Friday, January 2, 2009
In a decade filled with an incredible amount of quality performances in films from all over the world, there are few that I value higher than Paz Vega’s remarkably honest, subtle and moving performance in Julio Medem’s extraordinary 2001 film Sex and Lucia. The award winning Spanish film, near my top of the decade, wasn’t the first film for the then 25-year-old Vega, but it was the one that signaled there was something quite special about this surreal, strikingly beautiful and talented young woman from Spain.
Born Paz Campos Trigo on January 2nd, 1976 in Seville, Andalucia, Paz Vega was surrounded by artists growing up, as she lived right in the center of Triana, a part of Seville known for its many writers, artists and painters. Triana is also known for its bullfighting, something that her father participated in, as well as its musical culture, which her sister flourished in as a flamenco dancer and singer.
Paz’s early aspirations were of both a political and athletic nature but after seeing a Lorca stage play in her mid teens all of her attention turned to acting. Paz proved to be as ambitious as she was clearly talented, and she formed her own stage company before even leaving High School. Paz’s college years were spent at the esteemed Centro Andaluz de Teatro, where she studied acting. After a few years of perfecting her craft, Paz relocated to the bustling Madrid and almost immediately she landed her first role, in a Friends styled Spanish television sitcom named Menudo es mi padre.
Vega’s rising star in Spanish television in 1997 and 1998 led her to the big screen, and by the turn of the decade she had a few movies under her belt including three high profile Spanish films from 1999: Zapping, I Will Survive and Nobody Knows Anybody. Paz received solid notices for each but nobody expected the depth and range she would show just two years later, when Julio Medem cast her as the lead in his follow-up to his acclaimed Lovers of the Arctic Circle.
Sex and Lucia is a stunning film. A mesmerizing character study obsessed by sex, memory and death, Medem’s film wowed Spanish and then world audiences in late 2001 and throughout 2002. Controlling the production is Paz Vega’s haunting, bruised and uncompromising performance as the title character. Nominated for a whopping eleven Goya Awards, including a win for Paz, Sex and Lucia alerted audiences that Paz Vega was much more than just another Spanish sex symbol.
Riding on the success of Sex and Lucia and a multitude of comparisons to a young Penelope Cruz, Vega proved her performance wasn’t a fluke with her follow-up work in Javier Balaguer’s tale of domestic abuse, 2001’s Solo Mia, for which she would receive yet another Goya nomination.
2002 proved to be another busy year for the twenty-six year old Vega when she appeared in Pedro Almodovar’s astonishing Talk To Her, the delightful musical The Other Side of the Bed and the interesting Novo for French director Jean-Pierre Limosin. Vega’s work in all three showed her as a remarkably versatile and accomplished actress, as well as being one of the most intensely beautiful women to grace modern day screens.
By the time she appeared in Vincent Aranda’s underrated 2003 production of Carmen, Paz Vega was one one of Spain’s biggest stars, and her face and image were splashed all over the country courtesy of magazine covers, advertisements and modeling assignments. It was no coincidence that Hollywood called soon after and within a year Vega would be making her English language debut.
James L. Brook’s much maligned Spanglish (2004) is an underrated work that didn’t deserve the critical drubbing it took. Starring opposite an excellent Adam Sandler, Vega delivered a moving and winning performance that was unfairly overlooked at Oscar time, even though it was touted as an early favorite. The film’s disappointing failure to connect with audiences and critics hurt Vega’s first introduction to many American filmgoers, and the unfortunate ‘introducing’ credit granted her in the film made matters even worse. It was all a pity as Spanglish is wonderfully played and nicely rendered film, and Vega’s work with Sandler is unforgettable.
Paz Vega took a break after Spanglish to be with her family and in the next year or so she only worked in Spanish television. She returned to the big screen in 2006 with the odd but effective low budget film 10 Items or Less, which teamed her with legendary Oscar winner Morgan Freeman. She returned to Spain after to have her first child and in 2006 she appeared in Ray Loriga’s Theresa, The Body of Christ and The Taviana Brother’s The Lark Farm.
Paz has a couple of films awaiting release including Jada Pinkett Smith’s The Human Contract as well as Dror Soref’s Not Forgotten. Extremely busy, she has four more films in the works and she can currently be seen in Frank Miller’s dazzling (and mark my words, future cult classic) The Spirit where she plays the beautiful but deadly dancer Plaster of Paris.
Whether Paz Vega will ever manage to connect with American audiences remains to be seen. She has though, in Spain’s rich and wonderful modern film community, become one of her home country’s most devastating and popular actors. An actress capable of heavy drama, comedy, eroticism and camp (plus a nice person in her daily life), Paz Vega feels like a legend in the making. Her performance in Sex and Lucia alone already makes her one in my book.
***This article was written as a tribute to Paz on her 33rd birthday. Biographical information and photos were gathered from the essential Paz Vega online, which can be visited here***