Versatility and passion
help actress in diverse roles

Sofia Milos flings herself into her
work, from "Passionada" to "CSI: Miami"

Sofia Milos captivates in person and in her role as Celia in the film "Passionada," opening tomorrow.

WAILEA, MAUI >> Sofia Milos glides through the Four Seasons hotel lobby with feline grace, her boots making sharp click-click noises on the marble floor. With her dark, flowing hair, the actress looks like a darker version of Botticelli's "Primavera." Stunning in white, low-cut designer jeans, a low-cut white top, and a cowboy hat with red feather band, she's eyed by every man there, and most of the women as well.

"Aloha," she says sweetly, extending her hand before sitting down for an interview about her new film "Passionada," which screened at the Maui Film Festival in June and opens tomorrow in local theaters.

While Milos nibbles tiny pieces of fresh mango, two passersby glance in her direction.

"Is that Sofia?" the woman says. "She was in the movie."

"It sure as heck is," responds her paunchy male companion. "But what I want to know is, what the hell is she doing with that guy?"

Milos doesn't miss a beat.

"This is my new boyfriend and I feel lucky he's chosen me!" she says, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek.

"So, aside from looks, charm and talent," I ask, "what does your new boyfriend have that I don't?"

"Money," she says, laughing. "Actually, he whispers Italian in my ear."

"Have you ever had anyone whisper Hawaiian in your ear?" I retort.

"Why? Do you want to?"

"Uh, yeah, but it's a breach of ethics and there are my marital vows."

"Oh my, now I want you even more," she coos.

MILOS stars in "Passionada" as Celia, the middle of three generations of Portuguese women living in the working-class city of New Bedford, Mass. She's a seamstress, a singer of Portuguese fado (a melancholy folk music) and a widow mourning the death at sea of her fisherman husband.

"I absolutely loved doing the fado scenes," says Milos, whose only other singing gig took place in her church choir as a kid. "The first time I heard it, I walked out crying. It's mesmerizing. Fado is not singing; it's a feeling, a state of mind, a form of love so pure, it goes beyond any form of formal vocal training.

"My character Celia seemed to be written for me," she says. "She's passionate, stubborn, romantic, loyal, curious and skeptical."

Milos was selected by director Dan Ireland from 60 actors.

"Most of them who turned the role down did so because they didn't want to play a mother in her 30s with a child that was 17 years old," he said. "I think that they were all afraid of that horrible thing that Hollywood does -- once you play a mother of a child that age, you get typecast.

"By the grace of God, the last one to walk through the door -- and actually she flew in from Italy -- was Sofia," he said. "I looked at her and I was just like, 'Oh, dear God, please, please make her good. Sofia was a gift from the casting gods."

Before Milos read for the role, Ireland took a CD of fado music and played it for her.

"I asked her to listen to it before she did the reading," he said. "Her interpretation and what she came in and did was just so extraordinary that I couldn't believe my luck."

Milos was selected just four days before her first musical rehearsal.

"I really had no time to do this, so I literally just flung myself into it," she said. "Dan found me a fado teacher who is also an incredible fado singer. So in every spare waking moment, I was with Ana Vinagre, who taught me the essence and the meaning of fado, what it was and how I was to hold myself, and how the performance feels. I pretty much just bathed in it."

Singing in the film was "a very emotional experience," she said. "It was really hard to capture it on film, because I had to be absolutely dead-on with the sync; the camera absolutely had to be completely dead-on with its moves," she said. "They were taking a four-and-a-half minute song and really condensing it into two-and-a-half minutes ... They had to know every shot, every dissolve and every movement."

RAISED in Italy, Milos has had to compensate for her accent to appear on screen.

"I've studied with some of the best voice and dialect coaches in Los Angeles," says the performer, fluent in seven languages. "I'm now able to speak English without an accent. I had a dialect coach to get the Sicilian accent right for the (comedy-parody) 'Mafia!' I was taught a Neapolitan accent and speech for my recurring role as Annalisa Zucca on 'The Sopranos.' "

Milos, who was born in Zurich, Switzerland, now has a recurring role as investigator Yelina Salas on "CSI: Miami."

Obstacles, be it accent or singing, have always motivated her. "You have to decide what you want and love to do and then simply do it. Persevere, don't give up. And always do more than what you thought is the best you could do."

Milos says it took her years to overcome childhood shyness, even after being pushed into her first beauty contest at age 14. "I was so nervous but still won that local competition, then the provincial, regional and national contests, too," she says. "l became Junior Lady Italy, and even won a tango contest."

Milos began modeling professionally at 15, which paid her way through business and economics school in Switzerland. "I never wanted to just be another pretty face," she said. "I needed to be creative, and involved at a much deeper level, a depth I still explore and learn about daily, which is really my greatest luxury."

In 1990, Milos moved to the United States and eventually Los Angeles, where she enrolled in acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where she still studies. Her first film role was in the independent feature "Inside Out," starring Lesley Anne Down and Kris Kristofferson. Milos first recurring TV role was playing the fiery, spoiled Fabiana Borelli, in NBC's sitcom "Cafe American."

Sofia Milos plays a fado singer in "Passiionada." Fado is Portuguese folk music that reflects yearning. If audiences do not feel a fadista is up to form, they will stop a performance.

"It was a great accomplishment for me to have understood the American sense of humor, which is different than the Italian one," she said. "It was not only about learning the language, but also about being funny in another language; finding one's own humor as well as culture in another language."

She also had a guest role as the elusive Aurora in the "Friends" episode called "The One with the Butt." "I played Matthew Perry's love interest and object of his obsession," Milos says, patting her okole.

THE ROLE that grabbed her the most attention was as the mob boss in the HBO series "The Sopranos" in which Annalisa Zucca goes toe-to-toe (and a little more) with Tony Soprano.

"I worked to make that character strong and powerful, while still remaining feminine and vulnerable," she says.

When she isn't shooting 16-hour days for "CSI: Miami," Milos hangs out with friends, "talking, talking, talking," and watching movies. (Her favorites: "Chicago," "Like Water for Chocolate," "Marriage Italian Style," "Belle Epoque," "Mediterraneo," "The Matrix," the original "Swept Away" and "An American in Rome.")

"I'm a romantic and love to be charmed, what can I say? And I love surprises -- the good kind, the ones from the heart. I love seeing people in love and I love kids."

She is less active than in the past due to her busy filming schedule but says she's "devoted" to Pilates and loves sports, "especially Tae Bo, kickboxing, spinning, jogging. I try to work out three to five times a week."

She maintains her trim figure mainly through a low-carb diet, but admits, "I do have to have my chocolate every day to fuel my senses."

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