How Hollywood fell in love with Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz

The Spanish actors are both in the running to win an Academy Award this year, a perfect symbol of everything that they have achieved together over the years

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem at the Cannes Film Festival on May 8, 2018.
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem at the Cannes Film Festival on May 8, 2018.Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)

The first movie that Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz starred in together was Jamón Jamón, a very Spanish film where they spoke about tortilla de patatas and flirted in the shade of one of Spain’s iconic Osborne bulls – a large bull silhouette erected as roadside advertising by the Osborne sherry company. But after that 1992 film, both began to find work far from home. It’s been some time since the days when they only starred in Spanish films. And while they have appeared in movies across the world, Hollywood likes to think of itself as something like their second home.

The mecca of the US movie industry has adopted the couple, giving them the complete star treatment: the actors are hired whenever possible, invited to parties and talk shows, and more importantly, nominated for awards. This year, both Bardem and Cruz are in the running for an Oscar, Bardem for Best Actor in Being the Ricardos, and Cruz for Best Actress in Parallel Mothers. It is their fourth nomination, but the first time they have received one in the same year. The Spanish stars will attend the Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, not just as a couple, but as two nominees – a moment that symbolizes their life as leading man and lady.

“For Penélope and I to be nominated at the same time is magical,” said Bardem at a press conference following the announcement of the Oscar nominations. Few would doubt that both are deserving. They must be running out of room at home to fit all their awards – Baftas, César Awards, prizes from the Venice and Cannes film festivals. Bardem has won five Goya Awards – Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars – out of 12 nominations. Cruz has 13 Goya nominations, but has ‘only’ won three times. Both received their first nomination for Jamón Jamón. Both, of course, are up for another Goya on Saturday: Cruz for Parallel Mothers by Pedro Almodóvar and Bardem for The Good Boss by Fernando León de Aranoa.

At this stage of the game, they have a lot in common: two children and a marriage for starters. But looking back, they also took off internationally at the same time. In 2000, when he got his first Oscar nomination for Before Night Falls by Julian Schnabel, she was starring in one of her first Hollywood films, All the Pretty Horses, directed by Billy Bob Thornton. From there, Cruz went on to star in films such as Blow by Ted Demme and Vanilla Sky by Cameron Crowe. Meanwhile Bardem landed roles in Collateral by Michael Mann and The Dancer Upstairs by John Malkovich. In three years, their lives and their careers changed forever. They found one another again and made Spanish cinema history. First separately, and soon after, together.

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem with director Woody Allen in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona.'
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem with director Woody Allen in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona.'

In 2007, Cruz was nominated for her first Oscar for Volver by Almodóvar. In 2008, Bardem won an Academy Award for No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers. In 2009, she won a statuette for Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen. A person today might think this is normal. But this was a milestone at the time – in both their cases. Never before had a Spanish actor achieved such acclaim, much less what was still to come.

While the world was watching the actors on screen, they were looking at one another. Right at this moment, the first rumors of their romance began to emerge, perhaps fueled by their fiery scenes together in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. There were photos, suspicions and finally, confirmation. In 2010, while accepting the award for Best Actor for Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu at the Cannes film festival, Bardem said: “I love you very much, Penélope.” With Biutiful, Bardem also received his third Oscar nomination. That same year, the two got married.

Their great success also put them in the eye of the paparazzi, but both strongly defended their privacy, a position they maintain today. Large productions also came calling, and in this case, the door was open. It’s said that big studios carefully choose the actors that will star in their big-budget features – they have to be “active,” names that will attract viewers and reduce the risk of financial failure. In this area too, the actors have triumphed – another sign of their great impact. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise picked both of them: first Cruz in 2011 (On Stranger Tides), then Bardem (Dead Men Tell no Tales) in 2017. Cruz meanwhile, received her third Oscar nomination for Nine by Rob Marshall, while Bardem became one of the best Bond nemeses in recent history in Skyfall by Sam Mendes.

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in 'Loving Pablo' by Fernando León de Aranoa.
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in 'Loving Pablo' by Fernando León de Aranoa.

Appearing so often on screen, they ended up co-starring in more films. The two starred together in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor in 2013, and again 2017, in the Spanish film Loving Pablo by León de Aranoa, where they were in many scenes together, including a violent fight scene. In 2018 they also co-starred in Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows. When asked about working together at a press conference for the premiere of that film, Cruz replied: “We have done it lots of times and we don’t take our characters home at the end of the day because we have the same vision of work. We will do it every now and again, when we think it’s a good idea, but not all the time.” Since Everybody Knows, they have not worked in the same movie.

But they have attended many award events together. At the Venice film festival last September, it was Cruz who thanked Bardem in the audience after winning the Copa Volpi for Best Actress. And both will attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 27. But unlike other Hollywood couples, both are in the running for an Oscar – an unprecedented feat even for them.

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