15 Latinx Actors Who Absolutely Killed It This Year

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They won Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, starred in some of the highest-grossing films of the year, lead your favorite television shows, and even made time to get involved in the most heated election of our lifetime. Yep, this past year you couldn’t go anywhere without encountering a hard-working Latinx actor kicking ass. Whether starring in critically acclaimed (and Oscar-bound) prestige pics, ruling the Broadway stage, playing relatable characters on the small screen, or breaking stereotypes in Hollywood tentpole pictures — Latino actors continue to push boundaries, making sure we stop seeing them as only fit to breathe life into stereotypical roles or bit parts as wacky sidekicks. We want to celebrate those trailblazing actors who broke out in a big way in 2016. Here is our list of 15 Latinx actors who absolutely killed it in film, TV, and on stage. — Manuel Betancourt


Diego Luna

Diego Luna could win an Oscar someday, and I have no doubt it’ll happen, but to me he’ll always be the guy with the moves in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Beyond his hip shaking in Havana Nights, the charolastra has created a body of work that’s placed him alongside directorial greats Gus Van Sant and Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexico City native now finds himself as a lead in one of the year’s biggest movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Luna continues the Star Wars franchise trend of casting outside the white male paradigm after last year’s Force Awakens trio of Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. As if being in the biggest franchise ever isn’t enough this year saw his fourth film as a director, Mr. Pig, premiere at Sundance. He also got into the political arena, blending social commentary with commerce in dueling Jarritos and Corona commercials that went viral. — Kristen Lopez


America Ferrera

America Ferrera initially entered people’s collective consciousness 10 years ago when she personified the character of Betty Suarez in the ABC sitcom Ugly Betty. For others the Honduran Ferrera was well-regarded before television stardom came calling. She debuted in 2002 in the fantastic coming-of-age drama Real Women Have Curves, and enchanted teens as the beleaguered Carmen in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (I believe I’m the only one who recalls her 2002 role as Yolanda in the Disney Channel original movie Gotta Kick It Up!) Since then Ferrera’s stayed with television and can be seen on NBC in the sitcom Superstore about employees of a Wal-Mart/Costco-esque store and is participating in a series called Gente-fied about gentrification in Boyle Heights. In 2019, you’ll hear her as part of the cast of How to Train Your Dragon 3 and she’s been invited to be a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On top of all that (it’s a lot!) she took to the political stage this year as a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton. Phew, America Ferrera is one busy woman! — Kristen Lopez


Raúl Castillo

The Mexican-American actor made us swoon all over again this year when he reprised his role as Richie in HBO’s Looking TV movie, the role that arguably put him on the map. And as if to prove he has more to offer than playing a hella cute gay San Fran dweller who can melt your heart with his smile, the Texas native took his talents to Netflix. He got to star alongside America Ferrera in the Ricky Gervais comedy Special Correspondents, which found the Latino actors helping Gervais and Eric Bana’s characters as they fake war-torn reporting about Ecuador from the comfort of a New York City apartment. Castillo was also at the center of the Spanish-language episode of the Chicago-set romance anthology series, Easy. It looks like they liked what they saw over there since he’ll be guest starring in the streaming service’s upcoming series about raising a teen on the autism spectrum, Atypical alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh. — Manuel Betancourt


Sonia Braga

The Brazilian actress is a legend in her own right. Her decades-spanning filmography has made her one of the most successful crossover Latin American stars ever. So while you may know her for a guest-starring stint on Sex and the City, Braga’s return to form in Aquarius will remind you why the Oscar buzz for her performance is real. While Kleber Mendonça Filho’s movie might only be remembered for its red carpet protests against the Brazilian government during the Cannes Film Festival, it should be celebrated as one of Braga’s most daring achievements. Playing a woman fending off an up-and-coming architect who’s intent on buying off her apartment to build a new shiny condo (and doing everything he can to unsettle her enough so she’ll give it up), Braga is on screen pretty much the entire time, alternating between giving withering stares to those who would underestimate her and come-hither looks to the men she’s still easily seducing. — Manuel Betancourt


