VERONICA Echegui is doing something that's increasingly difficult for a generation of 20-something Spaniards: she's working non-stop.
At a time when the economically distressed European nation has a youth unemployment rate approaching 50 per cent, the in-demand 29-year-old Madrid-born actress is shooting movies back to back.
''My life is a little bit crazy,'' admits Echegui, who visited Melbourne to promote the annual La Mirada Film Festival in the brief break between switching locations from Canada to Mexico for a movie she's making with Latin American star Gael Garcia Bernal.
''I really wanted to be an actress, but suddenly it's all happened and I don't always know if I'm ready,'' Echegui adds. ''I'm learning while I'm working, so my point of view is that sometimes I do cool things and sometimes I make mistakes. You can't hide the mistakes, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself.''
Echegui is often described as the ''next Penelope Cruz'', but that comparison stems more from similar looks than corresponding technique. Echegui has three titles in La Mirada, a survey of Spanish and Spanish-language cinema that opens tonight and runs until November 26, and each displays a notably different performance.
In Roberto Perez Toledo's romantic drama Six Points about Emma Echegui plays a wilful and sexually confident blind woman, while for Manuel Martin Cuenca's sparsely atmospheric Half of Oscar she is a silent, recessive sibling circling her estranged brother, and in Iciar Bollain's Kathmandu Lullaby displays a forthright passion as a teacher trying to help abandoned children in Nepal.
The actress was on location for Lullaby in the Himalayan kingdom last year when the 15-M, or Indignants, protest movement sprang up in Spain's streets to oppose the status quo in Spanish politics and crippling austerity measures. Echegui wanted to join the millions of other Spaniards who marched, noting that the country's economic crisis is pervasive - friends with no hope of finding employment are emigrating, while the country's creatively buoyant film industry is struggling to pull together budgets.
According to Echegui the movies resulting from Spain's social upheaval are just starting to go into production, and while she has drawn Hollywood's attention with a role in the recent thriller The Cold Light of Day alongside Bruce Willis and new Superman Henry Cavill, she intends to be a part of them.
''My motivation,'' Echegui says, ''is to do the things I know that I still can't.''
La Mirada Film Festival opens today and runs until Monday November 26 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and Cinema Nova. See lamirada.org.au for details.