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The $27 Million Dollar Woman

Sofia Vergara is the $27 million dollar woman. In July 2012, she was declared the “Highest Paid Actress in Television” by Forbes, topping the list with earnings of $19 million from May 2011 to May 2012. In addition, there are lucrative endorsement deals and income derived from her multi-media company Latin World, bringing her estimated worth for 2012 to $27 million. With this and a combination of talent, beauty and rarely talked about business acumen, Vergara is the biggest crossover talent from Latin America in U.S. television history.

Although the limelight was not something Vergara sought out while growing up in Baranquilla, it found her when a photographer discovered her on the beach. Soon after, the 17 year old was shooting the Pepsi commercial that would make her a household name in Colombia. This commercial opened doors for her in the U.S. at Univision where she worked as a television host on Fuera de Serie and A Que No te Atreves for over eight years.

It was during the late 90’s that Vergara met Luis Balaguer, a Spaniard living in Miami. Together they founded Latin World, a management agency to help guide Vergara’s career. Latin World was instrumental in getting Vergara the initial roles and press to promote her in the English-language market. Later on, as Vergara’s career flourished, Latin World would open doors for the biggest stars in the Spanish-speaking entertainment world.

In 2002, Vergara landed a small, albeit memorable role, in a the Barry Sonnenfeld movie Big Trouble. Although the film was a financial failure, her “toe fetish scene” and stunning good looks put Vergara on the Hollywood radar. She soon landed a starring role in Chasing Papi alongside Roselyn Sanchez, singer Jaci Velasquez, and Eduardo Verastegui. The film flat-lined at the box-office, but for Vergara, it was a major step forward, and with Latin World behind her, she took full advantage of a chance to promote herself.

She went on The David Letterman Show, Conan O’Brien, The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn, and the Howard Stern Show and the conversation inevitably became about Vergara’s D-cup, love life and good looks. Being a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue model at the time was probably a major plus in getting booked. But Vergara wanted to introduce herself to American audiences and got the results she was looking for.

Two years later, she was offered a development deal at ABC. This was the opportunity Vergara needed to not only pay her dues but more importantly, prove her comedic talent. She was cast as a series regular on ABC’s Hot Properties (2005) a comedy as one of four women working together in a Manhattan real estate office and The Knights of Prosperity (2006) a comedy of a group of misfits who attempt to rip off celebrities. Although both these shows were soon cancelled, ABC saw a talent they wanted to keep nurturing.

It was in 2009 that Sofia Vergara would finally hit paydirt when she landed a role in Modern Family. She was cast as Gloria Pritchett-Delgado, the voluptuous Latina trophy wife married to the much older Jay Pritchett (played by Ed O’Neill). After a sit down meeting with writer/producers Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, they not only cast her but tailored the role based on Vergara’s life as a single Colombian mother with a young son named Manolo and a heavy accent. Modern Family was an immediate hit with audiences and critics alike and after only a few weeks on the air ABC announced that it had been picked up for a second season. The next year it went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, catapulting Vergara and the rest of the series regulars into immediate stardom.

This time around it was Vergara’s comedic talent, and not her looks, which got her the recognition with three Golden Globe, Emmy and SAG award nominations for best supporting actress in a comedy series. She won three consecutive Screen Actors Guild awards as part of the Modern Family ensemble in a comedy series. The show also won an Emmy for best comedy as well as a Golden Globe. So popular is the show that it even crosses political parties. Both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama cited Modern Family as their favorite TV show.

The Sofia Vergara brand is invaluable both in English and Spanish. On the English side, she’s inked lucrative deals for CoverGirl, Diet Pepsi, and K-Mart, which includes Vergara’s own line of clothing, accessories, and beauty items, in addition to appearing in ads and making appearances.

On Spanish TV, she’s signed with Burger King, Comcast and State Farm. There are also profits from her Latin World partnership that include earnings from Latin World’s bilingual YouTube channel, NuevOn, which premiered in April 2012 and is said to have immediately sold out their ad inventory to Procter & Gamble.

For Vergara, nothing in business is a coincidence. She puts a lot of time and thought into it. For her $6 million K-Mart deal, she was involved not only in the design, but also selecting the materials and setting prices for her clothing line. “I wanted to create a brand that was affordable and comfortable and versatile,” she said. “The shoes, the bags, have in mind that moms [are on a] budget.” The goods are so wallet-friendly, in fact, that if you “get a couple of cute tops, your husband isn’t even going to notice,” she joked.