Nicholas Gonzalez

It’s not just big name stars who are having a great year. Take Nicholas Gonzalez, who broke through with his role as Alex Santiago in Showtime’s Resurrection Bvd, the East LA boxing family show. In 2016, the San Antonio-born actor booked a string of plum guest-starring roles, including a steamy arc as Detective Marco Furey in Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars. But the place where Gonzalez really got show his chops this year was in Fox’s (sadly, now cancelled) animated satire Bordertown, where he voiced three of the main characters in the fictional Mexifornia. Then again, looking at what 2017 has in store for Gonzalez, we wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the list again this time next year: on top of landing a role as an American DEA agent in Netflix’s first Escobar-less Narcos season, the prolific actor will be returning to the CW in The Flash and Frequence, and guest-starring in Gabrielle Union’s BET show Being Mary Jane. — Manuel Betancourt


Gina Rodriguez

If you’ve read my Jane the Virgin recaps this season, you know I love the show despite its flaws. It’s all because of the draw of actress Gina Rodriguez. Without Rodriguez’s patented brand of optimism and jubilation the character of Jane would be a doormat. (Without Rodriguez, I wouldn’t be able to suffer Michael Cordero. #TeamRafael forever!) Of Puerto Rican descent but based in Chicago, Illinois, Rodriguez burst on the scene with her performance as Jane Villanueva in 2014, winning a Golden Globe in her first nomination. She’s currently up for another television Globe this year and my fingers are crossed! When she’s not trying to up the status of Latinos in Hollywood with her Twitter hashtag #MovementMondays, she’s segueing from the small screen to the big. She starred in her first Hollywood movie alongside Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon. Next year looks to be an even bigger transition as she teams up with director Alex Garland, Oscar Isaac and Natalie Portman for an adaptation of the novel Annihilation. No matter the size of the screen, you can never have enough Gina Rodriguez in your life! — Kristen Lopez


Gael García Bernal

Few actors work as tirelessly as Mr. García Bernal. The Mexican indie darling kicked off 2016 with a Golden Globe win for his comedic turn in Mozart in the Jungle. The Amazon show returns later this month but Gael has given us plenty of chances to see his dramatic talents on screen this year: he played an animated version of himself obsessed with his size (if you know what we mean) in the quirky comedy Zoom, got his border thriller on in Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto, and stars in Pablo Larraín’s other anti-biopic film Nerudawhich seems destined for Oscar gold. Oh, and as if all of that wasn’t enough, the Y tu mamá también star has had several films making the film festival rounds this past year, including the dark rom-com Me estás matando Susana (where a frazzled Gael travels to the US looking for his wife who up and left him) and the Werner Herzog drama Salt and Fire that looks like the arthouse/ecological version of Volcano. Boy’s been busy! — Manuel Betancourt


Herizen Guardiola

Director Baz Lurhmann’s $120 million musical drama The Get Down didn’t garner the acclaim previous Netflix Original series like House of Cards or Stranger Things did. With a cast of relative unknowns, the director took a gamble that’s paid off in the past with the works of Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. However, Lurhmann’s brash, opulent look at the rise of disco culture amongst teenagers. What did come out of the experience was an awareness of actress Herizen Guardiola. The Cuban-born Guardiola made her major acting debut as Puerto Rican princess Mylene Cruz, a young woman dreaming of success in a staunch religious family. The actress has been vocal about the often under-represented role Latinos have played in the hip-hop and other musical movements that The Get Down explored. Though the show’s future prospects are in flux, Guardiola has signed with a new agency, is recording an EP and already looks to be on her way to super-stardom. — Kristen Lopez


Javier Muñoz

It’s not often that Broadway replacements get the star treatment. But Hamilton is no ordinary Broadway show. And Javier Muñoz is no ordinary Broadway replacement. After all, he’s not so much filling in Lin Manuel Miranda’s shoes as Alexander Hamilton as he’s making the role his own. Add to that the fact that Muñoz is an out and proud HIV-positive gay man playing to packed houses and you can’t deny that the Nuyorican performer is breaking barriers and making history. Fun fact: he’s played the role in front of both President Obama when he saw the show with his family, and in front of Vice-President elect Mike Pence when he was booed by the audience and respectfully addressed by its ensemble. To top it all off he was deemed Breakout of the Year by Out Magazine in their annual OUT 100 round up, nabbing one of their covers. — Manuel Betancourt


