Crowds at the Arlington Theatre were bustling with anticipation as they awaited the arrival of Penelope Cruz, the 2009 award recipient for Outstanding Performer of the Year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The media crowded around the red carpet, ready to barrage any celebrity with flashbulbs and questions.

Chinese actress Bai Ling was the first to walk down the carpet. Not averse to all the attention, she took every photo opportunity and soaked up all questions that she was asked. Josh Brolin, on the other hand, allowed the press to take only a couple pictures of him, after which he briskly walked down the carpet, offering a slight wave to those yelling out questions.

When it was Penelope Cruz’s turn to head down the carpet, she was not as media shy or starved for attention as other celebrities were, but rather she proved to be modest and genuinely happy to be at the event. Despite being in a rush, she conversed with fans and took some time to talk with the press: She was not there solely to promote her image.
The event consisted of a Q&A session between Cruz and the festival’s executive director, Roger Durling. They went over everything from her beginnings as an actress, to her inspirations and to her experiences on the films she has worked on. Watching a collection of clips from her filmography, it became apparent why she is one of the most celebrated actresses in the world. The range of her performances is impressive, playing everything from the object of attraction in the romantic comedy “Woman on Top,” displaying raw emotion for dramatic roles in “Todo Sobre Mi Madre” (“All About My Mother) and “Non Ti Muovere” (“Don’t Move”) and emotionally unstable in “Blow.”
In this past year she has turned out two critically praised and dramatically different performances, one in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which has garnered her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress, and the other in “Elegy.” Commenting on all her performances, Durling remarked how both on the screen and in person that she is “so genuine,” a comment that was met with immediate applause.
Penelope Cruz’s humble and graceful approach to her acting can be traced back to her beginning in the acting profession. From a small town outside Madrid with few possessions, her link to the movies began when her parents bought a Betamax machine. She began to fall in love with different actresses like Meryl Streep and the work of Pedro Almodovar, who Cruz has now worked with in four films. After attending a theater school for four years, she broke out in the movies in 1992 where she developed a reputation in Spain. In 1998 she had her first Hollywood film with “The Hi-Lo Country,” and since then has developed a reputation as an international star.

She continues to choose films that she finds to be different and a challenge. “If a character touches me, no matter if they are ugly or beautiful, I want to play the part,” Cruz said. While some actors play safe roles, she finds it important to “get rid of your ego,” which makes her plenty eligible to work with such renowned directors as Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar, both of whom led her to an Academy Award nomination.

Her modesty still shines through despite her most recent nomination: “I am so excited but very nervous. I’m still trying to digest all of it. It’s very overwhelming. I haven’t even digested my last Academy Award nomination.”
Friend and fellow actor Josh Brolin handed over the award to Penelope, saying, “She’s a beautiful, amazing actress, truly.” After giving quick thanks to those at the festival, Cruz remarked “I’ll stop now, I already talked for an hour and 45 minutes.”