Penelope Cruz: "I'm Always Finding Ways to Sabotage Any Beautiful Moment"

Penelope Cruz may be on top of her game these days (red-hot career, gorgeous boyfriend, looks that could kill), but she wasn't always living the life of an A-lister. The normally reclusive Spanish star reveals a side of herself to W magazine we've never seen before—vulnerable, insecure, and impossibly shy for a woman whose every move is clocked by paparazzi.

From her early days living with stray cats in a seedy Hollywood hotel to walking the red carpet at the Oscars and being a muse for directors like Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen (who describes her as "one of those kids at school who says, 'Oh, I did terrible on that test!' And the results come back, and they're 100 percent."), Penelope Cruz tells readers about her slow journey to the top. Here are the highlights:

On her early days living at the Sunset Marquis hotel in Hollywood: "I cannot even look at those rooms now. I have a weird physical reaction. Everything comes back from those years. Many times I would pick up the phone and realize there was no one to call, because I didn’t have any friends."

On her role as Javier Bardem's near-suicidal ex-wife in
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: "[My character] Maria Elena is completely unstable in every way. She doesn’t have a second of peace in her mind."

On what she calls "the monster," the negative inner voice in her head: "I'm always finding very tricky and hidden ways to sabotage any beautiful moment. And it’s something so internal that I don’t think even my friends or family can catch me doing it. But I catch myself doing it. I’ve had that battle since I was a little girl. It’s like, Uh-oh, here it is again, the monster! Go away and leave me alone!"

On reading press about herself: "I try not to go on the Internet and read about myself. It’s a guaranteed way to get angry for no reason. You start looking at yourself from the outside, from the wrong place. And everything is out of proportion. The good things, the bad things—everything."

On the culture of paparazzi: "I think it’s disgusting. It’s dangerous and nasty, and bad for our society in so many ways. And it’s getting worse every day."

On her vow to never give in to fear: "I’m very strict with that. I try not to run away from things because I’m scared of them. When you feel you have to say something to someone and your heart starts going fast because it could be controversial, I always vote for saying it."