Family & Companions
A former trained dancer-turned-actress, Lauren Velez emerged from Broadway to become a compelling and respected supporting player on several critically acclaimed television series. After establishing her credentials with an award-nominated performance in the indie feature "I Like It Like That" (1994), she made a splash with her three seasons on "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98), then was a significant part of the large ensemble show "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). But it was her supporting role on the deliciously dark thriller "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006-13) that truly established Velez as a seriously talented actress with a long, prominent career practically guaranteed.
Born on Nov. 2, 1964 in Brooklyn, NY, Velez was twins with sister, Lorraine, and grew up in a brood with five other sisters. Her father, Jose, was a police officer and her mother, Coco, raised her seven children. After discovering acting while performing in a grade school play, Velez began her career in earnest as a dancer, earning a scholarship alongside Lorraine to the Alvin Ailey America Dance Theater. Velez's dancing career was cut short, however, when she sustained a knee injury. She attended Kingsborough Community College, but left after a semester. Velez eventually went back to theater, studying Shakespeare at Michael Howard Studios in Manhattan. One of her first jobs was performing in a national touring company's production of the musical "Dreamgirls," followed up by serving as Phylicia Rashad's understudy in "Into the Woods." With her stage career in full swing, it was only a matter of time before she made the jump to other mediums.
In 1994, Velez made her film debut in "I Like It Like That," an endearing comedy-drama that depicted her as a young Latino woman struggling to break free of the stereotypical role of wife and mother by taking a job at a record company, after her loutish husband (Jon Seda) gets arrested for looting during a blackout. Velez earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead for her spirited and compelling performance. Also that year, she had her first regular series role on "New York Undercover," playing Detective Nina Moreno, a streetwise police officer from a Harlem precinct assigned to an elite undercover unit in Manhattan. After three seasons on the show, Velez moved on to another series, "Oz," Tom Fontana's stark and often brutal look at life in prison as seen through the eyes of numerous divergent and warring factions. She played Dr. Gloria Nathan, the good-natured and even-keeled head of the prison's chaotic hospital, where she deals with contentious inmates and stifling bureaucracy.
During her runs on "New York Undercover" and "Oz," Velez appeared sporadically in features, typically with supporting roles in low-budget indies. She did appear briefly in "City Hall" (1996) as a cop's widow, then had more screen time in "I Think I Do" (1997) and "The La Mastas" (1998). After playing an FBI agent in the made-for-television thriller "Love and Treason" (CBS, 2001), her time on "Oz" had come to an end when the series wrapped in 2003. She continued to take guest starring roles on episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999-2008), "Medium" (NBC, 2004-09; CBS, 2009-11) and "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2005-10). Velez then landed her third regular series role, playing Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006-13), a darkly comic procedural about a blood spatter analyst (Michael C. Hall) for the Miami Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer, but only kills those who managed to elude justice for heinous crimes. LaGuerta remains unaware of Dexter's extracurricular activities, while she does anything to climb the career ladder and attract media attention to herself.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made her film debut playing the lead role in "I Like It Like That"; nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
Joined the cast of "New York Undercover" (FOX) as Detective Nina Moreno
Featured in the film "City Hall," starring Al Pacino and John Cusack
Played the prison doctor, Dr. Gloria Nathan on HBO's drama series, "Oz"
Played an attorney on two episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)
Had a three episode arc on CBS' "Numb3rs"
Portrays Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta on the Showtime series, "Dexter"
Had a multiepisode arc on ABC's "Ugly Betty" playing the nurse to Betty's father, Ignacio (played by Tony Plana)