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Sofia Vergara: ‘My boobs opened a lot of doors for me, but I’m still here because I’m not afraid of taking a risk and I work harder than anyone’

Known for playing the unforgettable Gloria Pritchett on ‘Modern Family,’ the 51-year-old Colombian actress produced the series ‘Griselda,’ in which she portrays a bloodthirsty drug trafficker and mother who fled Colombia and created a cartel in Miami. ‘Women are not perfect,’ she says

Sofía Vergara
Actress Sofia Vergara at the Four Seasons Hotel in Madrid, Spain.Bernardo Pérez
Luz Sánchez-Mellado

On Monday, the guests who were having a midday cocktail in the lobby of the opulent Four Seasons Hotel in Madrid, Spain, had no idea what was taking place one floor above them. A team of assistants spent an hour preparing every last detail for this newspaper’s meeting with Sofia Vergara, 51. The Colombian actress was staying there and took a little longer than expected to arrive, as befits an international star of her stature. When she finally arrived, Vergara was stunning with her big eyes, great hair, large mouth, big voice, her laugh, everything. Dressed in a satin gray shirt and pants, with just the right amount of tightness to reveal her figure without bursting at the seams, Vergara did not seem to be in a hurry, nor was she taking a break. At around 3 p.m., we said goodbye as new friends. A few hours later, she ate Spanish TV host Pablo Motos alive on television with her acerbic answers to his stale questions. We tried to ask Vergara about the episode the next day, but it was not possible to speak with her again. The diva was already onto something else. Below is our interview with Vergara.

Q. In ‘Griselda,’ you play Griselda Blanco, a drug trafficking boss. How much respect did she command?

A. Empowered women are trendy now, but 12 years ago when I was drawn to the story and wanted to produce it, not so much. That was precisely what appealed to me: that the boss was a woman who had to become worse than any man to be the best of them all.

Q. Is that empowerment?

A. Griselda was a very badass woman… Women are not saints, [they’re not] perfect. The interesting and complex thing is that this woman had children, friends, employees. She was loyal to some and implacable with others. She degenerated [as a result of] power, fear, ambition and insecurities. Just like a man. No more, no less.

Q. Did you prepare for the evil Griselda while playing the hilarious Gloria Pritchett on Modern Family?

A. Yes. I had a huge hit with Modern Family. After the first episode, I became famous all over the world, but I’m a Latina who doesn’t look so Latina, and I don’t have the same opportunities as American actors. I’m not complaining, that would be ungrateful, I’ve done much more than I ever dreamed, but it’s harder for me to find roles. The way I look, I can’t play a scientist, or a judge. So, I decided to seek a life for myself.

Q. You can’t play a scientist?

A. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being realistic. When I started on Modern Family, 15 years ago, I still looked a lot more exaggerated than what you see now. I’m not saying there aren’t female scientists like that. But those roles are not for someone like me. When I heard about Griselda, I wanted to play her. Because she was Colombian, because she was a woman, because I experienced the drama of drug trafficking, because my brother Rafael was part of that business and they killed him in 1996. Because of all that, I knew I could do it. And I did do it when I got them to trust me to do it. I got them to give me the money because I had already been Gloria Pritchett; I was always Sofia Vergara.

Q. Aren’t you worried that the series will be interpreted as trivializing the violence of drug trafficking?

A. We aren’t making anything up. That is my country’s history. All that happened. We Colombians are survivors. We lived through terrible times and circumstances. No one is laughing at anyone or justifying anything.

Sofía Vergara
Sofía Vergara at a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Madrid. Bernardo Pérez

Q. In Griselda, the men allude to the character’s “tits and ass” as the key to her success. Does that sound familiar to you, Sofía?

A. Of course it does. It would be absurd to deny it or for that to make me feel bad. On the contrary, I’m grateful for [my] life. My giant boobs and my body opened doors for me; they were my passport to the world when I was 20 years old, when I started as a model, but today I’m 51 years old and I’m still here.

