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The natural successor to Italian 60s screen sirens Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, Maria Grazia Cucinotta has emerged as one of her country's most striking exports.
Model-turned-actress Cucinotta rose to international attention in 1994 with a role the Academy Award-winning film "Il Postino," in which she smoldered as the unlikely love interest of a dim-witted mail man.
Hollywood parts followed quickly for the Sicilian, including in a fleeting appearance as a Bond Girl opposite Pierce Brosnan in 1999's "The World is Not Enough."
Dreams of living the "Dolce Vita" portrayed by Italian director Federico Fellini saw Cucinotta head for fashion capital Milan at the age of 18 to launch a modeling career she became quickly disillusioned with.
A chance audition in Rome led her into television and advertising work, where she quickly capitalized on her unabashedly Italian looks and glamour.
Still one of Italy's most sought-after actors, Cucinotta recently produced and starred in "The Invisible Children," a series of vignettes highlighting the plight of disadvantaged youngsters around the world.
The film, a collaboration between directors including John Woo, Spike Lee and Ridley Scott, was showcased at the 2005 Venice film festival.
"It is so fantastic being an actress because you have the chance to be a thousand different people when you act," says Cucinotta.
"But you have to go back to your real life, and if you don't have the right people around you, you forget about that."
2005 All the Invisible Children