movies. Her international breakthrough is considered to be the 2001 drama, Sex and Lucia, in which she appeared alongside Paz Vega and which earned her a Goya nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Anaya then went on to star alongside another famous Spanish actress, Penelope Cruz, in the 2001 film Sin noticias de Dios.
As her range and reputation went from strength-to-strength, Anaya eventually won a role in a Hollywood film, playing one of Dracula’s brides in the 2004 movie Van Helsing. Unfortunately, the film was not quite the success it had been hoped it would be, and the next few years were relatively quiet for an actress of Anaya’s calibre – though she did appear in the music video for Justin Timberlake’s hit single Sexy Back.
In 2010, Anaya returning to top billing in the 2010 movie Room in Rome, a comedy-drama directed by Julio Medem. Anaya also appeared in the acclaimed Pedro Almodóvar psychological thriller The Skin I Live In in 2011; the film went on to win a number of awards, including the BAFTA for Best Film Not In The English Language, and a total of 16 Goya award nominations – including the Best Actress award for Anaya.
In addition, in 2012, she received the honorary Málaga Sur Award at the Film Festival in Málaga. More recently, she played a small part in 2015’s The Infiltrator alongside Bryan Cranston, as well as the role of Doctor Poison in the 2017 adaptation of Wonder Woman.
Anaya separated from her long-term partner, director Beatriz Sanchís, in 2013. In November 2016, Anaya and her partner, costume designer Tina Afugu Cordero, were reported to be expecting their first child; Anaya gave birth to their son in February 2017.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about these incredible Spanish actresses. Who’s your favourite – and who else deserves a place on this list?