Paz Vega: Inside Her Life From Spanish TV To Hollywood Star

Paz Vega has stacked up an impressive list of TV and film credits over the course of her decades-long career. After getting her start on Spanish television with shows like "Más que amigos" and "7 vidas," Vega shot to international stardom in the 2001 film "Sex and Lucia," winning a Goya Award for Best New Actress. The newly-minted sex symbol also received a nod for her performance in 2001's "Sólo mía," making her the first actress to be up for two different Goya Awards in the same year. 

Vega's breakout role in Hollywood came in the 2004 James L. Brooks flick "Spanglish," starring opposite Adam Sandler. The actor has shared the screen with a number of Hollywood A-listers, including Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman, and Sylvester Stallone. What's more, over in the reality TV world she's established herself as a formidable competitor.

Vega, who stars in the buzzy Netflix thriller "Kaleidoscope," is a married mother of three who maintains a flourishing career in the U.S. and Spain. And she didn't achieve all this by accident. "The recipe is a lot of work, sacrifice and organization. At times, you don't have the free time you'd like or the time you'd like for yourself, but the adventure is worth the trouble," she once told The San Diego Union-Tribune. Her journey from Spanish TV actor to Hollywood star proves that her work has paid off.

Paz Vega is proud of her Spanish roots

Paz Vega hails from Seville, the capital of Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. Her father was a famous bullfighter, and she was only six years old when she first saw him in the ring. "It was very emotional and I felt my father was a hero, because everybody was watching him and clapping him," Vega once told CNN. "Bullfighters are Seville's heroes," she added.

At age 16, she saw her first theater production, Federico Garcia Lorca's "La Casa de Bernarda Alba." "After that, it was so clear in my life what I wanted to do," Vega recalled to HuffPost. She attended the University of Seville, where she studied drama and journalism for two years before leaving school and changing course entirely, per Stage Buddy. "[O]n my sophomore year I decided to pursue acting in Madrid," she shared. 

The actor, who has worked internationally for nearly 20 years, has said she owes some of her success to Triana, the section of Seville where she grew up. "That neighborhood is famous because a lot of artists — writers, singers, actors — were born there, so I grew up with art in my veins," Vega shared with CNN. The "Fade to Black" star regularly returns to Andalusia, and has received several honors for her contribution to the community. As she said to CNN, "A little piece of Seville went to Hollywood!"

She started her career on Spanish TV

In 1997, Paz Vega made her small-screen debut in the Spanish TV series "Menudo es mi padre." After starring on a short-lived Spanish version of "Friends," the actor found the role that would put her on the map, playing Laura in the Spanish sitcom "7 vidas." "That was great training," Vega told HuffPost in 2011. "You can watch yourself and keep changing and evolving your character every week." Vega stayed on the popular series, which was filmed in front of a live studio audience, until it ended in 2006.

Vega noted the show was challenging for a showbiz newbie working alongside a cast of seasoned pros. "For me, comedy, beyond feeling comfortable, is what I learned from that, it's what I sucked at," she admitted to GQ Spain. "I have always said that that time of '7 vidas' is where I learned the most about this profession." In 2002, the actor showed off her musical comedy skills in "The Other Side of the Bed."

The movie, which features popular rock songs from the 80s and 90s, is one of the biggest box office hits in the history of Spanish cinema, per Los 40. Speaking to ABC about the film's soundtrack, director Martínez Lázaro explained, "There weren't so many songs that were useful to us, because they had to tell what was happening to the protagonists. The comedy would have held up perfectly without music, but the songs are an addition, an icing on the cake."

Paz Vega rose to fame in Sex and Lucia

Paz Vega won the Goya Award for Best New Actress for the titular role in 2001's "Sex and Lucia." The movie made her an international star, but portraying a woman who's exploring her sexual freedom was daunting at first. "I read the script and it was a scary experience for me, for several reasons," Vega revealed to HuffPost. "I cried when I finished it, because I thought, 'This is the most beautiful role I've ever seen before,' but you have to feel free to play a role like that. You have to just take the jump and say 'Okay, whatever you want, I'm free."

