The lack of a star system in Spain has long been lamented by the local industry, but the tide appears to be changing. It is no longer just the one-off Hollywood success of actors like Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, or other actors with cachet in specific territories, like Maribel Verdu in Mexico (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan's Labyrinth) or Sergi Lopez in France (Harry, He's Here To Help). Now a second line of talents is also making headway abroad: names like Paz Vega (Spanglish, 10 Items Or Less), Elsa Pataky (Snakes On A Plane), Eduardo Noriega (Che Guevara, Vantage Point), Jordi Molla (The Golden Age, The Alamo), Maria Valverde (Melissa P) and Luis Tosar (Miami Vice).
But few Spanish actors assure a film local box office success (the Torrente films' Santiago Segura can be an exception) or international sales (although Cruz's presence in the upcoming English-language Manolete is said to have helped pre-sales). Director Ray Loriga (Teresa) notes: 'We have a lot of actresses who are very beautiful and talented and maybe fewer actors who can hold a film by themselves - not that they are not good but budget-wise I think we have more girl power.'
It is also the case that Spanish talents hired abroad gain more respect at home, yet at the same time earn greater kudos abroad for their Spanish films - witness Cruz's history-making Oscar nomination as best actress this year in Pedro Almodovar's Volver. Actors do have followings in Spain - Juan Jose Ballesta (The 4th Floor) is a teen idol, Leonor Watling (Talk To Her) and Najwa Nimri (Sex And Lucia) front popular musical groups, Vega and Pataky grace advertising campaigns. The profession has also taken on new prestige and a whole new generation of youth are eager to enter it.
Antonio Banderas' crew considered over 1,300 Spanish actors to cast largely unknowns making their film debuts in his Summer Rain. 'Spain has magnificent human material at the moment, way better than my generation,' Banderas says. 'They are more prepared, more conscious, with a much clearer idea of where they want to go.'