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How Penelope Cruz's idea of a wild night out has changed

The Oscar winner says her life has turned upside down, in the best way possible, since having kids.
/ Source: TODAY

Some famous parents, who shall remain nameless, bring their kids to sit court-side at big-ticket, camera-laden basketball games, and post adorably whimsical and cuddly photos of their offspring on social media.

Penelope Cruz is not one of them. The mother of Leo, 6, and Luna, 4, with actor husband and frequent film collaborator Javier Bardem, shields her children from the spotlight with a quiet ferocity.

“We’ve tried from the beginning to keep them away from the public eye. We chose these jobs. They did not. Every child should grow up having their privacy intact. It’s been very important to us. I don’t know what jobs they will choose in the future but they should make that choice,” she tells TODAY Parents.

She’s just as meticulous when choosing where, when and how she works. Sometimes, says Cruz, she asks about logistics before she even sits down to read a script, because if it’s shooting somewhere distant or dangerous, she won’t even bother. Even when you crave a kid-free night out, they wind up part of it anyway, she jokes.

“What happens is that when you go out with your friends you end up talking about Legos anyway,” she says.

She and Bardem, she says, “take turns to work. We do the same job. We try to have the system where we are together all the time.”

Parenthood transformed the Oscar winner from a workaholic with a transient life to more of a homebody, as a working mother of 2 based in her native Spain.

"It changes your priority. I was always a gypsy traveling the world by myself. That was my life since I was 16. That changes when you have a family. That’s a good thing. I was working back-to-back-to-back so many years. I love my job. But I have a personal life,” she says.

Which is why when Ryan Murphy approached her about playing Donatella Versace, the tenacious, often inscrutable sister of slain designer Gianni Versace in "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," she had one question for the prolific producer and show runner behind the series.

“When and where? They put all my scenes together. I did one week in Miami and one month in LA. It was very intense. I prefer it the way. Having children, it was really nice to be here in the summer,” she says.

The Versace family has since distanced itself from the FX miniseries, calling it a “work of fiction” in a statement. Nevertheless, Cruz, always a meticulous researcher, spoke to Donatella before she ever pulled on one of her black ensembles or those stiletto heels. Her performance is searing and resonant; even her speech patterns are on point, which means the Spanish Cruz had to speak English with an Italian accent.

"No one speaks like her. She has such a strong personality," says Cruz. "Finding the voice was the basis of everything. I had to find that first. Until the day I found it, I didn’t feel like I was able to capture the essence of this woman."

Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace
Penelope Cruz as Donatella VersacePari Dukovic/FX

Cruz had never met Gianni, who was shot by Andrew Cunanan in 1997 in Miami, but “I’ve always been such a big fan. I’ve met Donatella a few times. I called her before I did the show. She told me that if someone is going to play her, she’s happy it’s going to be me. I felt like her. I did so much research on everything she wore in the ‘80s and ‘90s. She has such personal style. Everything is so well put-together. I wanted to honor her. I felt comfortable.”

Cruz, who has two siblings, Monica and Eduardo, said she related to “the love she had with her brother. There was so much pain and desperation to continue the company. And to honor the work her brother had created.”

Some of Cruz’s looks as Donatella were somewhat dramatic, to say the least. She didn’t sweat any of it. “I don’t care if something looks good or bad. The further the characters are from myself, the more I enjoy playing them,” she says.