Elena Anaya started her acting career with the Spanish short film ‘Adiós Naboelk’ in 1995. The following year, through her drama tutor, actor Manuel Morón, she got the opportunity to audition for ‘África’ and bagged the titular role of a young girl in the Spanish drama film. Following her big screen debut, she continued to appear in supporting roles in movies such as ‘Familia’ (1996), ‘¿De qué se ríen las mujeres?’ (1996), ‘Grandes ocasiones’ (1998), ‘Finisterre, donde termina el mundo’ (1998), ‘Black Tears’ (‘Lágrimas negras’, 1998), ‘Fading Memories’ (‘Las huellas borradas’, 1999) and ‘El árbol del penitente’ (2000). Also in 2000, she had the lead role of Adelaida, a beautiful young woman sent to asylum by her jealous sister for refusing to believe that her lover died in the Cuban War, in the romantic drama film ‘El invierno de las anjanas’.
Anaya received international recognition in 2001 for her portrayal of morbid nanny Belén in the Spanish romantic drama ‘Lucía y el sexo’ (‘Sex and Lucia’), for which she received the ‘Spanish Actors Union Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ and was nominated for the ‘Goya (Spanish Academy) Award’. Later that year, she had a small role in the Mexican-Spanish comedy film ‘Sin noticias de Dios’ (‘No News From God’) starring Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril. It was followed by another Mexican-Spanish romantic comedy film, ‘La habitación azul’ (‘The Blue Room’), in 2002, which year she was also cast in a supporting role in Pedro Almodóvar’s romantic drama film ‘Talk to Her’ (‘Hable con ella’). Following a couple more supporting roles in the drama film ‘Rencor’ (2002) and the crime comedy ‘Dos tipos duros’ (2003), she made her Hollywood debut in the role of Aleera, Count Dracula’s youngest and most possessive bride, in the gothic horror film ‘Van Helsing’ (2004), starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale in the lead. Anaya, who was named one of European films' Shooting Stars by European Film Promotion in 2004, made her television debut that year in an episode of the French-British-German mystery thriller series ‘Petits mythes urbains’ (‘Urban Myth Chillers’) and played the lead in the Spanish romantic short film ‘Ana y Manuel’.
In 2005, Anaya appeared in a couple English-language movies, such as the German action comedy film ‘Dead Fish’ starring Gary Oldman and the British-Spanish horror mystery film ‘Frágiles’ (Fragile). The next year, she featured in the music video of the single, "SexyBack", by Justin Timberlake. She continued to appear in supporting role in movies such as the Spanish epic historical drama film ‘Captain Alatriste: The Spanish Musketeer’ (‘Alatriste’, 2006), the romantic comedy ‘Miguel y William’ (‘Miguel and William’, 2007), the American romance drama ‘In the Land of Women’ (2007), the biographical drama film ‘Savage Grace’ (2007), the French biographical crime film ‘L'instinct de mort’ (‘Mesrine: Killer Instinct’, 2008), and the Mexican-Spanish crime thriller ‘Solo quiero caminar’ (‘Walking Vengeance’, 2008). In 2009, she starred in the Spanish psychological thriller ‘Hierro’, was a supporting cast on the Canadian romantic drama ‘Cairo Time’ and acted in the short comedy film ‘9’.
Anaya again gained international acclaim for her starring roles in the 2010 Spanish erotic romantic comedy-drama film ‘Room in Rome’ (‘Habitación en Roma’), opposite Natasha Yarovenko, and in Almodóvar’s 2011 Spanish science fiction-psychological thriller film ‘The Skin I Live In’ (‘La piel que habito’), opposite Antonio Banderas. Among numerous other awards and accolades, the former role earned her ‘Best Actress’ nominations for both the ‘Spanish Actors Guild’ and the ‘Goya Awards’, while the latter role won her the 2011 ‘Goya Award’ in the same category. During early 2010s, she continued to deliver powerful performances in movies like the French action thriller ‘Point Blank’ (‘À bout portant’, 2010), the Argentine-Spanish drama ‘Pensé que iba a haber fiesta’ (2013), the Spanish-German-Mexican supernatural drama ‘They Are All Dead’ (‘Todos están muertos’, 2014), the Scottish-made romantic comedy ‘Swung’ (2015), the Chilean drama film ‘The Memory of Water’ (‘La memoria del agua’, 2015) and the Spanish thriller ‘Lejos del mar’ (‘Far from the Sea’, 2015). She further provided her voice to the Spanish documentary film ‘Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony’ in 2013. She went on to star in the Spanish adventure film ‘Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán’ and played a small role in American biographical crime thriller ‘The Infiltrator’ in 2016. Her next big international appearance was as Isabel Maru a.k.a. Doctor Poison in the American blockbuster superhero film ‘Wonder Woman’ in 2017. Also that year, she appeared in the Argentine political drama film ‘The Summit’ (‘La Cordillera’). She subsequently started to appear on television regularly in series such as ‘MotherFatherSon’, ‘Jett’ and ‘Three Days of Christmas’ in 2019 and ‘Professionals’ in 2020. She was able to work with one of her favorite directors, Woody Allen, in the 2020 comedy film ‘Rifkin's Festival’. She is also scheduled to appear in the upcoming films ‘Jaula’ and ‘Fatum’, as well as the television series ‘Mentiras pasajeras’.