With her deep brown eyes, perfectly shaped pout and seductress mane, Mónica Cruz appears to be a carbon copy of her big sister, Penélope. And now that she’s beginning to act, the comparisons between the two Spanish beauties are inevitable.

Yet the younger Cruz has no plans to duplicate her sister’s career path—at least not when it comes to decamping to Hollywood. “I admire my sister because she packed her bags at 16, and off she went,” says Cruz, who lives in the countryside with her Italian stuntman boyfriend and their five dogs. “I couldn’t do it. I like making films outside Spain, but I love the stability of my home in Madrid.”

Then again, her Oscar-nominated sister must be doing something right. Cruz says, “I’ve learned from her, from the good person that she is, from her career, her life. Penélope is a worker and a fighter. We’re not alike in todo but in the way we see things and focus on our profession, yes.”

The two share a strong work ethic, something Monica, 30, learned through her lifelong study of dance. “Dance is like preparing for a movie,” she says. “It’s a process of perfecting your performance.”

As a teenager, Cruz danced 12 hours a day and went professional at 17, forgoing formal academic schooling. She joined the tour of Pasión Gitana, a primarily flamenco piece created by maverick choreographer Joaquín Cortés, who is bare-chested and wears a floor-sweeping Armani skirt throughout the performance.  

After seven years with Cortés, Cruz turned her sights toward acting and landed a part in the hit Spanish television series Un Paso Adelante. Since then she’s wrapped four films in the last two years. Her first release, The Final Inquiry with Max Von Sydow and Ornella Mutti, opened last spring. “I play an 18-year-old Jewish girl in love with a Roman investigating the death of Christ,” she says. “She’s a very strong character.”

The other three films—Astérix and Obélix at the Olympic Games, starring Gérard Depardieu and Alain Delon; The Last Hour, an action-thriller with David Carradine and Paul Sorvino, and a just-wrapped Chilean production, All Inclusive—will be out next year. (Cruz works in English and French, but doesn’t speak either fluently.)

In the meantime, Mo and Pe (as they’re often referred to in Spain), are fresh off the launch of their first collection for cheap-chic fashion chain Mango. “It’s a dream come true. Designing clothes is something I always wanted to do,” Cruz says, recalling her childhood when she and her sister would read American fashion magazines in their mother’s beauty salon.

The 31-piece fall collection will hit stores worldwide in September and features coats, denim, dresses and shorts, all designed with a hefty load of vintage references.

Sitting on the floor in Madrid’s premiere dance studio El Horno (she has practiced here all her life), Cruz is wearing a white cotton tunic with a touch of glitter, cropped wide-cuffed jeans, perilously high metallic espadrilles from Topshop and a green CH Carolina Herrera tote bag. “I admire Chanel and Dior,” she gushes, “but I love Spanish designers like Juanjo Oliva, and I’m fascinated by Miguel Palacios and Angel Schlesser. There’s a lot of talent in Spain.”

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