On my mind… Penelope Cruz

Born in Madrid in 1974, Penelope Cruz Sanchez made her acting debut aged 16, before receiving critical acclaim for her role in Jamon Jamon the following year in 1992.

Since then her career has gone from strength to strength. She’s the first Spanish actress to receive an Academy Award (the second ever to be nominated), and the first to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

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She’s also a bit of a force of nature. Think about her performances, each one immediately hooks you in. Screen presence, allure, seductive sex appeal… All that stuff.

In terms of her performances I consider my favourites, it’s a mixed bunch. There is a theme, though, and her work is defined by a level of intensity, conflict and inner fire. Simply put, she compels you to watch her.

Open Your Eyes (1997)
One of her first major roles. One which saw her receive critical acclaim for a film praised for its intelligence and complexity. It got the inevitable Hollywood remake, with Cruz reprising her role as the seductive Sofia.

Blow (2001)
Critically this film didn’t do that well. Cruz, too, suffered the wrath of the critics, receiving a Golden Raspberry Award for her performance. Perhaps a bit of a harsh assessment. Still, it led to bigger and better things.

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Reprising her role from Open Your Eyes, Cruz gave a solid, if unspectacular performance in this remake. Overall, the film perhaps suffered from being even more confusing than the original, thus dividing people’s opinions.

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Volver (2006)
A high point in her career, particularly in terms of working with acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. This film drew together many complex themes, all of which Cruz and Almodovar weaved together elegantly.

Elegy (2008)
A restrained, mature and utterly heartbreaking performance in this tale which had Cruz as the on/off cancer suffering girlfriend of Ben Kingsley’s misogynistic Professor. A surprise of a film and worth a watch if you get the chance.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
My pick of the bunch. A beautiful film and a hypnotic, wild performance from Penelope, opposite a cast that were far too sexy for their own good. This one won her an Academy Award (the first Spanish actress in history to achieve this).

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So what’s next for Penelope?

Well, rumours keep surfacing of her involvement in the next Bond film  – Sam Mendes’ follow up to Skyfall – as the new Bond girl. She’s also recently written, directed – and starred in – the latest Agent Provocateur advert. Nothing to do with film, but Bond girls are glamorous, sexy and exotic. And if this ad isn’t that, then I don’t know what is.

Either way, it’s nice to have Cruz maintain her presence on screen. whether it’s adverts or films or – dare I say it – TV shows. Here’s to whatever comes next in the world of Penelope.

The evolution of Scarlett Johansson

don-jon-scarlett-johansson-jgl-interview-1085920-TwoByOneIs Scarlett Johansson in danger of becoming the female Johnny Depp? I mean this in a good way. In terms of picking her roles she’s moving away from blockbusters; or at least moving towards slightly more leftfield choices that seem to push her boundaries. Perhaps actively seeking to distance her glamorous image as one of Hollywood’s most attractive actors? (Incidentally, this is something Depp has been doing for years.)

Looking back, Lost In Translation was the film that got me hooked on all things Johansson. Loneliness, connection in a big foreign city. Her performance emphatically spoke to me. There was a beautiful vulnerability and purity to her; something which, I’d argue, she’s managed to hang onto throughout her career.

She’s smart in her choice of directors too, having worked with some of the best out there: Woody Allen three times (Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Brian de Palma (The Black Dahlia) and Christopher Nolan (The Prestige).

3178940502434e3eadc79f5a87ffAnd she’s mixed things up with up-and-coming indie types, auteurs and wildcard mavericks too: Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation ), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Spike Jonze (Her) and Jonathan Glazer (Under The Skin, this one out soon, see the trailer below).

The final film I mentioned could represent a real shift in the way in which people view her as an actress. She’s still got the big blockbusters ticking along, but this sort of film could really open the door for her to get stuck into some meaty roles.

Much in the way Matthew McConaughey was typecast as the sexy – and often somewhat shallow – lead for years. Until he had had enough and his McRenaissance began. Will Under The Skin be the same turning point for Johansson? Time will tell.

What I do know is that a fairly leftfield film turned me onto her in the first place so, for me, this type of role is where she should be… And I haven’t even seen it yet.

On my mind… Rebecca Hall

Born on 19 May 1982, Rebecca Maria Hall is a few months older than me. That fact isn’t significant in itself, it’s just one of the little ways I like to think that I identify with her.

She’s the daughter of theatre director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hall, and opera singer, Maria Ewing. Her siblings include theatre directors, designers, writers and painters. So it’s fair to say she’s from a creative background.

And looks wise, she’s striking. A sort of classic yet contemporary English rose. However, it’s worth noting that, whilst she has an English father, her American mother is of Dutch, Scottish, Sioux and African-American origin which, let’s face it, just makes her even more interesting.

Then there’s her acting. starterfortenSince breaking onto the scene with the first film in my list below, she’s quickly gone from strength to strength, picking her roles in a savvy way. She exudes a natural intelligence that’s hard to hide in the parts she plays (not that it needs to be hidden). Here’s my pick of her top performances:

Starter for Ten (2006)
It says something when gorgeous Miss Hall is cast as the geek. Alice Eve played the sexy one in the sweet, coming-of-age tale, yet it’s Hall’s performance we warm to as the wonderfully endearing love interest to James McAvoy’s rather annoying central character, Brian.

The Prestige (2006)
A magic trick has three parts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. Did this role represent Hall’s ‘pledge’? Well, it was somewhat of a showcase and a big step up career wise invicky-cristina-barcelona-vicky-cristina-barcelona-08-10-2008-05-09-2008-17-g Chistopher Nolan’s convoluted and rather tragic tale of two rival magicians. And Hall more than held her own as the long suffering wife of Christian Bale’s magician.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Making something of a name for herself playing ‘second fiddle’ to more overtly glamorous women (Alice Eve in Starter for Ten, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz here) she shone in this movie – one of the best from Woody Allen in recent years – and gave her character real warmth; a performance which got her a Golden Globe nomination.

The Town (2010)
Another role playing the love interest of a mildly conflicted protagonist. This time opposite Ben Affleck’s sensitive bank robber. The film received strong praise for the ensemble performance of its cast, no doubt in part down to Hall’s convincing performance.

Next up for Miss Hall?

Transcendence – UK release 25 April 2014
Wally Pfister, long time cinematographer of Christopher Nolan, steps up to direct for the first time with this one: featuring leads Johnny Depp and one… Rebecca Hall. Another leap forward career wise, opposite one of cinema’s most bankable stars in this sci-fi thriller.