Penelope makes history for Spain

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In Spain, Penelope Cruz’s award for best supporting actress was hailed as a national triumph. Her performance in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, as the unstable ex-wife of Javier Bardem’s sex-crazed character, makes her the first Spanish actress to win one of the Academy’s gold statuettes.

She emulates Bardem’s success last year, when he became the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar for his supporting role in No Country for Old Men.

The Spanish media have covered the race for the secondary female role as though it were the World Cup. “Hollywood crowns Penelope!” screamed the headline yesterday in ABC newspaper.

“I grew up in a place called Alcobendas, where this wasn’t a very realistic dream,” Cruz said in her acceptance speech, her lightly-accented voice quivering. She even half-joked that she might faint, as she stood on stage in a strapless, white vintage gown. The mayor of Cruz’s hometown said he might name a street after her, so touched was he by her mention of the modest Madrid suburb. Pedro Almodovar, who directed Cruz in the Oscar-winning Volver, said he “cried from joy” when he heard the news. Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, personally congratulated the 34-year-old actress and told reporters that the award “boosts Spanish talent into the top tier”.

The disappointment of the gala was that co-star Bardem did not attend the Los Angeles ceremony because he was on the set of his latest film, Beautiful, by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Spain’s so-called “pink press” had been titillated by the prospect of a congratulatory kiss between the co-stars, said to be dating since the shooting of Woody Allen’s script. “Bardem stands up Pé,” read the headline in an internet magazine, La Semana Digital. “There won’t be any kiss,” the story lamented, “because Bardem will not be at the ceremony supporting his girl”.

Cruz, known affectionately as Pé, told reporters he called to congratulate her. Cruz and Bardem are among the few Spanish actors who have managed to carve a niche for themselves in Hollywood. And although Cruz has starred in many American productions, she never achieved the critical acclaim she enjoys in Spain until recently. She was better known for romances with her co-stars, such as Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky. Her acting skills took centre stage, however, at last year’s Oscars, when she was nominated for best actress in Volver.

In the dramatic run-up to the gala, some Spaniards even made bets. The owner of a video club in the northern Spanish province of Leon promised to allow 60,000 films to be rented for free if Cruz took home an Oscar from the 81st Academy Awards. He is reportedly keeping his word.