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Her name is box-office gold, but for the past two weeks Penelope Cruz has been making a splash as the lady in red. The Oscar-winning actress was unveiled earlier this month as the new face, and sultry figure, of Campari, strutting her stuff in 13 crimson-couture outfits for the Italian liqueur brand's annual celebrity-themed pin-up calendar.

Shot by famed photographer Kristian Schuller, it's a sizzler. In the October shot, the 38-year-old Spanish beauty is framed from behind in a skin-tight pantsuit. February shows her leaning over a roulette table in a clingy woven dress with plunging neckline. Stare long enough and you might even notice a spritzy cocktail or Campari bottle somewhere in the mix.

For Campari, the calendar – which has featured such stars as Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba in its 14-year run – once again shrewdly overcomes a marketing challenge. How do you get an A-list celebrity to flog an alcohol product in a world where booze still carries a stigma with certain fans? Set it up as a fashion shoot. As I discover in a brief call from Cruz, the Vicky Cristina Barcelona star isn't even much of a drinker.

What attracted you to this project. Do you drink Campari?

I've known the name since I was really young. In Europe we all know about it. This is not like a hard-liquor thing. It's very low in strength. It's more or less like a beer.

There was a time when movie celebrities felt uncomfortable, at least in North America, about associating themselves with spirits or liqueurs because of the connotation, though that's been changing a little. Is that something you were concerned about?

I thought about it, but then it's a calendar that they've been doing for so long, with a product that I've known for so long, that I know is a very light drink. And also when I found out that they also have the option of an alcohol-free cocktail, which is probably the one that I would choose in a bar, then that goes more with my lifestyle. I don't think I would have done it if it was a really hard-core drink.

(Note: Milan-based Gruppo Campari does not make an alcohol-free version of Campari, but it does produce a non-alcoholic aperitif called Crodino, available at specialty stores in Canada.)

You were quoted in a newspaper recently saying you don't drink as much as you used to….

I never said that that way because I never really was a big drinker. I can get drunk with a quarter of a beer. I'm not really interested in going farther than that.

Besides Campari, do you have a favourite drink, like beer or Spanish sherry?

Guinness Black. But even that would be a special occasion for me.

You've appeared in endorsements for a lot of products, like Lancôme and L'Oréal. Is this the first time you've been associated with a spirits or wine brand?

Many years ago I did one commercial for Freixenet, a Spanish brand of champagne. Every year they do these commercials with different actors and musicians, and they shoot it in Spain and they do it sometimes with movie directors.

Do you have a favourite picture from the calendar?

I think Kristian Schuller did a great job. I really admire his work. And I saw the results last week and I was very happy with what he did. Maybe my favourite one is the one with the umbrellas.

This interview has been edited and condensed.