Few actresses can make the claim of having been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for their very first feature role, but then again, Lauren Vélez isn't your typical onscreen starlet. Cast in 1994's I Like It Like That as the struggling Latino mother who focused all of her energy on just keeping the family together, Vélez proved that she could successfully shoulder a feature with her very first outing.
In the years the followed, other filmmakers were quick to notice her formidable talent, and after co-starring in City Hall and I Think I Do in the late '90s, Vélez joined the cast of New York Undercover as street-smart detective Nina Moreno. While she would occasionally venture back into feature territory, it was on the small screen that Vélez seemed most comfortable. In 1997, Vélez joined the cast of the hit HBO prison series Oz, her character, Dr. Gloria Nathan, remaining a prominent fixture on the series until it went off of the air in 2003. Of course, it didn't take long for her to land another recurring role, with bit parts in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Wanted, and Medium serving well to bridge the gap between her roles in Oz and the hit Showtime series Dexter, which debuted three years later.