'For me, sexy is something I never really think about'
Sofia Vergara is US TV's highest-paid actress. But behind the star's sex appeal is a story of tragedy
The unmistakable laughter, like melodic machine gun volleys, signals the imminent arrival of the vision of loveliness known as Sofía Vergara. It's a sound that reverberates around the vast white-walled empty spaces of a Hollywood photographic studio, rendering everyone in its path powerless to do anything but smile.
Enter Vergara. Dressed in a figure-hugging black dress, the actress dubbed Sofia Viagra is such a joyous force of nature, its impossible to keep a straight face in her presence.
While film directors have largely cast her in forgettable supporting wife and girlfriend roles, notably in Lords of Dogtown, Four Brothers and Chef, then on TV she reigns queen. As Modern Family's Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, she is the highest-paid actress on US TV, beloved by audiences around the globe.
A hugely successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, endorsing a variety of products including Head & Shoulders and Diet Pepsi, she currently ranks No. 57 on Forbes' World's Most Powerful Women List, only a few spots beneath the Queen and Angelina Jolie.
Previous lists have even seen her top the Queen, a source of huge amusement to this Colombian native who was studying dentistry when a photographer discovered her at the beach, rapidly becoming a top model and TV personality.
If it seems like a Cinderella story, then her journey has not been without its obstacles. Wed to high school sweetheart Joe Gonzalez at 18, she gave birth to their son Manolo in 1993, divorcing a year later. Throughout her domination of US, her son has been a constant companion, proudly announcing his achievements through social media, featuring on her son's YouTube videos and crying at his graduation from a top Boston college last year.
After her older brother Rafael was murdered in a bungled kidnapping attempt in 1998, she brought her mother and sister to live with her in Miami. Two years later she would be diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had her thyroid removed. Now in remission, she takes medication to prevent hypothyroidism as well as endorsing a synthetic thyroid hormone product.
More recently, in a messy lawsuit, her ex-fiance, Nick Loeb, has tried to prevent her from destroying two embryos they conceived through IVF while still a couple.
If there's a glass slipper at the end of her struggles, then her Prince Charming came in the form of True Blood star Joe Manganiello, 38, to whom she became engaged on Christmas Day last year.
Recently celebrating her 43rd birthday with Manganiello, she only wishes she had met her man earlier.
"I had a son and got married very young in my life, like in Latin America, that used to be common 20 years ago. Of course now is different, and after a bad marriage I had when I was twentysomething until now that I am 43, it's been very different and I wanted different things from love and I was very driven to be successful, to have my own money, to do things with my career."
If most actresses don't willingly bring up their age, then Vergara is not among them, freely admitting, "I hate being old. Whatever woman in her forties that tells you she doesn't care, they're lying!" She even submits to being the butt of age gags in her chick comedy Hot Pursuit. Paired with Reese Witherspoon's hapless cop, she plays a mobster's wife reluctant to go into witness protection, gamely discussing periods in graphic detail and allowing her generous bosom to get stuck in a window getaway scene.
"But I can't complain. I feel great. We thought it was a great comedy line to call her older and older - because every woman can relate to that. We all get pissed off by that."
She's just grateful to finally have a lead film role. "This is the first time I've been the main character in a movie so this is the most important comedy part I have played."
Directed by Anne Fletcher and co-produced by Witherspoon, she enjoyed the female-friendly vibe. "Women are more sensitive in the way they take more care of you like, 'Oh, don't do that, cause you are showing the double chin. Stop!' Those kind of things you appreciate as an ageing woman.
"There were no catfights or anything, and it was nice working with other women," she's saying just as Witherspoon puts her head around the door and she can't resist saying how she taught her Oscar-winning co-star how to say "cajones" with a proper Latina accent and describing Witherspoon as looking like "a 10-year-old boy," in her police uniform.
Witherspoon rolls her eyes. "Yes and I have to stand next to that," she sighs, indicating Vergara, "who is gorgeous. All make-up, with her hair blowing in the wind. And I am short, dowdy, unattractive, bad haircut, no make-up, bad underwear."
Apparently even three-year-old boys get tongue-tied in Vergara's presence, Witherspoon describing her son's reaction to the stunning actress.
"Oh my God, my kids were so excited. When Tennessee met Sofia, he was like, oh my God, she was so pretty, he ran and hid."
Vergara has grown accustomed to the effect she has on men. "I was born in my little push-up bra," she laughs. "For me sexy is something that I never really thought about until I moved to the United States, because in Latin America, everybody goes to the beach with a G-string and you are always in high heels and make-up. It's just our day-to-day thing."
- Hot Pursuit is in cinemas from Friday