The Spanish director Josep Joan Bigas Luna, who can count Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz among his acting discoveries, has died at the premature age of 67.

The BBC reports that Bigas Luna died after a long battle with cancer at his home in Tarragona, northeast Spain. One of the biggest influential film makers in the country, he also had an eye for talent – Javier Bardem’s first role was in Bigas Luna’s 1990 film The Ages Of Lulu. "I don't know where to begin," Bardem said in a statement, adding that he owed the director "the woman I love" and "a career that I never dreamed I could have". Cruz also went for a role in The Ages Of Lulu and though she didn’t get the role, her first meeting with the director apparently changed her life. "In walked a man with a rascal's face: Bigas Luna," she said in her own statement "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."'

True enough he did get in touch with her three years later, to star in Jamon, Jamon alongside Bardem. It was the first time the pair met and they went on to get married. Both have starred in Bigas Luna films since as well, with Barden appearing in 1993's Golden Balls and 1994's Le teta y la luna and Cruz in 1999’s Volaverunt, before going on to win a best supporting Oscar in 2009 for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Penelope Cruz
Penelope Cruz passed on her respects to Bigas Luna