Latina Actress Aims To Break Maid Stereotype Actress Lupe Ontiveros has built a career on playing immigrant characters. Born to immigrant parents, she has starred as a maid in more than 150 roles, and says she hopes to branch out to roles where the characters have "some chutzpah."
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Latina Actress Aims To Break Maid Stereotype

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Latina Actress Aims To Break Maid Stereotype

Latina Actress Aims To Break Maid Stereotype

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Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Zoom in with me now on a face, a Hollywood face, one of those faces you know but you just can't quite place. It's the face of Lupe Ontiveros, the latest subject of our series Immigrants' Children.

She was born in El Paso. Her parents had moved there from Mexico. And as NPR's Alison Bryce reports, she's built a showbiz career on a limited choice of roles.

ALISON BRYCE: You may not recognize the name Lupe Ontiveros, but she claims that she's been a maid over 150 times, including on the sitcom "Reba."

(Soundbite of TV program, "Reba")

Ms. REBA McENTIRE (Actress): (As Reba Hart) Well thank you very much, Penny, but Van can take over from here.

Ms. LUPE ONTIVEROS (Actress): (As Penny) You want me to leave?

Ms. McENTIRE: (As Reba) Oh, yes. Take the rest of the day off with pay.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Penny) I love you, but I don't work for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRYCE: She was also a maid in "As Good As It Gets," "Charlie's Angels" and "Who's The Boss?"

Ms. ONTIVEROS: You've got maids, and you've got maids. You got maids that have longevity beyond what you ever conceived of in your wildest dreams. I'll give you an example: "The Goonies," Rosalita.

(Soundbite of film, "The Goonies")

Ms. MARY ELLEN TRAINOR (Actress): (As Irene Walsh) Boys, this is Rosalita. Rosalita's going to help us with the packing just until my arm is better.

Mr. SEAN ASTIN (Actor): (As Mikey): Ole.

Mr. COREY FELDMAN (Actor): (As Mouth) Hola.

Ms.TRAINOR: (As Irene Walsh) Uh, boys, Rosalita doesn't speak a word of English, and I know some of you have taken some Spanish in school…

Ms. ONTIVEROS: Those that got hooked on to "The Goonies," oh my gosh, I'm a heroine to them.

BRYCE: Ontiveros says she gets so many immigrant parts because of her indigenous looks. But she has mixed feelings about playing characters that reinforce the Latina stereotype. When she goes to auditions, she knows what to do to get the part.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: You say: You want an accent? On yeah, well, we prefer for you to have an accent. And the thicker and more wobbly it is, the more they like it. And this is what I'm against, really, truly.

BRYCE: In 1983, she broke out of the maid role and starred in what she calls the Godfather of immigration films, "El Norte."

Ms. ONTIVEROS: It was depicting a beautiful story line of those two young kids with all of its shortcomings and its horrors.

BRYCE: Ontiveros plays an illegal immigrant working in a sewing factory who takes a young girl under her wing. When the young girl gets sick, Ontiveros' character searches for the girl's brother and pleads with him to come visit his dying sister.

(Soundbite of movie, "El Norte")

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Nacha) (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Nacha) (Speaking foreign language).

BRYCE: After filming "El Norte," Ontiveros played more maid parts. She said the work got predictable, taking on roles who were named like Rosalita, Camilla and Margarita. But in 2000, Ontiveros' career took another turn. Director Miguel Arteta handed her a script for the movie "Chuck & Buck." It was a part written for a white woman.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: He said look at the part of Beverly. I said Beverly? You said Beverly? Her name is Beverly? And I said I'll do it. I don't care what the script is about because her name is Beverly. It wasn't Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza, this Latino stereotype.

Mr. MIGUEL ARTETA (Director, "Chuck & Buck"): It was so lovely to get that phone call from her, where she said: Miguel, this is what I've been waiting for.

BRYCE: Arteta cast Ontiveros to star alongside Mike White. Ontiveros plays a first-time theater director casting White's first play.

(Soundbite of movie, "Chuck & Buck")

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Beverly Franco) Well, now all we have left to do is decide on (unintelligible), and I think it's pretty obvious who we should go with.

Mr. MIKE WHITE (Actor): (As Buck O'Brien) No, I like this guy.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Beverly) You're kidding, right? He was the worst thing we saw today. He can't act.

Mr. WHITE: (As Buck) I thought he was all right.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: (As Beverly) Buck, no. He can't act at all. I mean no. He is a moron.

BRYCE: Years later, White wrote a TV drama called "Pasadena" and couldn't decide whether to call Ontiveros for the maid character, knowing how she feels about playing maids.

Mr. WHITE: I didn't ask her to do the part in the pilot, and I ran into her, and she was ticked off at me for not offering her the part. And I was, like, you know, Lupe, of course, I would want to work with you again. I think you are genius. But I just - you know, it's like I felt after all of the conversations that we'd had on the set of "Chuck & Buck," you wouldn't want to be offered the part of a maid. And she's like, I want to work.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: I longed to play a judge. I longed to play a lesbian woman. I longed to play a councilman, somebody with some chutzpah.

BRYCE: Ontiveros says that the younger generation of Latina actresses have different choices than she did, women such as Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek and "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera.

Ms. ONTIVEROS: She probably has already formulated the kinds of roles she will or will not accept. She doesn't have to sacrifice her identity, her culture, her dignity to become a star.

BRYCE: You'll be able to see Ontiveros as a wealthy grandma, without an accent, in the upcoming TV show "Reaper."

Alison Bryce, NPR News.

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