On “Modern Family,” Sofia Vergara plays what could have been a one-dimensional stereotype with a distinct wink to the audience. Her approach to comedy is simple, yet genius: “Somebody can be hot and also be funny, and make fun of herself and enjoy her work and make money.” $37 million a year, to be exact, according to Forbes. Vergara is also widely admired for her business savvy. At 42, she’s as adept at social media as celebrities half her age, and far more so than most of her contemporaries. What sets her apart, however, is her ability to turn her dialogue with her combined 10 million followers into an empire — without making us feel like we’re being given the hard sell.
Hollywood has spent years trying to crack the code of what the country’s lucrative Latino audience wants. Eugenio Derbez, an actor, writer, director and producer who is one of Mexico’s best-known stars, solved the puzzle in 2013 with his hit film “Instructions Not Included.” Though he’s a star in his native country, Derbez was a virtual unknown Stateside when “Instructions” became a surprise box office success, pulling in close to $100 million worldwide on a $5 million budget. It took him 12 years to raise the financing to make the film, and now he has the last laugh. The 52-year-old just inked a deal with Lionsgate/Grupo Televisa’s Pantelion Films, the same banner behind “Instructions,” via his freshly launched 3Pas Studios.
2. Eva Longoria
No one on this list is more dedicated than Eva Longoria to giving Latinos a voice in U.S. politics. Today, via that activism, she’s secured a place among the most influential Latinos in America. She helped President Obama secure 73% of the Latino vote during the 2012 election; continues to speak ardently and articulately about immigration reform; and initiated the Latino Victory Project to raise funds for candidates. On the entrepreneurial side, she’s been successful as a restaurateur, author and executive producer (Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” series and the documentaries “The Harvest” and “Food Chains”). She may be spending less time in front of the camera these days, but she’s busier and more beloved than ever.
2. Javier Bardem
Constructing a legacy of affecting and indelible performances such as “Before Night Falls,” “The Sea Inside,” and “Biutiful,” Javier Bardem has the uncanny ability to transform himself physically from role to role. Currently, no other Hispanic actor comes close to his accomplishments — three Oscar noms and one win for “No Country for Old Men.” So while he’s nowhere to be found on social media, Bardem enjoys a strong connection to the Latino audience, which values his talent above everything else, and sees him as, hands down, “the best actor we have.” One of his three upcoming projects will see him in Sean Penn’s new directorial effort, “The Last Face.”
3. Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez’s biggest asset is her ability to reinvent herself while still remaining true to her core identity: Jenny from the block. By taking a judging gig on “American Idol” in 2010 — at the time considered to be a step down for a star of her caliber — Lopez used the direct exposure to her fans in primetime as a means to dismantle her diva reputation. So successful was JLo at turning all of this newfound good will from fans into growth for her businesses (her fragrances alone have made $2 billion since 2002), that everyone from Shakira to Gwen Stefani have followed her playbook. Now she’s part owner and chief creative officer of NuvoTV, a network aimed at multicultural millennials. In 2015, Lopez will return to film in the thriller “The Boy Next Door.”
3. Michael Pena
Born and raised in Chicago, Michael Peña is one of the few actors who can make you cry hopelessly one minute and laugh maniacally the next. Peña is also one of the rare breed of actors who can work in English and Spanish, as he did in Diego Luna’s 2014 immigrant activist film “Cesar Chavez.” While far from a commercial success, the biopic was a perfect fit for the actor, whose own parents were farm workers when they emigrated from Mexico, and served to educate a younger generation of Latinos about one of the great American civil rights leaders. At 38, Peña’s oeuvre is impressive: He has co-starred in some of the best movies made in the past 15 years, including Oscar winners “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” as well as nominee “American Hustle.” Up next for the actor are several projects that continue to speak to his range, “Fury” with Brad Pitt, as well as the Marvel movie
“Ant-Man” in 2015.
4. Penelope Cruz
This Oscar-winner is admired for her beauty, talent and flawless style, but consciously stays away from the tabloid sagas and social-media over-sharing that many others consider requirements for celebrity. Choosing to raise her family in Europe, with its rigid anti-paparazzi laws, rather than in Los Angeles, Penelope Cruz is respected, if not necessarily relatable. A quick look at the products she endorses — Nespresso, L’Oreal, Agent Provocateur — reveals the type of demographic she appeals to most: older, cultured and educated Latina women better reached through in-depth magazine articles than via Twitter (indeed, Cruz has no verified account.)