Bianca del Rio

Two years after winning the coveted crown of America’s Next Drag Superstar from RuPaul herself—becoming the first and only Hispanic winner in Drag Race history—the New York City-based queen shows no signs of slowing down. After a successful worldwide comedy tour (“The Rolodex of Hate”), del Rio starred in Hurricane Bianca, a comedy which has the insult comic-slash-drag queen playing a Texas teacher who’s fired from his high school job for being gay. He returns to the school as the deliciously biting Bianca, a comic force of nature bent on revenge. Not only did del Rio (aka Roy Haylock) crowdfund the project, but he recruited plenty of familiar faces for it, including Rachel Dratch, Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, and RuPaul herself. As if that wasn’t enough, the mean queen is hosting her own comedy special on Logo TV this December, just in time to get you in the holiday spirit! — Manuel Betancourt


Diane Guerrero

Known for her work as Maritza Ramos on Orange is the New Black or, and as I know her, as Jane’s impulsive friend Lina on the CW’s Jane the Virgin, Guerrero mixes beauty, comedy and social awareness. In 2014, the US-born Guerrero wrote an essay for the Los Angeles Times about her parents and brother’s deportation back to their native Colombia when she was 14. Living with family friends in Boston, Guerrero has become an activist for immigration reform. She put pen to paper this year and turned her upbringing and life story into a memoir In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, a book that’s set to be adapted into a television show for CBS. I do hope we won’t lose the character of Lina completely on Jane now that Guerrero is on the rise. Who would Jane be without her best friend’s less than holy decisions? — Kristen Lopez


John Leguizamo

Leguizamo is known for his comedy but 2016 proved yet again why the Colombian-born performer is more than just a “Ghetto Klown.” He lent his voice stylings to the fifth entry of the highly successful Ice Age franchise; he joined the second season of Netflix’s series Bloodline upping the mystery of the Florida Keys-set drama as an old acquaintance of the now-deceased Danny; and got a showcase of a role opposite Bryan Cranston in the money-laundering/drug cartel drama The Infiltrator (trust us, he’s the best thing in the film). That he also found time to open his new one-man show, Latin History for Morons, the title of which makes any description seem unnecessary,while also being a vocal activist throughout the election (including writing a much buzzed about The New York Times op-ed riffing on what one producer once told him: “Too Bad You’re Latin”) goes to show that this multi-hyphenate entertainer is as current as ever. — Manuel Betancourt


Anthony Mendez

You may not recognize his face or name, but you’ve definitely heard his voice. Born and raised in New York, Mendez’s father immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and worked in a tombstone factory in the hopes his son would take it over. After a stress dream regarding the family business, Mendez started dabbling in architecture for awhile before deciding to take voice lessons. But the glass ceiling of Hollywood presented a problem. Casting directors felt his accent was a detriment. Well the jokes on them since Mendez recently secured his second Emmy nomination for his role as the smooth-talking “Latin Lover”-esque narrator on the CW’s Jane the Virgin (the only nomination for a cast filled with fantastic actors). He also worked alongside Hillary Rodham Clinton to voice one of her campaign ads on immigration and does voice work for Disney’s latest hit show — with the first Latina princess — Elena of Avalor. Mendez makes narration sound good! — Kristen Lopez


Morena Baccarin

Acting is in Morena Baccarin’s blood. Her mother and uncle were popular Brazilian actors, and the half-Brazilian, half-Italian Baccarin is keeping the family legacy going. Best known as the hooker with a heart of gold, Inara, in Joss Whedon’s cult sci-fi series Firefly, the actress has been a prominent face in several series from V to Homeland and The Flash. This year Baccarin starred as the lady love to one of the year’s greatest antiheroes in Deadpool; as Vanessa, she gave Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool a reason to live, creating an aggressive heroine who wasn’t content to sit on the sidelines. She also starred in 42 episodes of the Fox Batman-prequel series Gotham. (I’m waiting for Baccarin to become a Marvel superhero. She’s certainly honing her persona for it.) NBC recently announced they’ll be producing an untitled legal drama Baccarin is the lead and executive producer of — while remaining a recurring character on Gotham. — Kristen Lopez


Alfred Lewis Enoch

The half-Brazilian, British-born actor started out as the earnest Dean Thomas in seven Harry Potter films. After that juggernaut franchise Enoch dabbled in British dramas like Broadchurch and Sherlock. But that all changed with his role on the primetime drama How to Get Away With Murder as underdog law student Wes Gibbons. After endearing himself to audiences through 39 episodes of the show, his character ended up on the wrong side of Twitter’s #UndertheSheet controversy. Without spoiling things, some bad stuff went down for Wes’ character and Twitter raised a collective fireball. Right now it’s unclear whether we’ll ever see Gibbons again, but there’s no doubt Enoch has transcended his past as a child star. — Kristen Lopez