Lupe Ontiveros (17 September, 1942 – 26 July, 2012) was an American actress best known for her role as Juanita Solis in the comedy-drama television series Desperate Housewives, from 2004-2005, for which she received an Emmy nomination as Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
Ontiveros has acted in numerous films and television shows, most often playing a maid or, more recently, an all-knowing grandmother; the actress estimates she has played a maid between 150 and 300 times on screen.
Ontiveros was born Guadalupe Moreno in El Paso, Texas to Lucita Castanon and Juan Moreno, middle-class Mexican immigrants who overcame a lack of formal education to become owners of a tortilla factory and two restaurants in Ontiveros' native El Paso.
She graduated from El Paso High School and went on to study at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, where she received a bachelor's degree in social work.
After her marriage, she and her husband moved to California to realise his dream of starting an automotive business.
During a period of professional dissatisfaction with her social service career, Ontiveros was trying to decide whether to go back to school for a nursing degree when she saw an article about a need for local film "extras."
With her husband's encouragement, she began with that simple job and parlayed it into a long stage and screen career.
Prior to acting, Ontiveros worked for 18 years as a social worker, and she continues as an activist with many of the same causes with which she worked in that profession, such as domestic violence prevention and AIDS awareness and prevention, among other health issues.
Ontiveros said that although she wants to see a more diverse set of roles made available to Latina actors, she was proud of the work she has done each time she played a maid or other working-class character: "I'm proud to represent those hands that labour in this country. I've given every maid I've ever portrayed soul and heart."
In part because of her history in this role, she was chosen as the narrator for the documentary Maid in America.
One of Ontiveros' most prominent early movie roles was in the 1983 Gregory Nava film El Norte, in which she played a seamstress and maid who acts as mentor to a newly arrived immigrant girl from Guatemala.
In a 2004 interview with the Dominican newspaper Listín, she called El Norte "the film that always will remain in me... [it] tells the immigrants' story" when asked about her favourite film from her long career.
She played the housekeeper Rosalita, a Hispanic maid hired to assist in the packing and moving of the Walsh family in the hit adventure film The Goonies (1985).
The actress worked with Nava in subsequent films, including My Family/Mi Familia (1995) and Selena (1997). In the latter film, she portrayed the murderer of Tejano singer Selena, Yolanda Saldívar, the singer's fan-club president. Her performance was so believable and memorable that years later, the actress sometimes was mistaken for Saldívar and verbally accosted.
In 2000, she was featured in the film Chuck & Buck, in which she played Beverly, a tough theatre director who puts on a play written by one of the main characters.
She said in multiple interviews that she accepted the role even before seeing the script, solely on the basis of being approached to play a character who was not defined by Hispanic ethnicity.
For that role, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture in the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards.
She co-starred with America Ferrera in the 2002 film Real Women Have Curves as the overbearing and hypercritical mother of Ferrera's character. Her performance received excellent reviews and earned her and her co-star a Special Jury Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Ontiveros had a recurring role in the 2004-05 season of American primetime soap opera series Desperate Housewives as Juanita Solis, Gabrielle's suspicious mother-in-law.
She received an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actress for this role.
In 2004 she also began a role as Abuela Elena, the grandmother of the title characters in the animated PBS children's series Maya and Miguel. The multicultural and bilingual series later introduced a deaf character, Marco, after a sign language-themed episode was suggested by the actress, who has two hearing impaired adult sons.
The actress was one of the stars of the WB's Greetings from Tucson, playing the grandmother in an upwardly mobile family of mixed Irish and Mexican heritage.
She previously had recurring guest roles on the series Veronica's Closet, for which she won an ALMA Award in 1998, and on the short-lived soap opera Pasadena.
She was also a guest star on Hill Street Blues, Red Shoe Diaries, Resurrection Blvd., Cory in the House, and King of the Hill, among many other series.
After deciding she wanted an acting career, Ontiveros began in earnest, following up full-day sessions at her first career with evening work at Nosotros, a community theatre in Los Angeles.
In 1978, she was cast as Dolores in Luis Valdez’s historic play Zoot Suit in her first major theatrical role. She went on to reprise the role on Broadway — the first Mexican American theatrical production ever to play there — and in the 1982 film version.
She was a founding member of the Latino Theatre Company.
In August, 2006, the Kaiser Permanente insurance company announced that Ontiveros would be the featured presenter in a new health-education DVD to be available in English and Spanish.
She also promoted higher education for Latinos through advertisements for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund in 2002 and participation in a 2003 campaign to increase access to the 2004 Hispanic Scholarships Directory across southern California.
She and her husband had three sons and lived in Pico Rivera, California. Ontiveros died on 26 July, 2012, after a battle with liver cancer, at age 69.