Somewhere in the middle of the latest Woody Allen movie, Vicky, Christina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz does the impossible: she makes us forget Scarlett Johansson even exists. Playing a stereotypical character -Maria Elena–with gusto, Cruz’s entrée hits the screen like a hurricane. She’s all piss and vinegar, a chain smoking, murderous, crazy, sexy hellcat. While the sexy bit isn’t all that much of a stretch, it says a lot when you can diminish one of the silver screen’s more astonishingly beautiful and charismatic actresses to a wallflower simply by showing up.
Her show-stopping performance isn’t just natural ability–as Cruz told Movieline’s Hollywood Life in the 2005 cover story–she’s an excessively hard worker. “When I was 14 I was going to high school, theater school, ballet lessons, going to casting, looking for an agent–I always tried to use my time. I’ve never been a party girl. So my lifestyle is not so different now.”
Cruz has been up for an Oscar before (Best Actress 2006 for Volver), but didn’t win. Though she nabbed the BAFTA, the Golden Globe went to Viola Davis, which means that this contest is wide open.