When Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara lost to Glee’s Jane Lynch at last year’s Emmy Awards, Ed O’Neill, who plays Vergara’s much older, rich husband on the ABC hit comedy, came rushing to his co-star’s side.
“I love Jane, honestly I do,” O’Neill told TV Guide. But, he explained, “Sofia is just so, so funny. I don’t think people realize how hilarious she is. She’s so sharp with her wit, it’s amazing.”
For the 39-year-old Colombia-born Vergara, who recently received her second Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, people may finally be coming to that realization. The actress opened up to The Daily Beast about her long journey to Hollywood, her upcoming roles in The Smurfs and The Three Stooges, her childhood obsessions, her relationship with Tom Cruise, and much, much more.
Congrats on the Emmy nomination! And I hear you have a CoverGirl campaign launching in January?
Yes! I’m so excited! Everything is going very good!
Upon researching you for this interview, I read that you’re actually a natural blonde. Why did you make the switch to brunette?
Yes, I’m blonde. When I started as an actor, because of the accent and my body and my personality, it was not what the stereotype of the Latina woman in Hollywood is, so they didn’t know where to put me. The blond hair wasn’t matching. The moment I put my hair dark, it was better for my work. I think I changed it five or six years ago, but I got used to it. It toned me down a little bit. Before, I was the blonde with big boobs and a big mouth. [Laughs] It toned me down and I really like it.
Being raised in a conservative Catholic household, was it difficult for your family to accept your modeling career?
I did a Pepsi commercial when I was 17. My mother actually wanted me to do it, but I was at a school that was run by nuns that was very strict, and I had to ask permission for everything! For that special thing I didn’t [ask the nuns], I just went and did it. I wasn’t rebellious, though. I was very good. But that was something that I really wanted to do.
And at one point you were going to be a dentist?
I went to dental school, but I didn’t finish because I started getting opportunities for work. You have to decide every day, “Do I go to class or do I make money?” Your priorities start changing. I really wanted to go to medical school, but 20 years ago in Colombia, women were supposed to get married and have a family, and that’s what I wanted to do. I was already planning to get married, so medicine was something that’s very, very strict and you have to study a lot and be on call. So dentistry was the next best thing for me.
What brought you to America?
I left Colombia because Univision brought me to the United States. I moved in 1994 to host a travel show for them, Fuera de serie [Over the Top in English]. A year and a half later, I lost my brother. Most of my family came to the United States shortly after.
Your first film role was in a pretty fun comedy, Big Trouble, which unfortunately had its release date pushed because it had a scene with a bomb on the plane around 9/11.
It was a small role and it was a lot of fun and my first movie. It was completely the wrong timing and they had to edit it. It was pushed, and it was a weird thing … But it was a cute movie!
Modern Family was, of course, your big break, and really made you a household name.
It’s the best thing that ever happened for my career. I’ve been a mother since 19, so I could relate and everything attracted me. I was going to be Colombian, a mother, and very loud, crazy, and Latin. It was a role made for me.
They recently legalized gay marriage in New York, and I think the popularity of Modern Family had a little something to do with people accepting gay couples.
You know what? I think it showed a gay couple in a very beautiful, very normal, very loving [as] parents [way]; not the way sometimes they’re portrayed. So it makes people understand that they can be a loving, normal couple, so why not? Why not have all the rights that normal couples have?
Did your son ever get picked on when he was growing up for having an attractive mother?
I don’t know if he gets it. He doesn’t tell me anything! But of course, when you’re a mommy, you don’t dress all sexy when the kids are around! You try to dress normal, in jeans and a normal shirt.
Has being loud ever gotten you into hot water?
It is what it is. Latins, we’re like that! We’re very passionate and very loud and we scream and shout, but then we forget.
Casting agents love to stereotype actresses in Hollywood, but you’ve really spun that around and made it work to your advantage.
I think I’m going to be stereotyped forever, but I’m not scared of being stereotyped. I’m Latin. I have this accent. I’m lucky that I got this role and showed people that I can be funny. I would never go and read for Schindler’s List 2 because I know I’m not going to get the part. It’s just a matter of finding the right roles for me. I’m never going to play a scientist or something crazy.
Like Denise Richards in that James Bond film [The World Is Not Enough]?
You’re starring in The Smurfs, which opens Friday, and it’s really your first role in a major Hollywood film. Were you into The Smurfs when you were younger?
Yeah, in Colombia it was huge in the ’80s! I grew up watching in the ’80s and my son, Manolo, grew up watching in the ’90s. I know it all perfectly!
What were your other childhood obsessions?
Barbies! I was obsessed. I had a Barbie convertible, the kitchen, the house, the building, everything. We also had the Atari, the Pac-Man, but it was mainly Barbie.
Now that you’ve recently starred in another Pepsi commercial with David Beckham, it seems like your career has come full circle.
That’s why it made a lot of sense for me to join them again. It was amazing to do that commercial. David was super-professional, very sweet, and very nice. He was playing on the beach with the ball and everybody was obsessed with him!
I remember reading that you had dated Tom Cruise, and a few months after you two split, he proposed to Katie Holmes. But I haven’t heard too much about what it was like to be with Tom.
Let’s keep it that way! [Laughs hysterically] I don’t want to talk about that!
[Laughs] Fair enough. I’ve also heard that your current boyfriend, Nick Loeb, is mulling running for the Democratic Senate nomination in the state of Florida?
We don’t know yet. He’s been involved in politics for a long time and maybe he’ll end up doing it. He doesn’t know yet when, but it’s something that he loves and that he wants to do. Maybe it will happen now or later, but it’s something that he’s going to eventually do.
Do you have any reservations about potentially being a politician’s girlfriend?
No, I mean everybody gets to do what they want and love, and what they’re passionate about. He supports me in my career and it’s difficult to be with an actress, so when the time comes and I’m still with him, of course, I’d support him.
You’re also set to star in the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges, which is really your first lead role in a film.
I just finished filming in Atlanta. I play a mean woman that tries to manipulate the Three Stooges into killing her husband so that she gets all the money.
Let’s talk about your second Emmy nomination for Modern Family. That must be quite an honor, to know you’re in the conversation every year now.
It’s been amazing and I’ve been working for 22 years and never thought I was going to be an actress. I was a TV host. And when I started acting, I never thought I was going to be a part of a project like Modern Family that was so successful, and be nominated for awards. That was never in my plan!