“In this business, if you don't have the capacity to step back and have some sort of relativity about things, you're screwed.” Leonor Varela
Chilean actress Leonor Varela had her first taste of show business in French and European productions before appearing in the Chilean soap “Tic Tac” (1997), playing Pola Santa María. A bit part in the Leonardo DiCaprio starring vehicle, “The Man in the Iron Mask,” followed the next year, but it was her starring portrayal of Cleopatra in the 1999 ABC miniseries of the same name that turned an unknown Varela to a recognizable performer in the English-speaking world. Following the performance, the versatile actress was cast in such Hollywood films as “The Tailor of Panama” (2001), “Texas Rangers” (2001, filmed in 1999), “Blade II” (2002) and “Americano” (2005), and in the shows “Arrested Development” (2003), “Stargate: Atlantis” (2004) and “E-Ring” (2005). Varela received an Ariel nomination for her work in Luis Mandoki's “Innocent Voices” (2004) and was handed an Arts and Entertainment Critics Award (Chile) for Best Actress the year before. Her more recent and upcoming credits include “Goal II: Living the Dream” (2007), the Quentin Tarantino-produced “Hell Ride” (2008), the Sundance-screened “Sleep Dealer” (2008), “Hindsight” (2008), “Ball's Out: The Gary Houseman Story” (2008) and “Love and Virtue” (2008).
Varela speaks five languages, including English, Spanish, French and Italian. On the set of “Cleopatra,” the dark-haired beauty dated costar Billy Zane and they became engaged before finally splitting up. In 2002, she was voted one of “Maxim's” “100 Hottest Women in the World.” Varela studies Kabbalah and says “The Power of Now,” a book written by E. Tolle, is her favorite.
Currently, Varela resides in Los Angeles.
Childhood and Family:
Leonor Varela Palma was born on December 9, 1972, in Santiago, Chile. Her father, Francisco Varela, was a renowned Chilean biologist and philosopher who died in 2001 at age 55, and her mother, Leonor Palma, was a dancer of French-Italian-Algerian heritage. She has a sister named Alejandra and two brothers named Gabriel and Javier.
When Leonor, often referred to by the nickname Leo, was still two-months old, her family escaped to Costa Rica in order to avoid the military regime led by Agusto Pinochet. They next lived in such different countries as Germany, the U.S. and France before returning to Chile in the early 1990s. At the time, Leo opted to stay in Paris to study acting at the Neils Arestrup's School, The Ecole de Passage, and the Conservatoire Superieur de Paris.
23-year-old Leonor Varela made her professional debut as Anette in the children's TV film “Pony Trek” (1995), a role she reprised later for the 1997 TV series version that exposed the beauty of Iceland. With the help of her dentist, she landed the role of Vanessa in the French film “Shooting Stars/Ciel est à nous, Le” (1997), a comedy directed by Graham Guit and starring Romane Bohringer and Melvil Poupaud. The same year, she also appeared in Jérôme Cornuau's “Bouge!” (1997) and the drama-made-for-TV “Inca de Oro” (1997), but did not earn much notice until she returned to Chile and starred as Pola Santa María in the television series “Tic Tac” (also 1997), opposite Latin idol Enrique Cintolesi.
The following year, Varela hit Hollywood when she had a bit part as a ballroom beauty in the remake “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. The film also offered her the opportunity to act alongside such noted actors as Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu and Gabriel Byrne. She followed it up with a larger role as Judith in the TV film “Jeremiah” (1998), starring Patrick Dempsey in the title role, and appearances in the French films “Parasites, Les” and “Infortunes de la beauté, Les” (both 1999).
It was also in 1999 that Varela enjoyed great reviews for her portrayal of the celebrated Egyptian Queen in the ABC miniseries “Cleopatra,” where future fiancé Billy Zane starred as Marc Anthony. Two years later, she appeared in the drama/thriller film “The Tailor of Panama” (2001), where she costarred alongside Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis. The same year, she also portrayed Perdita in “Texas Rangers,” starring James Van Der Beek, Rachael Leigh Cook, Ashton Kutcher, Dylan McDermott, Usher Raymond and Tom Skerritt. The Western movie was shot in 1999.
Varela's rising profile was further verified the next year when she was hired to portray Nyssa in the Wesley Snipes action flick “Blade II” (2002), a sequel to the hit “Blade” (1998). Later that same year, she returned to her native country to star as Gloria in the film “Paraíso B” (2002). Varela was next seen in the French comedy “Pas si grave” (2003) and “Tais-toi” (2003), opposite Gérard Depardieu and Jean Reno. Still in 2003, she had a memorable recurring role as Marta Estrella in two episodes of Fox’s TV series “Arrested Development.”
Varela costarred as Kella in the Luis Mandoki-helmed “Voces inocentes/Innocent Voices” (2004), opposite Carlos Padilla, and was nominated for a 2005 Ariel award (Mexico) in the category of Best Actress for her fine acting in the war/drama set in El Salvador during the civil war in the 1980s. That same year, she could be found making guest appearances in the Emmy nominated sci-fi series “Stargate: Atlantis.” Next up for Varela, she was teamed with Joshua Jackson to star in the Kevin Nolan comedy/romance “Americano” (2005), played Lt. Col. Cat Rodriguez in the pilot of the WB drama “E-Ring” (2005) and costarred with Casper Van Dien and Jonathan Hyde in the TV film “The Curse of King Tut's Tomb” (2006), as Dr. Azelia Barakat.
The sensual performer had a supporting role as a journalist in the sports-themed “Goal II: Living the Dream,” appeared as Angela Diaz in the drama film “Where God Left His Shoes” and portrayed Sofia Marquez in the Jennifer Lopez-produced miniseries “Como ama una mujer” (all 2007) before playing Miranda in the Spanish drama “All Inclusive” (2008), directed by Rodrigo Ortuzar. She went on to star as Luz in Alex Rivera's “Sleep Dealer” and Nada in Larry Bishop's “Hell Ride,” both of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008.
Varela, whose inspirations are Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinales, has completed filming the thriller “Hindsight” (2008), in which she stars with Jeffrey Donovan and Waylon Payne. She also has roles in the upcoming films “Ball's Out: The Gary Houseman Story” (2008), with Randy Quaid and Seann William Scott, the Chilean fantasy “Caleuche: El llamado del mar” (2008), and “Love and Virtue” (2008), a war drama also starring Saffron Burrows, John Malkovich, Peter O'Toole, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and Damian Lewis.
Arts and Entertainment Critics (Chile): Best Actress, 2003