Why Does She Look Familiar? These Hollywood Stars Were Big In Spanish Films First

For many South American actresses, Hollywood recognition comes after years of a career abroad. Learn about these 5 stars who were big in Spanish first!

Now that the Academy Awards are just around the corner, it is becoming increasingly heartwarming to see a wider variety of surnames and nationalities on the nominees' list.

Many times, names such as Yalitza Aparicio or Salma Hayek may seem like they just appeared overnight through that one breakthrough role. In reality, for many South American and Spanish actresses, Hollywood accolades are more of a "cherry on top" of an already years-long acting career.

Of course, trying to learn Spanish by watching movies also offers a good chance to spot these big stars when they were first starting out. So this week, why not look for these movies? Not only will it help you practice Spanish, but you may be surprised seeing how far they've come!

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Here Are 5 Hollywood Stars Who Were Big In Spanish Films First

#1 – Salma Hayek

It would be impossible to start any such list without mentioning the first Mexican woman to be nominated for an Oscar.

She is now one of Hollywood's most influential producers, to the point that it's a bit hard to still think of her as an outsider. Before she was Frida, however, Salma had a long career playing telenovela villains and literary heroins alike.

Some of her best-remembered roles include Julia, a supporting character in El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba (Nobody writes to the Colonel) and Lola, the leading lady at La Gran Vida.

Here, she merges the latin bombshell and "manic pixie dream girl" tropes masterfully, as a waitress who saves a bus driver's life.

#2 – Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz became famous in Hollywood next to Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky. However, this was her second time playing that very same role: in 1997, she had starred in Abre los Ojos (Open your eyes), the original low-budget run of the 2001 blockbuster.

© Deposit Photos

Penelope started working towards her current success very early on: she was only 14 when she landed her first modeling gig. Born and raised in Madrid, she has managed to steer clear from stereotypical roles, and landed star-billing roles in several artsy auteur films.

Despite being a household name now, she still calls Madrid home. Over the past couple of years, she has branched out her interest by designing fashion accesories.

#3 – Sofia Vergara

Born in Colombia in 1972, Sofía Vergara's story is one of grit and openness so subsequently difficult challenges.


She was an outstanding telenovela actress before trying out her luck in the United States. Her modeling and acting career began when she was just 17, and by the late 90s, she had aready reached the peak of what local stardom would allow: she was an instantly-recognizable face as the co-host of two talk shows that were seen across the subcontinent via Univisión.

The next logical step in her career was to cross over into Hollywood – something she was at first hesitant to do out of fear of being stereotyped into "spicy Latina" roles.

However, she found a new niche in comedy next to Tyler Perry, taking on supporting roles in Meet the Browns and Madea goes to jail. However, the real consolidation of her career happened in Modern Family, where she imbues her seemingly-stereotypical role with surprising depth.

#4 – Maria Gabriela de Faria

© International Business Stars

Although not as instantly-recognizable as the other names on this list, Maria Gabriela de Faria is on her way of becoming one of the most talked-about Venezuelan names. This Caracas native started out as a soap opera diva after participating in the hit Toda una dama (A complete lady).

After coming to the United States, she was onboarded as part of Nickelodeon's new cadre of young stars. As the lead star of Deadly Class, she plays an assassin-in-training in this 80s-inspired TV series. Expect to hear more from her in the coming years.

#5 – Yalitza Aparicio

Before her Oscar nomination for Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, Yalitza Aparicio was a relatively minor, yet unconventional actress in her native Mexico.

Rather than pursuing traditional acting training, Yalitza's hopes lied on becoming a school teacher. Before being discovered for her role as housekeeper Cleo in Roma, she had been limited to stage productions at her university. Her soft, yet stoic personality earned her widespread critical acclaim and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The women we mentioned here are just five of the many success stories around Hollywood. The movie industry is not just a great window into any country's cultural psyche, but it is also the set of many inspiring real-life stories.

So as we celebrate the Academy Awards and the movie industry in general, can you think of any other Spanish stars that deserve a bigger stage?

At Lingopie, we offer a large selection of subtitled foreign-language TV series and movies that will help you learn Spanish without even realizing it. Try it out for 7 days and try to predict who the next big star will be!
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