4. Gael Garcia Bernal
Mexican-born Gael García Bernal won worldwide acclaim in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s gritty and riveting film, “Amores perros.” His follow-up role, in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Y tu mamá también,” established him as the face of the new wave of Mexican cinema. A partner with Diego Luna in Canana Films and documentary festival Ambulante, he’ll next be seen in “Rosewater,” Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, based on the memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival,” by the BBC journalist Maziar Bahari.
5. Michelle Rodriguez
There’s something about Michelle Rodriguez’s uncompromising tough-girl attitude that appeals to both fans and filmmakers. The oft-controversial star almost seems to relish keeping people guessing when it comes to her personal life — perhaps as a metaphorical middle finger to today’s tabloid-crazed media — yet she never tries to be something she’s not. Fans appreciate Rodriguez for who she is and she, in turn, rewards them by sharing glimpses of her life via Twitter and Instagram (@mrodofficial). You won’t see the 36-year-old actress as a sidekick in a romantic comedy or as red-carpet arm-candy. Instead, she brings brains as well as brawn to action-packed roles. Up next is Universal’s “Fast & Furious 7,”
in theaters April 3.
5. George Lopez
George Lopez’s eponymous sitcom brought the experiences of a middle-class Latino family into living rooms across America at a time when cultural misconceptions were rampant. Like his mentor, Bill Cosby, the actor became an ambassador of ethnographics between his community and mainstream America. The show became a surprise hit in syndication, buoyed by cross-demographic appeal and strong support from Latino viewers. Even more than his career achievements, Lopez’s backstory is the embodiment of the American Dream: Raised by his working-class grandparents in Southern California, he put himself through school, and worked his way up to the top of the Hollywood food chain, while never compromising his identity or forgetting his roots.
6. Salma Hayek
In the decade since “Frida,” Salma Hayek has split her time between the occasional TV cameo, film role, and passion projects (producer of the upcoming animated film “The Prophet,” based on the popular book of poems by Khalil Gibran). In 2009, she married fashion billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, with whom she has a daughter, Valentina. The family exudes fabulousness, and would appear to have little in common with most of the people who buy tickets to Hayek’s films. It’s a credit, then, both to Hayek’s business savvy and to her ability to connect with her core fans that she translates her jet-setting lifestyle into her own beauty line (Nuance by Salma Hayek) available in drugstores to even the most thrifty Latina consumer, with most items priced under $20.
6. John Leguizamo
John Leguizamo’s showbiz career began in the conductor’s car of a New York City subway train, where he gave his first impromptu live performance, and led him to become a groundbreaking actor and comedian at a time when the number of Latinos in Hollywood could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Besides Leguizamo’s infectious energy and expressive face, his hard-knocks rise to fame has made him a pioneer in the business and earned him the admiration of those who followed in his path. Refusing to take no for an answer, Leguizamo spent $15,000 of his own money on a fat suit and prosthetic makeup to earn a part he says he was born to play: Pablo Escobar in the upcoming Brad Furman-directed biopic “King of Cocaine.”
7. Selena Gomez
Successfully attempting the leap from child star to adult celebrity has proven elusive to many a young talent, but 22-year-old Selena Gomez, the youngest on our list, has managed to blossom into a genuine ingenue, and without disrobing in the process. Indeed, the multihyphenate demonstrates a fierce independence and sense of control over her career and persona. She can intermittently date Justin Bieber while still being a role model to her younger Latina fans. The Texas native’s playbook is centered on a direct connection with her combined 35 million followers on Twitter and Instagram. “I didn’t realize how important it was to represent my background and my culture until parents of Latin descent started coming up to me,” she has said. “Then it clicked.”
7. Antonio Banderas
Beloved by many for his Latino heartthrob good looks, charming personality and surprising comedic timing, Antonio Banderas — a former Spanish soccer player — became one of Pedro Almodóvar’s cinematic muses during the 1980s. His later performances in “Philadelphia” and “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” impressed enough Hollywood executives at Sony Pictures to ultimately offer him the role of Zorro, which catapulted him to international stardom. Latino families have a special place in their hearts for Banderas thanks to his voicing of the lovable animated “Puss in Boots.” But he hasn’t abandoned his arthouse roots. He’ll next be seen playing Pablo Picasso in “33 días” and working with Terrence Malick in “Knight of Cups.”