Q. How? Why?

A. Because I am not afraid of [taking a] risk, I work harder than anyone, I have the personality, I have always been aware of what was outside, and I have not been afraid. There are women who are prettier, younger, who have bigger breasts and a better body than me, but I’m still around because I have demonstrated that I can stay. I don’t do brain surgery, it’s just entertainment, and the worst that can happen to me is that they can say I look ugly or that this jackass doesn’t know how to act. I can take it.

Q. When did you realize the effect your appearance had on others?

A. When I was very young, since high school, the boys have all wanted to be with me. Not that it made me feel any better, but you realize that they treat you differently. From a very young age, I’ve known my strengths and I’ve played to them. But if you only see my boobs, then that’s your problem.

Q. In Griselda, your compatriot Karol G. plays one member of the women’s gang that the boss sets up. Are you as supportive of other women?

A. Now it’s trendy for women to be allies, help each other, and call each other to work. I’ve been doing it all my life, perhaps unconsciously. My cousins, my mother, my friends since kindergarten, they have always been my tribe.

Q. What was it like acting in Spanish and with Latino actors?

A. I love American actors, and I’ve never had a problem with them. But acting with Latino actors has been like being at home. In Spanish everything comes easier to me: love, tenderness, anger, everything. My English is still forced English. It has been a blessing for me that has compensated for having to put on Griselda’s false teeth and nose every day and endure the violence of the story.

Q. Were you taking her rage home with you?

A. I would come home mad as hell. No wonder dramatic actors go crazy and see a therapist. Keep in mind that I came from doing a comedy, Modern Family, which was like going to a party every day, being with my friends and having a great time. Thank goodness Griselda was only [filming for] six months. I ended up very affected by it.

Q. You’re 51, in full middle age. Where do you feel you are in life?

A. Oh, that sounds so horrible. No: I feel very fulfilled. I’ve done much more in my career than I ever dreamed of. I never dreamed of being an actress. It was an accident. I’ve been hosting America’s Got Talent for four years, a show where I have a lot of fun, I’m hosting this series all over the world, I have my own clothing and beauty brand. I can’t even think of complaining about anything.

Q. And personally?

A. Well, I’m newly divorced from my second husband [actor Joe Manganiello], who I was with for 10 years. My marriage broke up because my husband was younger; he wanted to have kids and I didn’t want to be an old mom. I feel it’s not fair to the baby. I respect whoever does it, but that’s not for me anymore. I had a son at 19, who is now 32, and I’m ready to be a grandmother, not a mother. So, if love comes along, he has to come with [his own] children. I’m almost in menopause; it’s the natural way of things. When my son becomes a dad, let him bring the baby to me for a while and then I’ll give it back to him and go on with my life; that’s what I have to do.

Q. Your Instagram is like a party.

I’m very fun-loving. It’s what we have left. We Colombians have experienced so many terrible things that we always know how to see the bright side of life, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to live. When I leave, I’m going to take everything with me. You don’t have to seek out suffering; it will find you.

Q. Maybe now, after seeing you play a ruthless drug dealer, they’ll call you to play a scientist.

A. I don’t think so. Things haven’t changed that much. Maybe in 20 years, when I look older, they will believe me as a scientist, but they won’t call me now. And if they do call me, maybe I wouldn’t want to. I would have to see.

FROM GLORIA TO GRISELDA

Sofia Vergara's love affair with the cameras began like that of so many other beautiful girls. One day, someone saw her sunbathing on a beach in her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, and suggested she become a model. So, she went to Miami, where, in addition to starring in advertising campaigns and cover girl calendars, she signed on as a host for the Spanish-language television network Univision. Then, in 2009, she joined the cast of the show Modern Family. The rest is history. Her hilarious, acerbic and intelligent portrayal of Gloria Pritchett, the young and volatile Latina wife of Jay Pritchett, the patriarch in the unique sitcom, earned her not only critical and public acclaim, but worldwide fame and one of the richest contracts in the history of U.S. television. Meanwhile, Vergara was doing other things. Now, three years after the end of the series that catapulted her to fame, she is releasing Griselda, the Netflix story she produced and starred in, based on the true story of Griselda Blanco, the "godmother of coke," a Colombian drug trafficker who dominated Miami’s cocaine market in the 1980s and was murdered in Barranquilla in 2012. She knows the ropes, Vergara says.

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