Lauren Vélez, born November 2, 1964, is an American actress of Puerto Rican descent and twin sister of actress Loraine Vélez. Her most notable roles are as María LaGuerta on Dexter, Detective Nina Moreno on Fox's New York Undercover, Dr. Gloria Nathan on HBO's prison drama, Oz, and Elena on ABC's comedy-drama, Ugly Betty.
Vélez's parents moved from Puerto Rico in the early 1950s and lived in the Brooklyn section of New York City where she and her twin sister were born. Their father was a New York City police officer who eventually bought a house in the middle-class neighborhood of Rockaway, Queens, and moved there with his wife and eight children. The sisters enjoyed setting up improvised plays and acting for the family since childhood. Vélez once played the part of a groundhog in a second grade school play, after which she decided to be an actress.
After graduating from high school, the twins both received scholarships to attend the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. They also studied acting at The Acting Studio with James Price, and Lauren studied Shakespeare with Michael Howard.
Vélez landed her first job performing in the national touring company of the musical Dreamgirls. Vélez also played understudy for actress Phylicia Rashad in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. She also performed Off-Broadway in the productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Fasade
In 1995, Vélez landed her first major television role. She was cast as Nina Moreno, a policewoman in the TV series New York Undercover. That same year, she also made her film debut as Lisette Linares in the movie I Like It Like That alongside Rita Moreno and Jon Seda. She was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award and The Desi Award for Best Lead Actress. The movie was nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards and won an NYFCCA award. Another TV series in which she performed was HBO's jail drama, Oz. She also acted in the feature film City Hall, with Al Pacino. In 1997, Vélez starred in Buscando un Sueño (In Search of a Dream), the first Spanish language film sanctioned by SAG. Vélez plays a supporting role on Showtime's series Dexter, again playing a police lieutenant.
On June 24, 2006, she won the Best Supporting Actress award at the 2006 Long Island International Film Expo for her performance as Roseanne Crystal in the independent feature film, Serial.