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Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who co-stars in ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” this year as Secret Warrior Elena Rodriguez (aka Slingshot), started her career onstage as a ballerina in Cancun before becoming an actress in Mexican productions like romance film “Ventanas al Mar” and drama series “Bienes Raices,” about two women who run a real estate office.

FAMILY BUSINESS: The 33-year-old actress has performing in her blood; her grandfather Francisco Cordova was a well-known Mexican actor. Finding ballet too limiting (“I felt like I needed to branch out,” she says), she came to the U.S. and attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “Going there made me fall in love with theater and the craft of acting,” she explains.

MARVEL-OUS BREAK: Her introduction to Hollywood came last year in sports-themed Kevin Costner starrer “McFarland, USA,” in which she had a small role. But she felt her career wasn’t clicking. On the verge of quitting, she got an audition for “SHIELD.”

BORDER CROSSING: The main difference she sees between the Mexican industry and Hollywood is size. But she also points to a culture of moviegoing in the U.S. that she says Mexico lacks, despite an industry full of talent. Cordova-Buckley’s aim is to be able to cross over between jobs in Mexico and the U.S., and she lists top auteurs Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G.Inarritu as those she’d like to work with. Of Cuaron, she says, “A man who believes a woman can hold a film in space for two hours deserves embrace from any actress.”