Always youthful and teeming with hyperkinetic energy, it takes Lupe Ontiveros mere moments to capture the viewer's heart as she gracefully traverses each scene, effortlessly seizing the spotlight from her co-stars. Her charm and charismatic screen presence have earned her roles alongside some of moviemaking's biggest talents, including Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage, Woody Allen, Alfonso Arau, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lopez, and many others over the course of her thirty-year career.
Originally from El Paso, Texas, Lupe Ontiveros graduated from Texas Women's University and worked for 15 years as a social worker in Compton and East LA before taking Hollywood by storm in the late 1970s. Her acting career began modestly with small parts as a stereotypically thick-accented Latina mother or maid, but Lupe Ontiveros would soon become one of the most recognizable faces in Latino cinema, playing much more complex, nuanced roles and delivering fantastic performances in comedies and dramas alike. Ms. Ontiveros made a splash as La Nacha in 1984's influential and Oscar-nominated El Norte; audiences got another glimpse of her acting prowess when she played Yolanda Saldivar, the troubled assassin of the Tejana singer in 1997's Selena, opposite a just-starting-out Jennifer Lopez. Ms. Ontiveros showcased her comic talent as Jack Nicholson's feisty maid in As Good As It Gets and won over critics and film festival audiences as Beverly, a tough-talking theater director who takes a chance on a maladroit young playwright in Miguel Arteta's subversive debut masterpiece Chuck and Buck. The role earned her a Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Board of Review and an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
Ms. Ontiveros wowed the film world again in Spike Jonze's Adaptation and Patricia Cardoso's Real Women Have Curves. Her masterful performance as Real Women's Carmen, the nagging mother who tries to keep her daughter from going off to school in the big city, earned her the Special Dramatic Jury Prize for Acting at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. In addition to her work in film, Ms. Ontiveros has also worked extensively in theater, making Broadway history when she played Dolores—the first Chicana mother to hit the New York stage—in Luis Valdez' "Zoot Suit". Ms. Ontiveros has also been a fixture on many TV sitcoms from Charlie's Angels to Who's the Boss to Caroline in the City, more recently appearing in the WB smash Greetings From Tucson and Veronica's Closet, which garnered her an ALMA award.
Despite achieving international acclaim as an actress, Ms. Ontiveros has maintained the commitment to Latino social causes that she made early in her career. She recently flexed her producing muscles working on an award-winning educational film about breast cancer, and she also founded the Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, which is dedicated to combating the negative depictions of Latinos in the entertainment industry.
In celebration of her work as an actress and her commitment to Latino social causes, Cinequest is proud to honor Lupe Ontiveros as a Maverick Spirit Award winner and our special guest. Please join us in honoring Ms. Ontiveros at Cinequest's Latino Celebration, when she will be the featured speaker at a conversation moderated by NALIP's Kathryn Galan, presented at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. - Maya Kroth