Overseas stars refuse to wait for Hollywood call

Many foreign thesps win kudos back home but have little recognition in U.S.

LONDON — While Spanish actress Penelope Cruz does the pre-Oscar nom rounds in Hollywood over the coming month, her “Volver” co-star Lola Duenas will be treading the boards in a production of Peter Weiss’ French revolution drama “Marat/Sade” staged by the Madrid theater company Animalario.

Duenas is one of an army of foreign actors for whom the lure of a Hollywood Oscar — or career — is elusive at best or even irrelevant.

Duenas shared the actress kudos with “Volver” castmates Cruz, Carmen Maura, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo and Chus Lampreave in Cannes earlier this year.

But her most coveted award to date, she says, is her Goya for her perf as a chaotic single mother in Alejandro Amenabar’s Oscar-winning drama “The Sea Inside.”

“It’s one of Spain’s most prestigious awards — it gave me great happiness,” she says.

The international exposure she received through the Oscar success of “The Sea Inside” did not, however, tempt her into pursuing a Hollywood career in the vein of compatriot Cruz.

“Actresses older than 35 don’t work in Hollywood, and I have just turned 35,” she says.

Duenas is among dozens of thesps featured in pics on this year’s foreign-language Oscar list who have won kudos aplenty back home but have little or no recognition in the U.S.

Will Korean actor Lee Joon-ki’s standout perf in “The King and the Clown,” for example, ever be seen on the bigscreen in the U.S.?

Pic, which broke Korean box office records earlier this year, attracting 12 million filmgoers in its first two months on release, has yet to find U.S. distribution.

Lee has risen to superstar status across the Far East over the past year because of the pic. His red-carpet outings in Tokyo, Shanghai and Taipei have attracted hundreds of screaming fans.

For now, he seems set on consolidating his Asian fan base. His latest film is the Japanese-Korean co-produced love story “Virgin Snow,” in which he stars opposite Japanese actress Miyazaki Aoi.

Of course, some foreign-language thesps have managed to break out of their local territories this year.

Mads Mikkelsen, star of Susanna Bier’s Danish entry “After the Wedding,” can be seen as the baddie Le Chiffre in blockbuster “Casino Royale.”

China’s “Curse of the Golden Flower” leading lady Gong Li is steadily building a varied Hollywood filmography. Recent U.S.-based pics include “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Miami Vice” and the upcoming “Hannibal Rising.”

It is a route French actors Jamel Debbouze and Samy Naceri, stars of the Algerian entry “Days of Glory” about the forgotten North African war heroes of World War II, would also love to take.

One of France’s most popular comic actors, Debbouze has racked up raves for his performance in “Days of Glory.” Naceri shot to Franco stardom in the feature comedy series “Taxi.”

“I grew up on Scorsese, De Palma and Coppola. They’re the directors who made me want to get into film,” Naceri says. “If the right role came along, I would be on the first plane to L.A.”

Debbouze already has had a small taste of working in the United States through his minor role in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.” The actor charmed his way onto the pic after meeting Lee at the French Cesar Awards in 2003, where the helmer picked up a Cesar of Honor.

“I found the Americans worked really intensely on set — I really liked that,” he says.

Others contemplating a stab at Hollywood include Carice van Houten, who plays the German-Jewish heroine of Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book.”

Van Houten first shot to fame in Holland in kidpic “Minoes.” The success of “Black Book” has propelled her to superstar status at home. “I’ve never really considered packing my suitcase and heading to Hollywood. I guess I thought it wouldn’t work, but now I think it’s time to look beyond Holland, not just to Hollywood but also France and Britain,” van Houten says.

Helmer Verhoeven says he thinks the actress has what it takes to make it in L.A.

“She is a very gifted girl. She is very musical. In the film she did all her own singing, which was in English, and this gives me the impression that she would have no problem losing her accent,” the director says.

Perhaps van Houten will be one of those rare foreign thesps who makes it onto Hollywood’s red carpet.