Lauren Velez Dishes on 'Dexter' Season 7, Her Lupe Biopic & More!

Puerto Rican actress Lauren Vélez opens up about overcoming hurdles in Hollywood, her seven-year run on Showtime’s hit show Dexter and what’s next for her!

When she’s combing over gruesome crime scenes, manipulating colleagues and even seducing crazed murderers as Dexter’s Capt. Maria LaGuerta, it’s hard to imagine that actress Lauren Vélez is anything like her ruthlessly calculating character. Over the phone, Vélez is lively, gracious and constantly breaking out into an easy laugh. But that’s precisely where the plot thickens. Stealing a moment of solitude from another busy day of shooting Dexter’s seventh season, she confesses that there’s a little LaGuerta deep down inside.

“I’m much more ambitious than I’d like to admit,” Vélez says. However, the 48-year-old has also discovered one big difference between herself and her on-screen persona: Vélez doesn’t feel she needs to be cutthroat to win in Hollywood. “I used to think that to be ambitious I had to be this bitchy woman, doing whatever was necessary,” she says. “[But ambition] doesn’t have to capitalize on the downside. It can be positive, empowering and exciting.”

Case in point is her latest project: They Call Me La Lupe. Based on the off-Broadway play of the same name, in which she starred, the biopic recounts the life of the impassioned, late Cuban singer La Lupe. Not only does Vélez play the titular role, she’s also producing the independent film, which starts filming in December, and fund-raising via Kickstarter.

“This woman, oddly enough like my character LaGuerta, came to this country, didn’t speak any English and somehow managed to achieve amazing success all while people were trying to knock her down,” Vélez says. “She was too passionate, too loud, too fiery, too much for anybody to handle.”
And that’s just what attracted her to La Lupe in the first place. “I’m like that, a closet neurotic actress,” she says laughing. “No one except my family knows that I’m throwing plates and shoes in real life.”

Her real life journey through Tinseltown and toward self-discovery has been a successful, albeit trying road for the boricua. She’s overcome Hollywood executives’ preconceived notions of Latinas and done it by portraying nonstereotypical roles such as Det. Nina Moreno on New York Undercover.
“When I first came out to L.A., Hollywood’s idea of a Latina was Mexican,” says the Brooklyn native, who says that led to struggles getting roles. “It was almost like they had never seen or heard of an Afro-Latina before.”
Times have changed. In recent years, a diverse group of Latinas has been at the center of hit shows like Modern Family and film blockbusters like Avatar. A welcome evolution, Vélez says. “People are starting to understand that [we are] different sizes, different shapes and different colors, yet we are all a part of the same group.”
In the same fashion, these actresses bring vastly different characters to life. While Sofia Vergara keeps viewers laughing as a feisty stepmom and Zoe Saldana kicks butt on the silver screen, Vélez keeps viewers’ eyes glued to the television with shocking storylines of her hunt for the Bay Harbor Butcher, aka Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall).

“As an actor, Lauren brings intelligence, emotion and honesty,” Dexter executive producer Sarah Colleton says. “Lauren’s portrayal is of a woman who may have had to be tough to have succeeded in the male dominated world of police, but never at the cost of her empathy.”
To balance those 14-hour days on set, knee-deep in bloody forensics, Vélez starts her day with calming morning meditation. Vélez’s twin sister, Loraine, a Buddhist, gently introduced the idea after noticing how on-edge her sister was becoming. “I said, yelling, ‘Meditate? Who has the time to meditate? Chica, please!’” Vélez says with a laugh. “But I’ve been steadily doing it for a year and I can really feel the difference.”

In her personal life, the actress is now considering adopting a child to join her and her partner,{Dexter creator, James Manos Jr}, and her stepdaughter, Ellie. “I don’t have children, but I have 17 nieces and nephews and they more than make up for anything that I can do,” says Vélez, one of eight siblings herself. “I have a stepdaughter and I adore her to pieces, and I think about adoption. There are so many kids at different ages and stages that need families.”
There’s just one small hurdle. “Right now there’s not a lot of downtime,” she admits. Meanwhile, Vélez has rediscovered her first love: dancing. Brushing up on her mambo steps every week has not only been a great workout, it has prepared Vélez for playing La Lupe.
“I remember hearing ‘Que Te Pedi’ when I was a kid and it gave me goose bumps,” Velez says. “I’m only now really starting to find out how much I connected to this incredible strength of this woman who just refused to allow herself to be put into any kind of box. She was incapable of being anything other than what she truly was…that to me is extraordinary.”
Vélez is clearly already thinking about life after Dexter—which, given the show’s history of hacking up major characters, is not a surprise. Also on Vélez’s post-LaGuerta to-do list: returning to the stage. “After Dexter and La Lupe, I would love to return to theater,” says Velez, who also wants to get her hands dirty in an action flick. “I’m just ready for more.”

An article (“Killer Instinct”) in the Dec. 2012/Jan. 2013 issue of Latina on actress Lauren Velez misstated Velez’s husband. Velez is in a relationship with her partner James Manos Jr., with whom she has a stepdaughter, Ellie. Here at Latina we strive for all our articles to be clear and accurate, but occasionally an error occurs. We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.