Her entry into the world of cinema wasn’t a rosy one as she faced rejection a number of times. However, not the one to give up, she persistently continued with her endeavour to bag herself a role.
In 1989, she auditioned at a talent agency. With more than 300 girls eyeing for the role, she came out victorious, impressing the judges with her oozing fresh talent, unmatched sense of presence and remarkable acting skills.
Her first stint in front of the camera was for the Spanish pop group, ‘Mecano’ music video, ‘La Fuerza del Destino’. Following this, she was regularly featured on television throughout the 1990s decade. She served as the host for the teenage talk show, ‘La Quinta Marcha’. She also appeared in an episode of an erotic French TV series called ‘S�rie rose’
She made her big screen debut with the feature film, ‘Jamon, Jamon’ in 1992. She played the role of the female protagonist, Silvia. The film met with favourable response. She was as much appreciated for her talent as for her daring nudity in the film, which made her a major sex symbol overnight.
Her next release was lined up for the same year titled, ‘Belle Epoque’. This Academy Award winning movie had her playing the character of virginal Luz with complete perfection.
With as little as two movies old, it was too early to tag her as a successful artist but given her power packed performances and skilled approach; she seemed to be destined for the riches and the glory. Staying true to the prophecy, she gave one hit after the other and no sooner than in 1996, established herself as a successful Spanish and Italian films actor.
In 1997, she worked for internationally renowned director Pedro Almodovar for his film, ‘Carne Tremula’. Her portrayal of the character of Isabel Plaza Caballero earned her critical recognition globally and set the stage for many more films from the Almodovar camp to come her way.
Her other offerings for the year 1997 include: ‘Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health’, ‘Live Flesh’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’. Following year, she was cast in Stephen Frears' western film, ‘The Hi-Lo Country’ which was a major dud at the box office.
In 1998, she was seen in films like, ‘Don Juan’ and ‘The Girl of Your Dreams’. The latter film earned her immense critical and commercial recognition for her portrayal of the character of Macrena Granada with complete perfection.
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In 1999, she was seen in ‘All About My Mother’, a film directed by Peter Almod�var.
Meanwhile, in between doing Spanish films, she learned ballet and English language to equip herself with the language.
At the age of 25, she decided to move to Hollywood. Being on top of her career she didn’t have much trouble in getting the work. ‘Woman on Top’ was her first Hollywood offering, in which she was cast as Isabelle, a world-class chef suffering from motion sickness. Same year, she played the romantic lead in Billy Bob Thornton's ‘All the Pretty Horses’. Both films were well received.
The string of successful films made her resume quite extraordinarily extravagant but the high point still remained elusive. Year 2001 filled up for the same with the release of Cameron Crowe's ‘Vanilla Sky’, an interpretation of the Spanish film ‘Open Your Eyes’. The film was a major box office blockbuster, helping her garner her first crossover success.
Taking the success story of ‘Vanilla Sky’ further, she was paired opposite acting genius and stalwart, Johnny Depp in ‘Blow’. The film despite receiving mixed reviews from the public, made a whopping $80 million at the box office worldwide.
She could not take the legacy of back to back super successful films any further as her subsequent releases, ‘Don't Tempt Me’ and ‘Captain Corelli's Mandolin’ garnered negative response. Nevertheless, the latter managed to keep the box office ticking by making $62 million worldwide.
Years 2002 to 2004 were difficult years for her career, as none of her movies seemed to work. Starting from ‘Waking Up in Reno’ to ‘Gothika’, ‘Fanfan la Tulipe’, ‘Noel’ and ‘Head in the Clouds’ (2004), each of them proved to be a failure. The only saving grace was Sergio Castellitto's melodrama ‘Don't Move’.
In 2006, she was cast alongside Salma Hayek in the western comedy film, ‘Bandidas’. Following this, she was seen in ‘Volver’, a film from the Almod�var's camp. For the same she received numerous awards and recognitions.
In 2007, she starred in Woody Allen's ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. She played the character of Mar�a Elena, a mentally unstable woman, with absolute perfection, thus garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences. She also bagged an Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress.
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In 2010, she made a cameo appearance in the film, ‘Sex and the City 2’ which was a sequel of the 2008 film, ‘Sex and the City’. Following year, she was a part of the cast for the fourth offering from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.
Her latest releases include, Woody Allen's 2012 film ‘To Rome with Love’ and ‘A Matador's Mistress’ released on demand via cable, satellite, telco and online. She is said to be working with Sergio Castellitto in his war tale, ‘Venuto al Mondo’.