Selenis Leyva Biography

(Best Known for Her Role as ‘Gloria Mendoza’ in the TV Series ‘Orange Is the New Black’)

Birthday: May 26, 1972 (Gemini)

Born In: Baracoa, Cuba

Selenis Leyva is an American screen and stage actress, philanthropist, activist and author who is best recognized for playing the role of Gloria Mendoza, a Latina leader in the jail, in Netflix's web comedy series 'Orange Is the New Black'. For her performance in the role, she received the 'ALMA Award for Outstanding Special Achievement in Television' in 2014, and also shared with the cast three 'Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series' out of four nominations. Apart from recurring roles on series like 'Taina', 'Law & Order', 'Blue Bloods', and several guest appearances, she also played Monica Warren in the superhero film 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' and is currently a series regular on the Disney+ comedy-drama series 'Diary of a Future President'. On stage, she starred in the 2007 production of 'Celia' at New World Stages and played Lela in an off-Broadway production of 'Basilica'.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Selenis Leyva Rivera

Age: 52 Years, 52 Year Old Females


siblings: Marizol Leyva

children: Alina Leyva

Born Country: Cuba

Actresses American Women

Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Females

More Facts

awards: 2016; 2015 · Orange Is the New Black - Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
2014 - ALMA Award for Special Achievement in Television

After completing her college education, Selenis Leyva became active on the Latino theater scene in New York. Her first professional job was in a production of 'Simpson Street' with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre in 1995. She was awarded an 'HOLA Award' for starring in the Repertorio Español production of 'Doña Flor y sus dos maridos'. Alongside her work with Latino theater groups, she acted in off-Broadway productions and had gigs in comedy clubs which, she feels, prepared her for her future screen roles.
Early on in her television career, she appeared on a few episodes of 'Law & Order', 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit', 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent' and 'Third Watch'. In 2001, she played the recurring role of Titi Rose in the sitcom 'Taina'. In 2004, she returned to 'Law & Order' portraying Detective Mariluz Rivera in 18 episodes of the series spanning three seasons. Throughout the decade, she continued to make guest appearances on shows like 'The Sopranos', 'The Good Wife' and 'The Whole Truth', and also did small roles in films including 'Maria Full of Grace', 'Illegal Tender' and 'Sex and the City 2'.
After a short stint on 'Blue Bloods' in 2011-12 and a few more guest roles, she auditioned unsuccessfully for a role for the upcoming Netflix web series 'Orange Is the New Black'. However, she was subsequently offered the breakthrough recurring role of Gloria Mendoza on the show, which did not have any back story at the time, but went on to become a central character after the show's creators, as well as fans, were impressed by her performance. She went on to portray the role throughout the seven seasons of the show and won multiple awards, opening up new opportunities on television and in films.
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As an Afro-Latina with dark skin tone, Selenis Leyva was often cast in stereotypical roles, for instance, as maids, and always struggled to get substantial roles even on stage. Now that she has a voice in the industry after two decades of struggle, she makes her voice heard through her involvements with various charities and rights groups. She partnered with Orgullosa to donate $30,000 to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Along with her brother Arnol and her daughter Alina, she attended prom for teen patients of the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in 2015. She is the first Hispanic Angel Ambassador for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation for Cancer Research. Selenis, who witnessed firsthand her adopted brother Jose's transformation to Marizol, is a vocal activist for LGBT rights and is involved with the Stonewall Community Foundation and The Anti-Violence Project. With her sister Marizol, she co-wrote the book 'My Sister: How One Sibling's Transition Changed Us Both', which was published in March 2020.
Family & Personal Life
Selenis Leyva was born on May 26, 1972 in the Bronx, New York City, United States, to a Cuban father and Dominican mother. She had two brothers, one of whom, Arnol, underwent the first of two cancer treatments at the age of three at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. After his initial recovery, her parents began raising foster kids as part of a promise they had made, and also adopted two of the kids. Selenis loved to watch telenovelas since she was a child and often reenacted dramatic moments behind locked doors in her room. She finally decided to pursue acting after she watched a play by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre as part of a school program when she was 10. She studied at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
She has a daughter named Alina and considers herself a 'hip mom' to her teenage daughter. She lives in a two-bedroom rental apartment in a high-rise on the Upper West Side in Manhattan with her daughter, a dog and a cat.

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