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Colombian-Puerto Rican Actress Iris Almario Talks Her Past, Present, & Future in Hollywood [EXCLUSIVE]

First Posted: Jan 24, 2014 03:27 PM EST

Sex and the City. Season 5, episode 3: Luck Be an Old Lady is where America first laid eyes on Iris Almario, the actress, host and model. She played the role of Terry, an attractive maid in a high-end Atlanta City hotel, who Samantha Jones's beau, Richard, couldn't resist. However, prior to being an actress, the Queens native fiercely worked the pageant circuit where she was more than once hailed queen, and she worked within the modeling industry, employed by one of the biggest agencies in the world. Through copious amounts of work on and off screen, she's collected rich, once-in-a-lifetime experiences while progressively moving toward her Hollywood ambitions.

Jackson Heights was the area of Queens that Almario first called home. She was raised in a quaint household, with a garden blooming in the backyard, nurtured by her Colombian father and her Puerto Rican mother. It was her mother who encouraged her toward entering pageants. The first title that she won was "Ms. Elegant," though Almario commented, "I don't know how elegant I really was."

She continued to compete throughout childhood and her teen years. She temporarily stepped away from pageants when she graduated from The Dalton School and began her career as a dancer with a scholarship to Phil Black. But she reverted, recommitting herself to pageants.

The Latin beauty stumbled upon her first big win under interesting circumstances. The coordinator of the Puerto Rican Day Parade phoned Almario, asking if she wanted to be the model presenting the winners with their awards at the end of the contest. Then, the coordinator paused and proclaimed, "Wait, aren't you Puerto Rican?" The future-actress confirmed, explaining that her mother is Puerto Rican.The coordinator then insisted that she compete.

Almario entered that pageant, won, and was crowned "Queen of the Puerto Rican Day Parade." Later, she was crowned Miss Latina US, an opportunity which allowed her to travel to Guatemala and El Salvador, and later Peru, where she represented the United States in the international pageant.

Her work in the pageant world educated her and humbled her. While travelling, she was able to engage different people who lived under varied conditions, and it encouraged her to give back. The charming Latina began entering schools where she coached and mentored children in an after school program, cheering them toward success. She constantly reiterated, "you don't have to be a certain race or have a certain background to be successful."

"I never really believed that acting was an option for me. I never saw people like me in that industry. And, my father always told me, 'you can be a business woman... a doctor, or a lawyer,' but never an actress. I believe the work that I do with these kids in the after school programs sends the message, if I can do it, you can do it," said Almario said during an interview with the Latin Post.

Almario communicated her humble beginnings. While she attended private school, she attended on a partial scholarship, and used focus and drive to carry her where financial resources couldn't. Pageants also helped in that respect, taking her to amazing places... and offering opportunities that she wouldn't have had otherwise.

Screen work came a few years after Almario completed her work in pageant circuit, but she was able to utilize the discipline, competitive spirit, understandering of respective highs and lows, and public speaking skills that she earned while competing; seeing it as preparation for her career as an actress. She acquired the patience, steadfastness and grace that's required to be successful in Hollywood.

"Acting is a career like any other. It's a lot of work," said Almario, who is currently guest appearing on the ABC series Switched at Birth. "It may look easy, but that's because that actor or actress is doing a great job."

Sex and the City was Almario's first television appearance, and it coincided with her role as a correspondent on NBC's Latin Access, and her victory in the Latina Magazine/Wilhelmina Model Search; where she and two others beat out 5,000 hopefuls, and was awarded a modeling contract with the incomparable Wilhelmina Modeling Agency.

Later, the Colombian-Puerto Rican beauty relocated to Los Angeles, where she fully committed herself to making her dreams come true. She started from scratch with no assistance. She worked 2-3 jobs and put in 80-hour work weeks, while tirelessly auditioning. Her commitment led to her appearing onGeneral Hospital, Young & the Restless, Wicked Wicked Games and a number of other series, not to mention roles in feature films and hosting appearances.

As a Latina in Hollywood, she hasn't found discrimination to be an obstacle that she has had to face, but suggests that it may be due to the fact that she can work in both markets, because of her fair complexion and ability to speak both English and Spanish.

"Interviewing as a Latina when they are looking for a Latina is simpler... half the criteria is already met. And, when the roles are positive, it's easier to commit to them. Roles for Latinas in Hollywood has changed so much... they used to only play maids and prostitutes, to be honest, and now they take the lead or play supporting characters," Almario stated, commenting on being Latina, and Latino roles. "If [casting directors] are looking for something specific, like... a redhead, I try not to take it personally. There are highs and lows, and you have to love this career to stay in it."

Almario continued, saying that Hollywood is "embracing ethnicity in its projects. It's a realistic way to represent the way the world really is. No single ethnic group can be the focus. When you walk down the street -- well not in LA. because everyone drives -- but in New York when you walk down the street, you see those from all walks of life passing you on the street. You hear different accents, different people and... different energy."

The up-in-coming actress cites Cate Blanchett and Daniel Day Lewis as two of her influences, commenting on their commitment and originality when it comes to portraying dynamic roles. She uses them as inspiration to help her breathe life into her characters. She does her homework, researches her parts, and morphs the words on the page into real people.

After years in the industry, she's finally earned a sense of balance, discovering that it isn't "all work or all play." Also, it isn't a 9-5 job, rather it's one that demands a great deal of her time and it pits her against 1,500-2,000 other hopefuls for a single role, yet, she feels grateful to be in the industry that she's always wanted to be in. And she is happy to be consistently working. When Almario isn't doing theatrical work, she hosts, performs in commerials, and does print jobs in both the mainstream and Latin markets. She takes times to enjoy the local treasures that LA. has to offer -- recently, she even went hot air ballooning in Napa Valley. Also, her dog helps to calm and encourage her, reminding her to take a moment and to not be too serious.

Her message to young Latina actresses is to "do your homework and honor the job for what it is," and to be authentic when "competing against others to tell to tell your version of the story." More than just a credit on a screen, Almario sees the work that she's doing as important, and conveys that in every role.

Almario's personal and professional plans for the future are to "keep knocking on doors," with the intention of becoming a series regular, and taking on more lead roles in films. She also wants to continue to be a good person, spend more time with her family in New York, and give back to where she came from.

Almario will appear on the episode Delta Force of the new CBS series Intelligence. The episode, which features Almario in her self-professed "most enjoyable and action-packed role," is set to air on Mar. 3. She will be portraying a character by the name of Marcela Leon.

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