People Staff
April 12, 2004 12:00 PM

On March 25, the day news of their split became public, Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz were on opposite sides of the globe: Cruise dropped by Manhattan’s eatery-of-the-moment Spice Market, where he ran into pal Will Smith; Cruz spent the day on the Morocco set of Sahara, her upcoming action flick. In other words, just another continental divide for the ex-couple, whose three-year relationship “just ran its course,” says a source who knows them. One problem: constant travel and competing shooting schedules. “It’s a hard thing day-to-day not to see your partner,” says Cruz’s rep Robert Garlock. “They were always doing movies.”

Spokespeople for Cruise and Cruz say no third party came between the two, who quietly called off their romance in January. Cruz, 29, denies a report she and costar Matthew McConaughey, 34, have become an item on the Sahara set. “The last thing I’m thinking about right now is being with someone else,” she said in a statement to PEOPLE. “I just want to take time for myself.” (McConaughey’s publicist Alan Nierob also says the rumor has “no truth whatsoever.”) Cruise and Cruz also dispute any notion that tension over Cruise’s Scientology faith was a factor. The Catholic-raised Cruz “has taken some [Scientology] courses and they’ve been very beneficial to her,” says Garlock.

The couple’s real bond, however, was their shared passion for making movies. Since meeting on the set of ‘Ol’s Vanilla Sky—as Cruise’s 10-year marriage to Nicole Kidman, 36, was coming to an end—Cruz and Cruise, 41, have made a combined 13 films. The Madrid-born Cruz, who has been nominated for Italy’s version of an Oscar for her latest film, Don’t Move, “is very ambitious, very driven—like Tom,” says a source close to both. At the same time, she tried to accommodate Cruise’s workload, says a producer who has worked with her: “We had to rearrange our whole schedule once for her to be with him. It was very important to her.”

So was the time she spent with Cruise and Kidman’s children Isabella, 11, and Connor, 9, who shuttle every six weeks between parents. Cruz—whom Cruise affectionately called “Lupe”—shared her boyfriend’s L.A. home and would join him and his kids, along with her own family, at the actor’s Telluride, Colo., retreat. “She’s very fond of the kids,” says a source close to the actress.

Friends of Cruz say she hopes to remain friendly with Isabella and Connor—and their dad. Just a few weeks ago, Cruz told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that her now ex-boyfriend had seen a portion of Don’t Move. “He loved it,” she said. “He was really happy for me.”

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