Lupe Ontiveros—a founding member of the Latino Theater Company and character actress with numerous film roles—died Thursday at the age of 69. Ontiveros began working in Los Angeles theatre in the late ’70s, landing a role in Luis Valdez’s 1978 play Zoot Suit and recreating that performance in both its Broadway production and 1982 movie version. And in her movie and TV career, she found it difficult to break out of the all-too-familiar ghetto of roles available to Latina performers, such as domestic help, hookers, and the occasional grandmother. (Ontiveros once told an interviewer that she'd played more than 150 maids, lamenting, “When I go in there and speak perfect English, I don’t get the part.”) Perhaps her most notable early film role was in the 1983 bilingual indie drama El Norte. She also appeared in The Border, The Goonies (as the maid taunted by Cory Feldman's character), My Family, As Good As It Gets, and the 1997 biopic Selena, in which she played the young singer’s murderer.
Ontiveros got a boost with her role as a theater manager in the 2000 Chuck & Buck, winning raves for her performance in what she later said was one of the only movie roles she’d ever been offered that wasn’t specifically written for a Latina.
The next year she appeared in Todd Solondz’s Storyteling and in a regular role on Chuck & Buck writer-star Mike White’s short-lived TV series Pasadena. In 2002, she and America Ferrera shared a Special Jury Prize for playing mother and daughter in Real Women Have Curves, More recently, she had regular or recurring roles on the TV series Los Americanos, Desperate Housewives, and Rob.