The acclaimed flick received 11 Goya nominations and heaps of praise. "The most wondrous love story in years, it is a great film," wrote Tom Merrill of Film Threat (via Rotten Tomatoes). She earned her second Goya nod for "Sólo mía" ("Only Mine"), a powerful film about intimate partner violence. To prepare for the role, she took up residency in a recovery house.

"There I learned first-hand the history of 17 women and I verified the physical and psychological state in which they arrived," she told El Pais. Before the premiere, producers launched a website offering real-life victims the opportunity to share their stories. "The film has a script, but the contributions that we receive can become part of the story at any time," said Chema Herrera, a member of the creative team.

Spanglish made her a Hollywood star

Paz Vega captured America's attention in her first Hollywood film, James L. Brooks' 2004 romantic comedy, "Spanglish." Vega plays Flor, Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni's Mexican housekeeper who does not know English. Vega identified with her character. "Not only didn't I speak English, but I didn't understand it, which is worse," she told SFGate. "Everybody on the crew of this movie speaks English, so when you walk onto the set, every time, I need an interpreter."

The big budget production turned out to be an eight-month shoot, sometimes requiring 20-hour days, and the Spanish star became homesick. "Producers tell us, 'We finish the movie next week.' Then, 'one week more,' then 'one month more.' I work more on this movie than I ever have," she explained. Despite all the challenges, Brooks noted Vega still stole the flick. "We get what she's going through. Paz is gorgeous, but the gorgeousness doesn't stop you from seeing the person," he said.

"She still lets you in. And what knocked me out is her comedy chops, because I know how hard it is to do a world-class comedy take," the "As Good as It Gets" director added. "Spanglish" received mixed reviews, and it tanked at the box office, but it was a pivotal moment for Vega. "I never thought before to come here to Hollywood. I'm living in L.A. and my life has changed a lot," she told CY.

The actor found her lane in 10 Items or Less

Paz Vega's next big-screen role was in the 2006 film "10 Items or Less." She stars as Scarlet, a sassy supermarket cashier, alongside Morgan Freeman, who plays an actor who wants to shadow her for research on his next role. Naturally, the two form a bond. "I think the crux of this story has to do with how easily you can get intimate with a total stranger," Freeman told Hollywood Archives. "We have like four hours together and it was a total togetherness. He just stepped into her life and started managing." Vega said her real-life language barrier worked to her benefit in this flick, and her co-star agreed. 

The film, which also stars "The Wolf of Wall Street" star Jonah Hill and "You're the Worst" actor Anne Dudek, received mixed reactions. However, even the less impressed critics praised Vega's work. In a review for the Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern wrote, "Paz Vega finally gets the screen time, and respect, that she deserved in 'Spanglish' (which should have centered on her character of the Mexican maid), and this lovely, witty and resourceful actress makes the most of it." TV Guide didn't have many nice things to say about the flick, but the outlet did single out Vega's performance as one of the few highlights. 

Paz Vega feels 'fortunate' to be a mom

In 2002, Paz Vega exchanged vows with Venezuelan businessman Orson Salazar in Caracas. Starting in 2007, the couple had three children in four years. Orson Jr. was their first-born son, daughter Ava arrived in 2009, and they welcomed their second son, Lennon, in 2010, per Cadena 100. Before Ava was born, Vega opened up to People about becoming a mom. "I don't know how I hadn't done it before," she said. "It's an experience that we're fortunate to have as women, and I'm eager to repeat it."

For the international movie star whose career was just taking off in Hollywood, raising three young children at the same time was a balancing act. "Sometimes it's hard when you are working and you are traveling a lot. Sometimes you cannot be with your kids and it's hard," Vega told CY. In 2008, the actor and her growing brood made the move to Los Angeles.

"The final decision to go live there was made when I started to have a family," she explained to El Pais. "I began to understand the rhythm of life." Vega took control of her life, and she made smart career choices as well, according to Ignacio Darnaude, former vice president of Sony Pictures. "In my opinion, she is carving a career for herself in the style of the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood," he said.

