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It was love on the job for Sahara costars Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConaughey (in New York in March), whose onscreen chemistry sparked real-life love last spring on the movie's Morocco set. She's "very fun to work with and as you see, she's pretty easy on the eye," McConaughey, 35, says. "It's not hard to find something to be attracted to."
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The couple (in Hollywood in January) initially denied their relationship. "It makes me so uncomfortable to talk about my private life," Cruz, 30, has said. But last spring they were spotted traveling together in both Madrid and London, and by June, Cruz had joined McConaughey in his native Texas for a weeklong vacation in his Airstream trailer.
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At the Hollywood premiere of Sahara on April 4, Cruz sported a 12-carat-diamond Neil Lane engagement ring – on her right hand. And while she and McConaughey (with costar Steve Zahn) deny marriage plans, the two – who arrived separately on the red carpet – held hands and hugged at the screening's afterparty.
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In January, McConaughey joined the Spanish actress and her family on a holiday in the Turks and Caicos Islands. But the actor scoffs at the recent wedding-bell rumors by asking, "You don't see a ring on my finger, do you?"
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"They're a very good couple," says Cruz's close pal Salma Hayek (at a New York premiere in November). "They are very happy with each other." The actresses, who have been friends for seven years, will costar as bank robbers in Cruz's first English-language comedy, Bandidas, later this year.
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Ashton and Demi they're not: Cruz and McConaughey prefer to keep their romance low-key, rarely making promotional appearances together. And while Moore joined Kutcher (left) at the Daytona 500 in February, McConaughey went solo as honorary grand marshal and bunked in his Airstream trailer among the fans.
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Romancing costars is familiar territory for both McConaughey and Cruz (at Los Angeles International Airport in January). While filming A Time to Kill in 1995, he dated fellow Texan Sandra Bullock. For Cruz, it was even more high-profile: Her three-year relationship with her Vanilla Sky leading man Tom Cruise ended in early 2004 amid a flurry of tabloid coverage.
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He's all heart: McConaughey – who Cruz says is "very disciplined and has a very good work ethic" – hosted a screening of Sahara for the Army Reserve soldiers of the 77th Regional Readiness Command at New York's Intrepid Space Museum in March. "I'm glad I could find a way to give back" to the troops, he said.
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And her free time isn't all just for McConaughey. Cruz, who calls herself "the control freak of the family," is extremely close to her younger brother Eduardo and sister Monica (in Spain in December) and speaks to at least one of them every day.
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Cruz says what initially appealed to her about her Sahara costar (in Barcelona last year) was that "he respects people around him on the set and he is someone who listens."
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Physically, McConaughey (vacationing in Miami in March) is "the total package," according to celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson, who also not so coincidentally trains Penelope Cruz. "I like to see when good people happen to good people."
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"She's a great giver. She has a big heart," McConaughey says of his ladylove (in Madrid in April). Cruz returns the compliment: "He's smart, he's funny. He has a great charm."
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