How did you get from San Juan to Hollywood?
I was ballet dancing at four, playing piano by six, and doing commercials by 12. When I was 21, I was on the number one live comedy show in Puerto Rico. I told my parents, “I’m going to New York to become a performer.” And I left.
Are you comfortable being a sex symbol?
If people think you’re sexy and beautiful, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, the most important thing for me to hear isn’t, “Oh, my God, she’s so hot,” it’s, “She’s really great at what she does.” It’s even better when you hear both.
As such a beautiful woman, have you ever encountered the Hollywood casting couch?
There have been many times when someone has taken me out for dinner because they wanted to talk about a project. And for the first 10 minutes, they do just that. Then it turns to, “Are you dating anybody?” or something completely inappropriate. That’s when I call my manager and go, “Well, that was a waste of time!” You have to laugh at that stuff or else you go crazy.
Is there anything else you’ve struggled with on the road to success?
My accent. It’s been a struggle all my life. Some people are very graceful and say, “I love the way you speak, but slow it down,” which I get. Other people are nasty. I’ve cried. Sometimes I hate the way I speak. I don’t want to open my mouth, because everyone gave me a complex. But sometimes I love it and think, Embrace your culture. It’s who you are. I’m proud of being Puerto Rican. Every Puerto Rican wants to go back to Puerto Rico to die.
What has surprised you the most about being a professional actress?
It’s a very difficult business. If you don’t have thick skin, you’re not going to survive. Dealing with rejection is hell; it’s something I’ll never get used to. If I audition for a Latino role, it’s always the same five girls. We don’t have as many opportunities as the Caucasian girls, and we all want the same roles. Sometimes if I don’t get a part, the reason they give my agent is, “She reminds me of my ex-girlfriend, and therefore I don’t like her.” And there’s nothing I can do about that.
Was it tough learning English when you first came to the States?
I studied English in grammar school, but in high school I lost it completely. When I moved here, I was able to understand a lot, but I’d never had a conversation in English. The first year I didn’t learn a lot. Then I started watching a lot of American TV, and I dated a guy who didn’t speak Spanish, so I was forced to learn English. Never been able to get rid of the accent, though.
We love the accent! When you started landing big roles, did you buy anything embarrassing?
My first television show was Fame L.A., and I was making, like, $7,500 an episode, which was an insane amount to me. I rented a three-story house in the Hollywood Hills. I went all out, spending crazy money I didn’t have. After a year the show was canceled, and I didn’t have a lot of money in the bank. That was my first reality check. I was ridiculously stupid.
But now you have a steady gig on Without a Trace and you’re filming Rush Hour 3, playing Jackie Chan’s love interest again. Did the kung fu master teach you how to kick ass?
Yes. Jackie has a team of people who choreograph all the big fights and stunt work, and they look like soldiers. I did a lot of my own stunts, and one night I ended up in the hospital. I don’t know what happened. I was doing a scene where I had to kick a lot, and I did it, like, a million times, and I started bleeding internally. It wasn’t painful, but I had to go to the emergency room. After Rush Hour 2, my career became insane. Everybody read for that role, from big names to nobodies. They took a leap of faith on me, and it changed my life.
So should Maxim readers be nervous if they see you in a dark alley?
Yes, because I’ll throw an uppercut. I’m a boxing fanatic. It’s my favorite sport.
Who’s gonna win the big bout this month, Oscar De La Hoya or Floyd Mayweather?
As a Latina, I have to say De La Hoya. He’s one of us. He’s going to leave an incredible legacy. That’s not to say I’m not a huge fan of Mayweather. He’s the best out there right now. It’s gonna be a hard one. I’ll be there, ringside. I go to all the fights.
Do you yell out curse words during a fight?
Every single one! It’s horrible. Every year my New Year’s resolution is to be more ladylike, but it’s so hard.
Do you consider yourself a good girl or a bad girl?
I don't smoke or drink—I've never been drunk in my life—but I swear a loft. I'm trying not to sear right now. I'm on my best behavior. My parents wouldn't tolerate it. If I said something dirty growing up, they'd smack my face.
What’s better: money or fame?
I’m not doing this for money or because I want to be famous. When you get to the level where you’re making millions of dollars and you’re super famous, you’re not very happy, because of all the stuff that comes with it. There’s no privacy, and that’s a problem. Being a performer means not needing attention but being cool with attention. Some celebrities love the attention, and they’re photographed all the time. But I really just do this because I love it—and because I honestly don’t know how to do anything else.
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