The actor's maternal instincts kicked in for Cat Run

In the 2011 comedy thriller "Cat Run," Paz Vega stars as Catalina, a young mother on the run from a ruthless assassin, played by Janet McTeer. The actor said she was drawn to the film because she could sense what her character was going through. "As a mother I know when someone wants to do something harmful to your kids, you can become a wolf, an animal. You'll do anything to save your baby, and you can do anything," Vega said in HuffPost.

Catalina is a sex worker, and the opening scene of the film features escorts and clients in the nude. Unlike her role in the R-rated "Sex and Lucia," Vega got to keep her clothes on for this one, but she would've been fine either way. "For me, nudity is natural. When a scene calls for nudity, I don't judge it morally or ethically. I am an actress and I do what is called for," she told CineMovie.

In the aforementioned chat, she told HuffPost that zeroing in on the film's humor in what may sound like a more serious story was crucial. "[Y]ou try to find the perfect balance between the two, and she's really the character who holds all that together, so that really appealed to me," she said. "Comedy is so hard, but it's what's hard that makes the work rewarding."

She defended her film Grace of Monaco

Paz Vega plays renowned opera singer Maria Callas in the 2014 biopic "Grace of Monaco." The film stars Nicole Kidman as Hollywood star Grace Kelly, who was the Princess of Monaco and died in a car crash at age 52. Before the Lifetime premiere, Princess Grace's family bashed the project. Per The Hollywood Reporter, they said in a statement, "For us, this film does not constitute a biographical work but portrays only a part of her life and has been pointlessly glamorized and contains important historical inaccuracies, as well as scenes of pure fiction."

In an interview with E! News, Vega reacted to the royal family's rebuke, defending the intentions of the Emmy-nominated film's producers. "It's really beautiful. It's honoring her," Vega said. "At the end of the day, it's a beautiful fairy tale. It doesn't try to be something controversial." The actor pointed to the criticism of Grace being portrayed as a woman who felt lonely after she tied the knot with Prince Rainier. "I feel alone sometimes, but I'm super-happy and married," she said. "It's beautiful in the way they connect as a couple again." 

At the Cannes Film Festival premiere, Kidman said she hoped Monaco's royal family would eventually see the movie and reconsider their position. "There's the essence of truth but with a lot of these things, you take dramatic license at times," she explained, per The National News. "We've tried to make a complex movie but very accessible [at] the same time."

'Everyone loves Rambo' ... or do they?

Paz Vega plays Carmen Delgado in 2019's "Rambo: Last Blood," the fifth and final installment of the franchise, alongside action icon Sylvester Stallone. "Carmen is a journalist who lost her sister to the cartel. She is a strong, brave, and struggling woman who will never rest until she sees her sister's murderers locked up," Vega explained to LRM Online. In an interview with FilmCon, Vega shared more about the connection between her character and the vengeful Vietnam vet.

"When Carmen and Rambo find each other, they are in the same circumstances," "The OA" actor said. "They both lost someone important in their life. They both have the same sense of justice and revenge." Vega went on to note that while the character of John Rambo is definitely someone you'd want to have on your side if you had to go into battle, he does not seek conflict. "I think that's why everyone loves Rambo," she mused.

Everyone didn't love "Rambo V," however. Cinema Blend ranked it as the worst flick in the series; the film faltered at the box office, and it scored a dismal 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. In his review for the Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov declared, "It's both too much and not enough, an unsatisfying blood-and-guts B-movie with all the goonish, grindhouse fun eviscerated out of it." Well, that's one way to inflict some pain.

She is often mistaken for another Spanish actor

Paz Vega says people frequently mistake her for a different Spanish film star, Oscar winner Penélope Cruz. "I know that she's a beautiful, beautiful woman inside and outside...It's a great compliment," Vega told CY. "She's an example for people who want to work here for foreign people. Many people, even journalists, confuse me with her," she added. And even when journalists aren't confusing Vega with Cruz, many make a point of mentioning the lookalike factor in their reviews of Vega's work.

