PAZ VEGA: A NOT-SO-PLAIN JANE FROM SPAIN

When Paz Vega got the call that she'd won a starring role in a big-budget Hollywood movie, she thought the gods must be crazy. "It was shocking," she says. "It seemed impossible." Vega, an onyx-haired actress from Spain, spoke hardly a word of English. But that wasn't a dealbreaker for James L. Brooks, who was making a comedy called "Spanglish," his first film in eight years. Vega plays Flor, housekeeper to a privileged, mixed-up family headed by Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni. "When I got here they gave me my schedule for [the next] two months, and I started to cry," she says. "I was not sure if I could do [it]." And English wasn't Vega's only problem. She had to be coached on her Spanish, too--so she could deliver her lines like a Mexican.

Vega, 28, is already a well-known name in Spain; she's won that country's version of the Oscar for her role in the psychosexual drama "Sex and Lucia." Brooks, a notoriously finicky director, initially hoped to find an actress with Mexican roots, but says that Vega simply nailed the part in a five-hour audition. "It's a very tough role because Flor's face just has to entice us," Brooks says. "We have to feel like we know what she's saying, without really knowing what she's saying." Since Vega has no name recognition in the States--and very few lines in English--she's nowhere to be found in the initial trailers for "Spanglish," though she's the heart of the movie. (Leoni is the legs and abs.) But while Vega isn't likely to draw many moviegoers to theaters, she's the one audiences will remember on the way out.

At the end of a marathon day of smiling through interviews--almost all of which she pulled off in English, thanks to immersion classes--the actress is upbeat, but visibly exhausted. She worries that because of her limited vocabulary her personality might be getting lost in translation. And, in fact, when she dips into Spanish with a semifluent reporter, her confidence shoots up instantaneously. Vega says she's still hitting the books hard. Ultimately, she would like to eliminate her Spanish accent entirely. "I don't want to [play] only Latin women," she says. "I want to have roles in English." That could take a while. In the meantime, don't be surprised if some "Spanglish" fans start brushing up on their Spanish.