Sofia Vergara: Fearless and Determined

“Beauty is really about confidence. If you feel beautiful, then you are beautiful.”

She’s hilarious, sexy, and unequivocally determined. Sofia Vergara is a Latina sensation with a force to be reckoned with. She’s best known as Gloria Pritchett on ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family” and is also one of television’s highest paid actresses. But before the fame and fortune of this spunky actress’ career, she was a fresh-faced teen with a big dream. At 17, Vergara appeared in the limelight for the first time, front and center in a risqué Pepsi commercial in South America. Now, more than 25 years later, Vergara has dabbled in acting, comedy, producing, hosting, and modeling, making her one of the America’s strongest Latin influences in Hollywood.

Born in the summer of 1972, Vergara, nicknamed “La Toti” among family and loved ones, is one of five children. She was raised in Barranquilla, a city on the coast of Colombia, and studied dentistry at a university near her home. She married her high school sweetheart and gave birth to her son Manolo in September 1992. She left school two semesters before graduation to pursue modeling and show business after a scout approached her at a beach, and later divorced her then husband.

Vergara’s first big break was the Pepsi commercial which was widely broadcasted throughout Latin America. After leaving the university, she moved to Bogota and worked as a runway model and television actress. She co-hosted a travel series too, where she visited exotic places around the world. In 1998, Vergara moved to Miami to pursue acting full-time. She was put under exclusive contract with Univision, a Spanish-language television network, leading to roles in Big Trouble and Chasing Papi. When the contract expired, she signed on with ABC, and appeared on a slew of short-lived sitcoms, including Hot Properties, The Knights of Prosperity, and Dirty Sexy Money.

“I will always be grateful to Univision for giving me my start,” she says. “Nobody knew me before I started working [there].”

Coinciding with the heat up of her career, Vergara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent surgery to remove a thyroid gland. “When they tell you that you have cancer, you panic,” she says. “Now I’m in remission, and the scar doesn’t bother me. After the surgery in 2003, I had my son Photoshop a Frankenstein scar on my neck and sent it to my friends and said, ‘I’m fine, I look perfect!’ It was really funny.” Shortly after, Vergara was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition where a thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones and now takes medication to keep it under control. Since her diagnosis, she has become a spokesperson for “Follow The Script,” which raises awareness for the condition. “I got rid of the cancer and then for me it was, ‘Oh shoot, now I have to live with this condition my whole life,” she says. “I have to be on medication my whole life and I don’t have a thyroid.’ So, of course I had to make myself realize what was going on with my body and I have to say in the past ten years, I never had a problem.” Vergara didn’t let her health get in the way of her dream. “I’m fearless,” she says. “I don’t complain. Even when horrible things happen to me, I go on.”

She experimented in film and television before landing a role in Broadway’s Chicago in 2009, where she starred as Mama Morton. That same year she was cast as Gloria Pritchett in ABC’s Modern Family, alongside costars Ed O’Neill as her husband and Rico Rodriguez as her son. “It’s very close to me,” she says, talking about her character. “I’m a mother with a kid, I’m an immigrant in this country…I can show a little bit of my country to the States, to the world.”

Just about a year after the sitcom’s debut, Vergara earned Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for her laugh-out-loud role. “I’m so new to acting,” she says of her Emmy nod. “I’m not American, so I didn’t know that it meant something when they invite you there. Somebody should have told me!” Later that year the show won the coveted outstanding comedy series Emmy, and Vergara and her cast mates took home a SAG Award in 2011 for best TV comedy ensemble too. In between Modern Family sets, Vergara found time to slip into a role as Danielle Riva, a hysterical and fierce widow of a drug lord, in 2015’s Hot Pursuit, alongside Reese Witherspoon. When Vergara isn’t doubling as Gloria Pritchett on “Modern Family,” she’s busy with new endeavors. Her latest film, “The Brits are Coming” is in post-production and set for a 2016 release. She’s also guest-starring in a “Simpsons” episode planned to launch sometime next year.

Acting aside, Vergara is devoted to various philanthropic endeavors. She works closely with St Jude, and in 2001, created “Peace and Hope for the Children of Colombia,” a charity foundation that helps thousands of children in her country. She also donated a pediatric cancer pavilion in her native Barranquilla.

In December 2014, the star became engaged to True Blood’s Joe Manganiello and later married in November 2015 near her home in South Florida. Vergara currently splits her time between Los Angeles, New York and Miami with her son, Manolo, and now-husband Manganiello.

“There’s nothing about Joe I’d change other than the fact that he’s four years younger than me,” she laughs. “We’re having a lot of fun. He’s a really funny guy, which is something really important for me, and a nice guy too.” Additionally, when asked about her wedding , she says, “It’s about creating memories that you’re always going to cherish. That’s what’s important.”