People Staff
January 10, 2005 12:00 PM

Playing a Spanish-speaking housekeeper struggling to converse with Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni in Spanglish wasn’t exactly a stretch for Paz Vega. “I didn’t speak any English,” says the Spanish actress, who found some conversational common ground with the Italian-speaking Leoni, while she and Sandler also bonded over linguistics. “I teach him some bad words,” she says, in halting English, laughing. “He’s very funny. I say, “When you go to Madrid, you have to remember,’ and he says, ‘Okay, I got it.'”

Sandler isn’t the only one on whom Vega has left a lasting impression. Although some critics have nixed the movie, no one’s complaining about the 28-year-old actress’s breakout performance. In Spain, in fact, the Seville-born Vega (oldest daughter of retired bullfighter father Manuel, 57, and homemaker mom Paz, 51) is already a star. There she’s best known for films like 2002’s Talk to Her and 2001’s nudity-drenched Sex and Lucia. “In Europe people don’t worry about the body,” says Vega. “It’s normal. Here, people [are] crazy with the nude.” With help from her husband, Venezuelan businessman Orson Salazar, 28, she shot an audition tape for Spanglish director James L. Brooks at her home in Madrid. Once she started filming in L.A., she began racking up cell-phone bills in the thousands by calling home. “Every 10 minutes we call,” she says. “It was crazy. But for me, it was very necessary.”

For now, Salazar has joined her in L.A., as she contemplates her next step. Daily seven-hour crash courses have improved her English, and she’s also adapted to the perks of Hollywood: Casually sipping a margarita on an L.A. hotel patio, Vega waves to Salazar as he relaxes in the pool. “I’m very comfortable here,” she says. “For me, everything is cool.”

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