Maria Conchita Alonso, the former "Miss World Venezuela," is comfortable playing many roles. Whether it's standing on the opposite aisle from Hollywood's liberal elite, blasting President Obama over his friendly handshake with Hugo Chavez, or simply playing a mom on "Desperate Housewives," Alonso has pushed the envelope her entire career.
Now, she will bring her passion to the character of Alejandra, the feisty, wisecracking mother of Clarissa Alpert (played by Sarah Chalke, "Scrubs" and "Roseanne") in the Lifetime Television miniseries, "Maneater," premiering May 30 and 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Alonso has no qualms about playing the role of a mother -- or even a grandmother. "I have no problem at all playing whatever," the actress told HispanicBusiness.com. "I'm very sure of who I am. ... For me what's important is not the age, it's what you bring to the character."
In "Maneater," Clarissa is a shallow Beverly Hills socialite and spoiled daddy's girl who is about to turn 32 but will only admit to being 28. She's in a panic because she's still single. With the help of family (divorced parents Alejandra and Teddy, played by Gregory Harrison) and girlfriends (portrayed by Judy Greer, Marla Sokoloff and Noureen DeWulf), Clarissa seeks to rope a hot Hollywood producer, Aaron Mason (Philip Winchester), into marrying her. Complicating matters is her ex-boyfriend, Simon (Paul Leyden). Also in the two-day miniseries are Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon and Shalim Ortiz. Timothy Busfield directed.
Though Chalke is blond and fair-skinned, Alonso, with her dark hair and Spanish accent, was cast as her mother.
"I thought it was great for them to get out of the box and put a Latina mother having a blond daughter, because that happens," said Alonso, who was born in Cuba and raised in Venezuela. "Hollywood doesn't think about that, but these producers did."
The girlfriend role Alonso, 51, is most noted for is Lucia Lombardo, the Italian immigrant sweetheart of Robin Williams in "Moscow on the Hudson." That was 25 years ago, and it was her breakthrough Hollywood role just two years after coming to the United States.
Alonso began her career as a performer in 1971 in Venezuela, when her good looks led to her being crowned "Miss Teenager of Venezuela," followed by "Miss Teenager of the World." Four years later, Alonso won the "Miss World Venezuela" title, and she placed 6th runner-up in the Miss World Pageant.
She moved from beauty queen to top model and starred in about a dozen Spanish-language telenovelas and films before making her home in the United States. After her "Moscow" debut, Alonso went on to starring roles opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage and Jeremy Irons. She has appeared in more than 50 films, including "The Running Man," "Predator 2" and "Colors."
A recent role for Alonso was playing the mother of Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria Parker) in "Desperate Housewives." Though it was only one episode, Alonso is hoping she gets asked back. She even played a grandmother in the Spanish version of "Desperate Housewives."
The actress said she's no longer urged by those in the business to lose her accent. "I think that's part of me, really," she said. "That's part of how people know me." Besides, she added, "I can bring on any accent I want," from French to Italian to Greek.
She said that on the first day of shooting "Maneater," she exaggerated her Spanish accent. "And then I realized and (others on the set) agreed that it was making it a little too not real. It could have sounded like overacting." So she dropped the embellished accent.
Alonso is happy to see the progress that has been made in roles for Hispanics since her start in the business more than a quarter century ago. "It's taken time and there's still more to do," she said. Previously, the depictions were primarily "prostitutes, drug lords and maids," she said. It pleases her to see that makers of movies and TV shows "now look at us in different ways: professional, well-educated, classy people."
As someone who was born in one country (Cuba) and raised in another (Venezuela), she has room in her heart for both. "I am what I am because of where I grew up. But I also love the island where I was born. For me, the love for both places is the same."
Her love of country also extends to the United States. The single actress, who lives with her dog and two cats in Beverly Hills, became a U.S. citizen in 2007. For Alonso, voting in her first presidential election last year was very exciting. "I live in the canyon so the place where I voted was on top of the canyon. The view was spectacular. ... To vote, looking at the gorgeous view of the mountains and the sky -- I was very emotional," she said. She cherishes the "I Voted" sticker she received, displaying it on a mirror in her home.
Alonso's outspoken political views have stirred controversy. She is a fierce opponent of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, whom she has called a dictator. And in Hollywood, a land of liberals, she came out in support of John McCain for president last year. She's an Independent but felt the Republican candidate best represented her views, and said "I would vote for McCain again."
As for President Obama, she said "I think he might be a moderate in his beliefs but might have people surrounding him who are not."
The interaction between Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April, particularly the handshake, bothered her.
"As a president or a politician, there are certain things that you have to do, like shaking hands, but there are ways of shaking hands," she said. "I did not like that (Obama) was treating Chavez like a good guy," adding that "Chavez has created a lot of hate for this country."
The subject of Chavez and her adopted homeland Venezuela are so important to her that she has been working for the past 3 years on developing a movie about events in the country since Chavez came to power.
She will play a Jewish Venezuelan in the movie, tentatively called "Courage," describing it as "a film of truth with a fiction story."
The writer is Michael Rowan, a prominent Democrat. "In Hollywood, the majority are on the left, and I'm not," she said. "For me, it's very important to have someone that is a Democrat (on this project) that knows what is going on, that knows how dangerous this man is," Alonso said, referring to Chavez. She said she thinks having a Democrat work on this movie "will also give more credibility to what I'm going to do."
Before this film comes to fruition, you'll see Alonso in her first horror movie, "Dark Moon Rising," with Max Ryan, set for release in October. She'll play a sheriff in a small town in Nevada.
The actress is also a three-time Grammy nominee, having made more than 10 albums, several of which went gold, and one, "Maria Conchita" (1984), that went platinum. She took a break from music for a while but is planning a return with concerts singing pop rock and romantic ballads.
When asked who she'd like to do a movie with and why, her immediate response was Viggo Mortensen, who she said can speak Spanish fluently because he lived in Argentina. "I think he's amazingly sexy and a fantastic actor who can do everything, and also because I have a crush on him."
In her personal life, Alonso shuns the "Maneater" look, saying when she's not in the required gown and heels at glamorous events, she prefers to wear jeans, sans shoes and makeup. Having to be beautiful, she said, "is more work."
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