8. Cameron Diaz
A twentysomething model with no acting experience when she landed her debut role opposite Jim Carrey in “The Mask,” Cameron
Diaz blew away stereotypes when she not
only stole scenes from her comedy icon co-star, but became one of the most likable and relatable actresses in Hollywood — no easy task for a
5’10” blonde. At 42, the actress has evolved
from goofy comedienne, speaking openly about body image and projecting the confidence of
an independent woman, all while continuing
to elicit laughter in comedies like this year’s
“Sex Tape,” which basically foreshadowed the
nude celebrity photo leak of 2014. Up next,
she’ll take on the role of Miss Hannigan in
this year’s “Annie” reboot.
Diego Luna star wars rogue one
After his breakthrough role in 2001’s Sundance hit “Y tu mamá tambien,” Diego Luna could have made the move to Hollywood full-time. Instead, the actor and producer opted to stay in his native Mexico to do his part in building the local film industry through his Canana Films banner and Ambulante, a traveling film festival that brings cinema to all parts of the country (Luna launched both endeavors with his best friend and business partner, Gael García Bernal). Luna also has been instrumental in bringing Mexican cinema to the United States, via producing, acting and distribution deals. In 2014, he directed his first English-language film “Cesar Chavez,” a biopic about the migrant farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist.
9. Zoe Saldana
Some stars like to play the warm-and-fuzzy
card. Zoe Saldana, who stars in this year’s biggest box office hit, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” exudes strength, confidence and toughness. The formula has earned her the respect of audiences — especially adult Latinas, who appreciate her intelligence and unwillingness to conform to Hollywood standards that often infantilize
women. The 36-year-old actress is also sought out and admired by the biggest directors in the business, from James Cameron to J.J. Abrams, because she can be simultaneously feminine
and strong. What’s more, she deftly deflects
the attention on her personal life to causes and issues that are important to her, like the politics of gender and race.
9. William Levy
Often referred to as the Latino Brad Pitt, William Levy is a bona fide telenovela star. But his story is far from a fairy tale. Raised by a single mom in the poor fishing village of Cojimar, Cuba, Levy migrated to Miami as a 14-year-old. Adjusting to life in America took time, and it’s that shared experience that connects him with many Latinos. “Even things as simple as a trip to the supermarket were a shock to me,” he has said. “Everything that I have today, I enjoy 100%. I’m grateful for it. I share it. I don’t waste it.” A spot on the 14th season of “Dancing With the Stars” secured Levy’s place in the pop culture consciousness. The hunky actor is transitioning to Hollywood smoothly, after a turn in Tyler Perry’s “The Single Moms Club” earlier this year. Up next is “Addicted,” based on the novel by Zane.
10. Jessica Alba
Early in her career, Alba routinely topped magazines’ “hottest” and “most beautiful” lists. After the birth of her daughter Honor in 2008 (she welcomed her second child, Haven, with husband Cash Warren in 2011), Alba used her celebrity to become a respected lifestyle guru with the Honest Co., a lifestyle company that has grown into a business worth nearly $1 billion today, and keeps the actress-entrepreneur immune to the whims and fancies of Hollywood. Alba’s second life as Earth Mother has skyrocketed her popularity with an entirely new demographic: young, hip Latina moms. These days, her social-media feeds (which reach a combined 12 million people) focus more on cloth diapering tips and baby food than feeding male fantasies.
10. Andy Garcia
Cuban-born Andy Garcia is one of the few
Hispanic actors to have broken through casting stereotypes to become one of Hollywood’s memorable leading men — and one who’s beloved by the Latino community. His tour-de-force performance as Vincent Mancini in “The Godfather Part III” was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, and in the process, influenced a new generation of Latino actors. Comfortable in either dramatic or comedic roles, in commercial or auteur films, Garcia is also a producer and director capable of attracting capital and popular stars. Next on his list is a passion project titled “Hemingway & Fuentes” which he will direct, write and star in.