The charm of Sofia Vergara is that so much about her is unexpected.
Just looking at her, you wouldn’t imagine a wacky sense of humor, no-nonsense business acumen or that she keeps that amazing figure without being a slave to diet and exercise.
What still surprises Vergara about herself, though, is her career.
“I grew up thinking I would be a doctor, and I was in Colombia so women were not into having such a difficult career,” she says. “For me the next best thing, because I love science and chemistry, (was) dental school. Then I started doing TV, which I loved, but it was not something that I thought I would end up doing when I was young.”
Vergara isn’t coy about age. She’s 43, which she casually mentions. It helps, of course, that she is in a great place.
Having just wrapped her sixth season as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on “Modern Family,” Vergara is engaged to “Magic Mike” co-star Joe Manganiello. The buddy comedy “Hot Pursuit,” which Vergara executive produced and toplines opposite Reese Witherspoon, opens May 8, the day after Vergara receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“It never crossed my mind that I could get something like that,” Vergara says. “That I would be thought of for (the Walk of Fame). That I could be someone who would be part of that is a very big surprise for me. In Colombia, they are ecstatic.”
Vergara is, too, though typically, she’s juggling a lot at the moment: a move, wedding plans and her usual slate of business deals.
“I was so blown away by Sofia’s work ethic,” Witherspoon says. “She is an incredibly hard worker. While we were filming ‘Hot Pursuit’ she was acting and producing the film, finishing her TV show and doing photo shoots on the weekends for her many different corporate endorsements. She’s a true powerhouse.”
Her directors, showrunners and co-stars all independently agree.
Ed O’Neill, who plays Gloria’s husband, Jay, on the ABC megahit, says she’ll work relentlessly on a scene, sometimes until she’s on the floor.
“She has fallen down on the set a number of times,” O’Neill says. “Sometimes she will just be standing there — think of a man hung by the neck and goes straight down, that’s how she falls. She may put too much weight on one of those heels. It is very alarming. I think she has had a stroke or something. She does not get hurt; she is very resilient.”
If there’s a secret to Vergara’s success, it likely derives from a rare combination: she looks like a goddess and acts like a clown.
“Make no mistake about it, she is genuinely funny and gifted” as a comedian, says “Modern Family” co-creator and executive producer Steven Levitan. “She has an inherent sense of timing, especially when you consider this is not her first language. Most people aren’t funny in their native language, let alone in their second language. She sometimes will barely understand what the sentence means, the turn of phrase, but can find her way to the joke. It is in her bones.”
“Hot Pursuit” helmer Anne Fletcher jokes about what it was like to work with Vergara.
“Horrible! Capitalize it,” she says. “She is amazing. We all love her from ‘Modern Family’ and know she is a funny, funny lady. It surprised me by how smart she is with her comedy. You have to be smart to be funny.
“She inherently knows what it is that is funny,” Fletcher continues. “I can’t tell you if it’s 1,000% thought-out or she just is. It’s part of her DNA.”
Vergara was kicking around in TV for a few years — guest shots on “My Wife and Kids” and “Baywatch” preceded series regular roles on short-lived comedies “Hot Properties” and “The Knights of Prosperity.” “Modern Family” made her a star.
“I am very clear that I owe everything to ‘Modern Family,’ ” Vergara says. “Gloria Pritchett is the favorite thing I will ever do.”
O’Neill reminisces about the initial table read.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well, I see why they hired her. She is so beautiful.’ I was thinking, ‘I only hope she can act a little bit and be a little funny.’ And then I was wondering if anyone would buy the fact that we were married. I was worried anybody would believe it.”
Executive producer and co-creator Chris Lloyd recalls hanging out with Vergara and O’Neill that first season when, “A workman was walking by and he saw Sofia and he could not complete the next step in his forward motion. He finally gathered himself and went on his way.
“Ed said he looked like he just saw a panda; he could not have registered a greater degree of surprise if he saw a panda stop and lean against the building. She is arresting in the way she looks and this crazy machine-gun delivery and the way she fractures the language.”
In the early days, Vergara had worked on losing the accent. She might as well have worked on looking androgynous.
“I had classes but nothing happened,” Vergara says. “I just spent a lot of money and a lot of time. It is not easy and I can’t complain. I started doing auditions. You know what? I am going to give this a try with my accent.”
Those who work closely with her describe someone who knows how to have fun.
“She got a speeding ticket on the way to the set one time,” Lloyd says. “She blamed it on the car. Maybe she would get rid of the car. There is a lesser step you can take — maybe pay the ticket.”
Everyone talks about how maternal Vergara is with the kids on set and of course with her TV son, Manny. Maybe people don’t expect a woman to be both that gorgeous and caring. Vergara points to her personal idol: Sophia Loren.
“I met her for her 80th birthday. They were giving a special event for her. I don’t know how they knew I was a crazy fan of hers and they gave me an opportunity to give a little speech,” Vergara says. “I have always been obsessed with her, the career she has, the way she has taken care of her family.”
Vergara keeps her family close, something Levitan saw when he joined them in Mexico for her 40th birthday. They were knocking back tequila, he recalls “very late one night at the bar and someone pulled out a guitar from under the bar and all of a sudden all these people started pulling out instruments and Sofia, her hips are flying. I said to my wife, ‘I never felt more white in my life!’ I can’t get my hips to move remotely like that.”
Just as Vergara embraced that birthday, she’s embracing this moment with a movie, a hit show and a Hollywood star.
“I feel so lucky,” Vergara says. “It has been a crazy ride, career-wise. I wake up sometimes and I am feeling, ‘What have I done to deserve all these good things?’ I have gone through rough things and I try to enjoy every day. I have money. I have fame. I have my family, people who love me. So I am trying to enjoy it.”