17 Latino Actors Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

17 Latino Actors Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

Latino actors are among the most pigeonholed of performers, often receiving offers to play criminals or gardeners who can barely speak English. But where there's a will, there's a way.

Here are 17 Latino actors who have taken on both Hollywood and Broadway, shown their range onscreen and onstage, and come away with awards to prove they have what it takes to make it (and then some).


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  • Benicio del Toro


    Image © Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis

    One of the most uncompromising actors of his generation, Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro was bound to win an Oscar sooner or later. He did in 2000, winning a Best Supporting Actor statuette for his portrayal of a Mexican cop with a heart of gold in Traffic, becoming the first actor to win for a Spanish-language role. It also earned him a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award, and in 2008, he became the first U.S. Latino to win a Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival. 

  • Javier Bardem


    Image © Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

    Fellow Spaniard Antonio Banderas may have preceded him to crossover success, but Javier Bardem became the first countryman to win an Oscar. He triumphed for the most disturbing role of his career: an unstoppable hitman whose weapon is a cow stun gun in 2008's No Country for Old Men. 

  • Ricardo Montalban


    Image © Walter McBride/Retna Ltd./Corbis

    As a Latin trailblazer in Hollywood, Ricardo Montalban was outspoken about the struggles of minority actors and was even briefly blacklisted for it. But nothing could stop him from being rewarded for his talents: He was the first Latino to win a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his work in the 1978 miniseries How the West Was Won. He was also the first Latino to be honored with a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement award, in 1993.

  • Bobby Cannavale


    Image © Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis

    A Broadway baby who expanded to film and TV, Cuban-Italian actor Bobby Cannavale has won two Emmys, more than any other Latino actor. He became the first Latino to win an Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy, for Will & Grace, in 2005; he also won a 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama, for his work on Boardwalk Empire. 

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  • Edward James Olmos

    Image © 2008 NCNA PHOTO/RameyPix/Corbis

    He is perhaps equally known for his Oscar-nominated turn as an East Los Angeles math teacher in Stand and Deliver as he is for his work as Lt. Castillo in Miami Vice. But it was for the latter that Mexican-American actor Edward James Olmos received a Best Supporting Actor Emmy, in 1985, the first Latino win in the category. 

  • Jimmy Smits


    Image © Leon/Retna Ltd./Corbis

    One of the most versatile performers on television (think L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Dexter, The West Wing, and Sons of Anarchy), Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits is also the Latino with the most Emmy nominations (12!). He won Supporting Actor in a Drama for his portrayal of Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law in 1990 — a Latino first, as was his Best Actor in a TV Drama Series Golden Globe win in 1996, for NYPD Blue. 

  • John Leguizamo


    Image © Frank Trapper/Sygma/Corbis


    In movies, John Leguizamo excels as a character actor, but onstage he's always done best when playing himself. The Colombian-Puerto Rican actor's autobiographical one-man shows Ghetto Klown (2011) and Freak (1998) have earned him Drama Desk acting awards, and the televised version of Freak scored him an Emmy for Individual Performance in a Variety of Music Program. He's the first Latino actor to win the latter.

  • Wilson Jermaine Heredia


    Image © Armando Gallo/Corbis

    In the game-changing musical Rent, Wilson Jermaine Heredia played a drag queen and famously did an onstage flip in high heels. But it was his soulful overall performance that earned the singer and actor, who is of Dominican descent, a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, a Latino actor first. 

    More from The Stir: 16 Black Actors Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

  • A Martinez


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    The vast majority of leading actors on daytime soaps are white — but that's a stat that A Martinez changed when he starred as good cop Cruz Castillo on Santa Barbara. Martinez (who is Mexican-American) won a Leading Actor Daytime Emmy for the role in 1990, becoming the first Latino to win for a soap and the only one to win as a leading actor. 

  • Ruben Santiago-Hudson


    Image © Walter McBride/Corbis

    A playwright (Lackawanna Blues) and theater actor, Puerto Rican–African-American Ruben Santiago-Hudson is comfortable both onstage and in the theater wings. His acting in Seven Guitars earned him a Tony for Best Featured Actor in Play in 1996, making him the first and so far only Latino to win in the category. 

  • David Alvarez


    Image © Walter McBride/Retna Ltd./Corbis

    He was just 10 when he started dancing ballet, and by 14, David Alvarez was dancing on Broadway, one of three boys who originated the titular role in Billy Elliott. The Canadian dancer of Cuban descent received a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical in 2009, becoming the youngest Latino award winner ever.

  • Jose Ferrer


    Image © Oscar White/CORBIS

    This is what a pioneer looks like. Puerto Rican–born Jose Ferrer attacked everything he did on stage and screen with ferocity and ambition, and it paid off. He was the first Latino to win a Tony (Best Actor for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1947) and the first to win an Oscar (Best Actor for the screen version of Cyrano, in 1951). He later won another Tony, for directing, and in 1985 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan.

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  • Raul Julia


    Image © Armando Gallo/Corbis

    He was first and foremost a Drama Desk–winning theater actor, but Raul Julia became a pop culture icon playing Gomez Addams in the hit 1991 movie The Addams Family. However, it was a single performance in a TV movie, The Burning Season, that earned the Puerto Rican actor three major TV acting awards in 1995: an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

  • Hector Elizondo


    Image © Frank Trapper/Sygma/Corbis

    When your first professional acting gig is playing God (in an off-Broadway play), you can pretty much do anything after that. And so it has been with the versatile Puerto Rican actor Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries) who at age 61 became the oldest Latino to win an award, a supporting actor Emmy in 1997 for his work on the medical drama Chicago Hope.   

  • Vincent Irizarry


    Image © Byron Purvis/AdMedia/AdMedia/Corbis

    Here's one telenovela actor who works exclusively in English. The Puerto Rican–Italian thesp Vincent Irizarry played villains and heartthrobs in everything from One Life to Live to Santa Barbara to Guiding Light. But it was his work as the backstabbing bad guy David Hayward on All My Children that earned him a Supporting Actor Daytime Emmy in 2009, a Latino first.

  • Anthony Quinn


    Image © Bettmann/CORBIS

    Tall, dark, and handsome, this Mexican-born star received two Supporting Actor Oscars for his portrayal of a Mexican revolutionary in Viva Zapata! (1952) as well as of French-Peruvian artist Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956). He was the first (and second!) Latino to win in the category.

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  • Raul Esparza


    Image © John Carucci/ /AP/Corbis

    Despite being a Broadway performer who has received constant critical acclaim, Raul Esparza has never won a Tony. But the Cuban-American actor and singer, who also plays an assistant district attorney on TV's Law & Order: SVU, has received three Drama Desk Awards for his work in 2004's Taboo, 2007's Company, and 2008's The Homecoming. That's the most Drama Desks by any Latino.

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