In addition to appearing on countless celebrity doppelgänger listicles, the pair of actors' careers have seen some overlap. They both appeared in Pedro Almodóvar's comedy "I'm So Excited!" in 2013. The "Spanglish" star was also named the new face of L'Oreal in Spain in 2011, a title the "Parallel Mothers" actor held prior to that, per Daily Mail. There have also been rumors that the celebrity lookalikes are actually distant cousins, but the speculation doesn't hold water.

Paz Vega likes stepping out of her comfort zone

Paz Vega pushed herself out of her comfort zone in two reality competitions on Spanish TV. In 2018, she was one of five contestants on Season 3 of "MasterChef Celebrity," and her time on the show was turbulent. In one elimination, the actor suffered an anxiety attack from the pressure. "I couldn't breathe," she admitted to Lecturas. In another episode, Vega was brought to tears by Santiago Segura, her director in the 2021 film, "A todo tren! Destino Asturias." Per Happy FM, after Vega told him his dish had tempered badly, Segura fired back, "Who the f*** has asked your opinion." 

After finishing second on "MasterChef," Vega won the first season of "Mask Singer," Spain's version of "The Masked Singer." When she took off her mask, Vega admitted she never expected to make it to the final round. "I was very scared because my voice is very recognizable," she said, per Archyde.

Vega also had a message for her kids, who had no idea what mom was up to: "I want to say hello because they will be freaking out." In an interview with Heraldo, Vega said she believes actors shouldn't be afraid to test their limitations and try something new, even if it's not their strong suit. "In the United States, actors do everything for you, they sing to you, they dance to you, they make you a 'sketch' on Broadway or a documentary in the Himalayas. And it should be like that," she explained.

The actor's daughter is following in her footsteps

Paz Vega's mini-me daughter, Ava Salazar, made her acting debut alongside her mom in the 2021 psychological thriller, "La casa del Caracol" ("The House of Snails"). "For me it was an opportunity that I offered her as a mother because it is what I have in her hands to show her a profession in which there is immense teamwork, something that can also help her manage life," Vega told Elle.

The film was the first to be shot in Spain during the COVID-19 lockdown, which was a tough time for Vega's family. Both her sister and mother-in-law were ill; her husband, Orson Salazar, contracted the virus, and was rushed to the emergency room. "I thought, What if I don't see him anymore? How awful!" Vega recalled. "I called my friends, I was like, "I can't believe it, what if he gets sick?" After 10 days in a critical care unit, Orson bounced back quickly at home.

These days, Vega seems to be busier than ever. She starred in two Hollywood dramas in 2021: "13 Minutes" with Amy Smart and Anne Heche, and "American Night," alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jeremy Piven. "I think getting stuck in any one genre, or character type, is death for any actor," she told The AV. "I'm motivated by the drive to do something new, and that makes every project feel like the first time."

Paz Vega is kicking butt in Kaleidoscope

The 2023 series "Kaleidoscope" made a splash from the moment it dropped on Netflix, and Paz Vega landed a pivotal role in the heist thriller. She plays attorney Ava Mercer, an Argentinian immigrant whose personal issues throw a hitch in the master plan of the team's leader Leo Papp, played by "Better Call Saul's" Giancarlo Esposito, per People en Español. Vega said she loved the rich backstory of her character, who had a troubled childhood and grew up without a family.

"I think that feeling built inside her and became this idea of, "I want to beat the system, no matter what. I want to beat the system because the system never protected me as a human being," she told CBR. "That's why she became an attorney, so she could beat the system from the inside," Vega added, who noted that she's also a "bada**" who takes the establishment down from the outside as a member of a team trying to steal a $7 billion haul.

The limited series, which is loosely inspired by true events, takes place over the course of more than two decades. The details are revealed in non-linear order, which means you can watch the episodes in any sequence you choose, with the exception of the first and last one. While some viewers found the random order concept hard to follow, The Guardian declared, "'Kaleidoscope' is nothing less than a bold new vision of storytelling." In any case, it's the series everybody is talking about.