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Oscar nominees and their creative soulmates

Oscar nominees and their creative soulmates — A look at the closest creative partners to Cate Blanchett, Forest Whitaker, and more

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Penélope Cruz with Pedro Almodóvar

Who inspires Penélope Cruz the most? Okay, the question’s not exactly a cliff-hanger. Even before she had met Almodóvar, the Spanish auteur’s movies had set her dreaming about an acting career. Today the pair are creative soul mates, a 21st-century Woody Allen and Diane Keaton — en español. ”The three movies I’ve done with him have been a big step forward in the direction I want to go as an actress,” says Cruz, referring to Live Flesh, All About My Mother, and of course Volver, which just earned her a first Oscar nomination. As for Almodóvar, he became obsessed with Cruz in 1992. After watching her feral performance in Jamón, Jamón, he promised to write characters that would fit her ”like a glove.” Now he’s planning future collaborations. ”I can ask her anything and she will do it,” he says. ”She puts in my hands a power, and I try to use it properly.” — Missy Schwartz

Kate Winslet with Michel Gondry

Actors often credit directors with helping them dig into a character’s psyche or interpret a scene differently. Winslet credits Gondry with shaping the entire second act of her career. ”When Michel approached me about starring in Eternal Sunshine, I had done a lot of period films,” says the 31-year-old, who just landed her fifth Oscar nomination for her turn in Little Children. ”Playing Clementine opened me up to exploring contemporary roles.” A comparative neophyte to comedy and improv, Winslet related so well to the heavily accented director on the Sunshine set that she even became his de facto translator. ”Jim [Carrey] would nod at Michel’s requests, and then immediately turn to me and ask, ‘What did he say?’ and I’d translate. I don’t actually speak French, but we are completely on the same wavelength.” — Michelle Kung

Cate Blanchett with Andrew Upton

Nearly a decade of marriage hasn’t dampened the creative union between Blanchett and playwright Upton. Quite the contrary. ”Andrew is the first person with whom I’ve been able to deeply discuss my roles,” says the Oscar-winning Aussie actress, whose work in Notes on a Scandal earned her another Supporting Actress nod this year. ”Actors can be superstitious about discussing that mysterious process of connecting text to a character, and Andrew, as a writer, can be quite illuminating and point out things I can’t see.” Recently, the two were named co-artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company for 2008. ”We’re enmeshed in the other’s work and have both become better as a result,” says the actress. ”And in the end, that’s all you want in any creative partnership.” — MK

Forest Whitaker with Keisha Whitaker

There’s always another power behind a throne. For Forest Whitaker, whose embodiment of Ugandan despot Idi Amin Dada in The Last King of Scotland has made him the Best Actor front-runner, that force is Keisha, his wife of nearly 11 years. ”I share all the details with her,” he says, ”including my insecurities.” When the soft-spoken star had to convince director Kevin Macdonald that he could become a tower of rage, Keisha egged him on. ”I’ve seen Forest pull so many characters out of himself,” she says. ”I knew how intense the transformation would become.” Both agree that Forest couldn’t have gone so deep without Keisha running their four-kid brood in L.A. while Daddy researched and filmed in Uganda and London. Result? Profound metamorphosis. And perhaps a crown of his own on Oscar night. — Steve Daly

Mark Wahlberg with Stephen Levinson

If you’ve got HBO, you’ve glimpsed the creative collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and his manager, Stephen Levinson. They’ve known each other for 15 years, and ”Lev” is a major inspiration for the Kevin Connolly character, Eric, on Entourage. ”We don’t get to hang out like we used to,” Wahlberg says, ”but in the early days, he was with me all the time.” Back then they used to argue with Wahlberg’s agent, Ari Emanuel (who resembles Jeremy Piven’s Ari), but, according to Levinson, that’s a thing of the past. Emanuel and Levinson pushed Wahlberg to take the role in The Departed, even though scheduling was tight. Good thing — the actor landed his first Oscar nomination. ”It’s the proudest moment in my career,” Levinson says. Ditto Wahlberg: ”It’s an amazing surprise.” — Gregory Kirschling