Elsa was born in Madrid, Spain to a Spanish father and a Romanian mother. Pataky attended the Universidad de San Pablo in Madrid were she majored in journalism. Enrolling in acting classes on her own time, Pataky began to study the craft, pursuing her longtime dream of becoming an actress. When cast in the Spanish television series "Al Salir de Clase" (1997-99), Pataky put aside her studies in order to pursue a full-time acting career. Upon the success of these TV serie, Pataky was offered a number of film roles.
Fluent in Spanish, French, English and Romanian, Pataky began to broaden her international appeal by taking on roles outside of the Spanish market. She went on to appear in some international movies, such as "Beyond re-Animator", "Romasanta", "Iznogoud" or the italian succesful comedy “manuale d’ amore 2”.
Pataky officially crossed over into the mainstream American market by accepting a supporting role opposite Samuel L. Jackson in the much-hyped action flick "Snakes on a Plane" (2006). In 2006, Elsa branched out into fashion, launching her own line of clothing under the label PTKY.