In the United States, women are supposed to be sexy, but there’s an unspoken rule that they shouldn’t be too sexy. In Colombia, there is no such rule. Sofia Vergara is from Colombia, and as she enters a Westwood café—four-inch platform reptile YSL sandals clicking on the tile floor—the sound of milk being steamed is suddenly the only sound. Sure, people recognize Vergara—she’s Gloria on Modern Family, one of the most popular sitcoms on television, a Cover Girl model, the face of Diet Pepsi and the name behind a Kmart clothing line. But fame alone doesn’t trigger this kind of hush—not in Los Angeles. The only thing that does is sex appeal—sex appeal that’s formidable on-screen and off the charts in person. It suffuses every molecule of Sofia Vergara: the tigerish gleam and focus of her brown eyes, the big, gorgeous mouth and white teeth, the throaty laugh. She wears an outfit—tight AG jeans and a bright green T-shirt—that lets her body be the star of the show.
In a moment or two, people get ahold of themselves, and Vergara, in her famously heavy Spanish accent, orders “a leetle tiny coffee.” She makes the international symbol for the desired beverage, drawing her thumb and index finger together so that both her perfect shell pink manicure and the enormous Chicklet-size diamond on her engagement ring are on display. When you compliment it, she says, “It is perfection. If it was bigger, it would be too big to wear,” her “its” emerging adorably as “eets.” She wrinkles her nose. “But if it was smaller, I would not like.”
This leads you to ask if she is indeed engaged, as the media has speculated otherwise. “How can you be engaged then not engaged? I don’t understand this,” she says. She is indeed engaged to Nick Loeb, her on-again, off-again, now apparently quite-on boyfriend of two years. Having already married and had a big wedding young, she is in no hurry to do either again. “Maybe we will just have a little dinner on Capri,” she says. And following said dinner, children? “He is younger than me, 37, and he never had them. So if he wants one, maybe I will have.” She is very glad that at 40 she already has a child—her son, Manolo, is 20 and goes to Emerson College in Boston—and is settled with a man. “Turning 40 is horrible,” she confides with a trademark raspy giggle. “People that say it isn’t are full of shit.”
Bluntly funny as Vergara can be, it was almost certainly not her sense of humor that got her noticed by model scouts while she vacationed with her family in the Colombian beach town of Santa Marta in 1990. She soon abandoned a stint in the unglamorous world of dentistry and left behind her dingy hometown of Barranquilla, eventually landing in Miami in 1994, where she had a job with Univision as host of a travel show and then, afterward, a variety show.
There was no master plan. “I just always worked really hard, and I knew that I liked money.” It was during her time at Univision that she got the idea for her Kmart line. “I met all these women there who saw all the fun, colorful, comfortable stuff I was wearing and said, ‘Where did you get that, it is so cute,’ ” Vergara says. “And I knew I had access to the designers and I wanted to give the woman who is saving her grocery money for a cute outfit something good that she can afford.” Vergara was aware that garment-industry decision makers weren’t sitting around thinking, “Hey, let’s give a not-very-famous Univision presenter her own clothing line!” Acting was the way to get there. “Truthfully,” Vergara says, “I always thought of acting as a way to get a clothing line and as an experiment. I am really excited for my fall line. We have leggings that feel great and are really slimming and jackets that you can wear for day and night.”
In 2004, Vergara moved to L.A., where she acted in two Tyler Perry movies and several other films notable only for her presence. Then Modern Family came along. As Gloria, Vergara is required in every episode to simultaneously be an overprotective mom, a playfully manipulative wife and a bumbling stepmother, all of which she does with pitch-perfect hilarity and a firm grip on her essential va-va-voomness. “I know that Gloria is the role of a lifetime,” Vergara says. “It is very natural for me to play her.” This is a modest assessment of a pretty epic situation: Vergara is up for an Emmy, is the highest-paid woman on television and was also on a recent cover of Forbes magazine. Pretty good for someone who moved to L.A. only eight years ago.
As perfectly as her “experiment” turned out, Vergara insists that she wasn’t hell-bent on good results, and that if she had been, things might have gone differently. “I think you can’t care too much, or you will get nowhere. You take a woman who is the same as me, the same body, the same face, the same whatever, and we could go to the same audition, and I would get it and she wouldn’t because I was like, ‘If they want me, they want me, and if they don’t, well, that’s okay.’ But of course you also have to move your ass.” True to her Colombian roots, all of Vergara’s admonitions are accompanied by a fluttering of the lashes and raising of an index finger.
But certainly there’s something else—beyond hotness and a lack of desperation—that separates Vergara from the pack. Perhaps her success is a reward from an all-seeing, benevolent and fashionable god who has rewarded her for never wearing sneakers? “American women are always everywhere in sneakers,” Vergara laments. “I wear only for the gym.”
Another possibility—well, it seems like a cliché, but there’s no other way to explain her incredible appeal: She’s just real. She seems incapable of falsehood about things that make her happy or sad. Tell a lot of actresses you love their Chanel bag and they look a little embarrassed or sorry that you can’t have one. Not Vergara. She embraces her bag like a child and moans, “I looove luxury. I love yachts. I love planes. I love trips. I can live without all of them, and I have, but I am not going to apologize and pretend I don’t love luxury, because I do.” When you ask her why she likes her boyfriend, she says, “Because we are fucking professionals at doing nothing. We like to sit around on the beach and drink wine and talk shit.” She is at her funniest when talking about her famously bodacious body. “I know [my breasts] have opened doors for me, let’s be real. But I so hate when I see Gisele and she is wearing a tiny little tank top with no bra, like, ‘Oh, I just threw this on, I look so cute.’ If I wore that I would look like I was pregnant or a fat stripper.”
Her breasts are on her mind today, as she is going straight from coffee to her first Emmy fitting. “Such a pain in the ass,” she says. She will try on 20 or so dresses, always monitoring breast placement. “They have to put in like a special panel for me.” When it comes to what she’s looking for in an Emmy dress, Vergara resorts to her native tongue. “Espectacular!” she says. “I am not there to look intelligent. I want to show all this off while I still have it. I already know I am going to get a breast lift. Then, maybe one day, when I am done with being sexy, I will just get rid of them.” (Although for now, they have their uses: In the upcoming Robert Rodriguez movie Machete Kills, she will be shooting bullets out of them.)
Like any self-respecting cuarentona (a Spanish word meaning “woman over 40,” which, Vergara mutters, “is not a nice thing to say”), Vergara has her antiaging dos and don’ts. She drinks a lot of coconut water, uses tons of Crème de la Mer moisturizer, doesn’t eat red meat, doesn’t pluck her eyebrows and doesn’t drink alcohol on airplanes “unless my boyfriend is a bad influence.” She also tries to limit sugar—and in the middle of saying so, she suddenly looks stricken. She reaches into her back pocket, her face contorts and she shakes with laughter as she opens her palm to reveal a sad, sticky pile of melted Swedish fish. “I was telling you I like sugar, and that’s when I remembered I put these in my pocket so I could eat them later.”
Her hand filled with molten candy, Vergara divulges the real secret of her success. “If you are afraid of not looking beautiful, you can’t be funny. You will just be like a gimmick of someone funny, or setting up a joke for someone else.” Is this easy for her to do? Her usual cat-that-ate-the-canary expression turns serious as she considers this, and she finally says, “I was never insecure of my looks, but I never think, ‘Oh, I am so spectacular.’ Maybe that is what helps.”