Spanish actress Penelope Cruz explains what drew her to the controversial new Italian drama, Don't Move (Non Ti Muovere).
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter
When you are as beautiful and glamorous as Penelope Cruz, it can be hard to convince people that you are also an actress.
Cruz plays a hotel maid with a troubled past in Don't Move
Especially when you are best known for your three-year romance with Tom Cruise and are currently dating actor Matthew McConaughey.
It does not help that the 30-year-old Spaniard has yet to make her mark in Hollywood, despite roles in such big-budget releases as Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Gothika and Vanilla Sky.
Luckily she has her native Europe to fall back on and can combine mainstream US releases with more challenging 'arthouse' fare.
This month sees her in Italian drama Don't Move (Non Ti Muovere), playing a destitute woman of gypsy stock who embarks on an affair with a married doctor.
Cruz had to fight to be cast in this atypical role. But her determination paid off when she was named best actress at 2004's David di Donatello awards - Italy's version of the Oscars.
Despite this Sergio Castellitto's movie has struggled to find distribution in the UK and the US - and might not have done so without Cruz's help.
Cruz's co-star Sergio Castellitto also directed the film
"England and America were the last places to buy the film, so I went to meet distributors and tell them how much I love it," she told the BBC News website.
"You have to fight for what you believe in. I want the movie to be seen everywhere."
With its no-holds-barred depiction of an intense romance that begins with consensual rape, Don't Move has provoked its fair share of controversy.
But Cruz maintains few people object once they have actually seen the film.
"I would never do a movie that supports [rape]," she says. "The film is about two people who are very confused and damaged. It doesn't justify any of their actions."
The role of Italia came with unique challenges. Not only did she have to learn Italian for the part; she also had to wear cheap, tarty clothes and stop shaving her legs.
It is based on a novel by Margaret Mazzantini, Castellitto's wife
Cruz, however, expresses surprise when quizzed on the supposed sacrifices she made for the film.
"The reason I became an actress is so I can play all these different characters," she says.
"If they need to be ugly, if I have to not shave my legs or shave my head - I'll do whatever the character needs.
"People try to give me extra credit for not being afraid to look ugly, but it's a great opportunity for me."
Edgy parts like Italia have yet to come her way in Hollywood, but Penelope remains optimistic.
"I've only been working in Hollywood for five years so it's natural I'd get offered more risky material here," she says.
"But you can find a lot of great characters there also, and I'm getting more opportunities - like Sahara, for example."
In the action adventure Sahara, released in the UK on 8 April, Cruz plays a World Health Organisation doctor who stumbles upon a plague in Africa.
Cruz will next be seen with Matthew McConaughey (right) in Sahara
However, she refuses to discuss her on-set romance with co-star Matthew McConaughey, or indeed any other aspect of her private life.
"I don't get defensive when somebody asks but I never answer," she says.
"I never feel I have to talk about anything that makes me uncomfortable. I just don't play that game."
With comedy western Bandidas in the can and two new collaborations with Pedro Almodovar in the pipeline, the immediate future looks bright.
But Cruz maintains she is in for the long haul and that growing old - the death knell for many a starlet's career - holds no fear.
"The day I'm 80 I'll have a huge party," she says. "I hope I have as many wrinkles as my grandmother, and that every wrinkle tells a story."
Don't Move is out in the UK on 18 March.