Roselyn Sanchez traded a successful career in Puerto Rico for a chance at Hollywood stardom. Now her gamble’s paying off.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's August/September 2003 issue.
Roselyn Sanchez doesn’t slump. She perches. Relaxed but hyper-alert, the actress exudes a calm sense of certainty. If she has anything to prove, it’s only to herself: Nine years ago, at 21, Sanchez left behind a successful acting career in her native Puerto Rico and moved to New York, armed with preternatural confidence, a childhood vision of movie stardom, and a rough grasp of English. Today, she is poised to bum rush the doors J. Lo and Salma Hayek opened for young Latinas in Hollywood. With roles in Chasing Papi, Basic (with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), and Boat Trip (co-starring Cuba Gooding Jr.), all within the last year, Sanchez is already one of the hottest young Puerto Rican actresses in the game. Now she’s about to follow another move from the J. Lo playbook, showcasing her singing talents on an upcoming album.
Like Jenny from the block, Sanchez is sexy in a way that has depth. “She’s a gorgeous girl, and she has a lot of charisma,” says Brett Ratner, who directed Sanchez in Rush Hour 2 alongside Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. “She’s interesting to look at, but if she wasn’t talented, she wouldn’t be where she is right now. A lot of actors are getting success because they’re attractive, but they’re getting places without the training, and it shows in their work. Roselyn, on the other hand, also has a tremendous work ethic and great training.”
Sanchez is also, he says, ferociously hard on herself. “After certain scenes she shot, I found her in her trailer crying because she didn’t think she did well,” Ratner says from his Hollywood office, “even though I thought she was wonderful.”
At 30, Sanchez isn’t a kid, but she retains an innocent air that hints at her wholesome past. She describes her childhood as “super-normal.” The only girl in a middle-class family with three brothers, Sanchez was raised in San Juan, where her father Efrain ran a wholesale food business, and her mother Olga was a school teacher. She attended private Catholic school, and began studying classical piano at six. The first record she bought was a 45 of “Stuck On You” by Lionel Richie. “When I was a little girl I was very much into Lionel Richie, Madonna, and Menudo,” she says with a husky laugh. “To this day, I still love Menudo. That’s part of being Puerto Rican, loving Menudo.”
Roselyn is part of that new generation where you don't have to be a white Anglo-Saxon American with blond hair and blue eyes to be a big movie star. - Brett Ratner
Another boricua tradition she upholds is culinary tastes: As we sit and talk, she unabashedly scoffs down a plate of breaded steak, chicken cutlets, and avocado salad, and gently teases her assistant because there are no tostones to be had. We are sitting in the spacious penthouse of the Hudson Hotel in Manhattan, and Sanchez [note to the fellas: Start salivating here] is buck-naked except for a thick white hotel bathrobe.
When she was 17, Sanchez landed a role on a hit Puerto Rican comedy variety show called Que Vacilon! (What A Party!); like J. Lo on In Living Color, she started out as a dancer on the show. Over the course of three seasons, however, Sanchez moved on to choreography, began appearing in comedy sketches, and finally became the show’s host. Offers for TV commercials began pouring in. Then she won the Miss Puerto Rico Petite pageant, and at 21, she beat women from all 50 states in the Miss America Petite contest. “I was like, wow, this is crazy,” she says in rapid-fire English, occasionally breaking into Spanglish. “I went back to Puerto Rico and the president of the pageant said to me, ‘You’re so accomplished already in your island, what do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I want to be an actress and I want to be a singer but I don’t see myself here. If I’m gonna do this, I want to be excellent.’ I can’t stand average people. He said, ‘Where do you want to go? New York? L.A.? Do you want to go to Mexico and do soap operas?’ I said, ‘Ultimately I want Hollywood, but I want to study so I think I have to go to New York.’ And I just left.”