MADRID (AP) -- Spaniard Josep Joan Bigas Luna was lauded as a brilliant and "truly special" filmmaker a day after his death, with some of the highest praise coming from actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, two stars whose film careers he launched.
Bigas Luna, 67, died Saturday in northeast Spain after a long battle with cancer.
The filmmaker was regarded as having had an excellent eye for spotting talent and a knack for stimulating on-screen chemistry between actors. His 1992 film "Jamon, Jamon" received unanimous praise as "a classic" in the Spanish press on Sunday,
The director discovered Cruz and Bardem, who married in 2010, as well as a giving early boosts to a host of other now well-known film muses, including Leonor Watling, Angela Molina, Francesca Neri and Valeria Marini.
Many of the roles in his films were explosively steamy, even erotic. Yet they often explored with great insight aspects of modern Spain's quirkiness.
"He was charming, intelligent, ironic, and possessed of an utterly contagious hedonism," said Ferran Mascarell, culture spokesman for the government of Bigas Luna's native Catalan region.
"I don't know where to begin," Bardem said, adding that he owes Bigas Luna "the woman I love," and "a career that I never dreamed I could have."
Bardem's first film role was in Bigas Luna's "The Ages of Lulu" (1990), but it is his role, co-starring with Cruz in "Jamon, Jamon" that many consider one of his most searing and memorable.
He later went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as psychopathic assassin Anton Chigurh in Ethan and Joel Coen's "No Country for Old Men" and has also played villain Raoul Silva in "Skyfall," the latest Bond movie.
In a heartfelt statement, Cruz said an early casting for "The Ages of Lulu" changed her life.
"In walked a man with a rascal's face: Bigas Luna," she said. "The first thing he asked me was my age (she was 14). I said I was 17 and he, always very gently and without making me feel too bad, laughed in my face and said: 'Well, you won't make this movie, but I'll call for another when you're older.'"
The actress said she was astonished when, three years later, the phone rang and it was Bigas Luna asking her to try out for "Jamon, Jamon."
"When I was with him I felt time stood still," Cruz said. "He was truly special."
Bigas Luna died while still working on his latest film, "Segon Origen."
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