In 2011, she became the newest face of CoverGirl and her ads successfully debuted in January 2012. She adds a much sought after “Latin flavor” in make up with so many Latinas wanting to duplicate Vergara’s makeup and “look”. CoverGirl created a new line to cater to Latinas. Now, that’s flexing some major business muscle! A $5 million dollar deal gets you a whole lot of Vergara good looks.

Forbes estimates Vergara’s 2012 annual income to be approximately $27 million. Vergara is already on track to surpass those earnings in 2013 due partly to the Modern Family cast members sticking together to re-negotiate a pay raise. In 2013, all the adult actors’ per episode salary will go from an average of $50,000 to $180,000 per episode, according to Variety.

Vergara has now surpassed long time Spanish-language reigning media maven, TV host Cristina Saralegui, as well as the first cross-over queen, Salma Hayek, in becoming the latest Latina media millionaire entrepreneur in the U.S., working in both the English and Spanish entertainment industries. And she has also surpassed Eva Longoria, who came in third on the Forbes list at $15 million.

Embracing her new role as media mogul, Vergara and her company Latin World have again partnered with Univision on a new e-commerce platform called NuevoMall, which is said to connect fans with TV talent. The site purports to integrate Internet technology with culturally specific tendencies of Latinos’ affinity to purchase products endorsed by celebrities.

On English language television, Vergara partners once again with ABC, this time as executive producer of a drama entitled Killer Women about a female Texas Ranger. ABC has given a script commitment to the pilot based on the Argentine series Mujeres Asesinas which will be produced by Vergara and Balaguer as well as Ben Silverman (Ugly Betty) and Martin Campbell.

As busy as Vergara is, she still finds time to do film. Later this summer, she is the voice of Odile in The Smurfs 2. In September, she appears as Desdemona in the much-anticipated Machete Kills, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Also this year, Vergara stars as an eyeglass designer in John Turturro’s comedic film Fading Gigolo alongside Woody Allen and Sharon Stone.

Vergara recently celebrated her 40th birthday, which in Hollywood is a sign your career is pretty much over. However, for Vergara it was an occasion for celebration, turning her 40th birthday into a media event to which she invited 108 of her closest friends and family, including her Modern Family costars and producers, to weekend at the ultralux Rosewood Mayakoba resort.

But all this good fortune does not come without its critics, mainly from the Latino community that increasingly complains about the stereotypes perpetuated by her Modern Family character. “Sofia created an updated version of Charo, the ‘Cuchi-Cuchi” 60s and 70s sexy and ditzy Latina person,” Felix Sanchez, Chairman and Co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) recently told The Huffington Post. “While we applaud her creating a comedic brand that works for her, unfortunately Hollywood looks at Sofia and tries to find replicas of her, believing that they are authentic Latinas, not realizing that her act is a shtick and not an example of the U.S. Latina actress they should be casting for dramatic television and roles.”

Sofia recently addressed these criticisms, telling Allure, “Some people ask me, ‘Are you scared that you are stereotyping Latin women?’…I don’t even know why that is supposed to be bad. I mean, this is who we are. We’re loud. We’re passionate. We’re colorful. We’re voluptuous.”

Vergara insists she is just playing a character, and a character with shades of her comedic idol Lucille Ball. If you look closely, Lucy and Vergara’s Gloria share a few similarities. They are both played by beautiful women who are not afraid to look unglamorous on camera, they are both loud and ditzy, they do physical comedy very well, and then there is that screeching, annoying voice. Although Lucy herself was not playing a stereotype, her on-and-off screen husband Ricky Ricardo, played by Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, certainly was. But that was back in the days when political correctness was not yet the rage.

Vergara does not think Gloria is stereotypical, and the over twelve million Modern Family viewers that tune in every week to watch obviously don’t care one way or the other. In fact, based on a Huffington Post Latino Voices unscientific poll taken last year, 41% of the mostly Latino respondents agree with Vergara, they did not think she was taking the Latino stereotypes “too far.”

Just like Vergara, Latinos are redefining their own image. “The truth is out… we’re in this country and we’re taking over,” Vergara stated during her Forbes interview. “To see people paying attention to the cultural changes that Luis [Balaguer] and I have seen coming for a long time is fantastic!” Vergara’s success should be a wake-up call to Hollywood and the rest of the country.

Bel Hernandez Castillo is the publisher of Latin Heat.