Raven-haired beauty Jordana Brewster is no stranger to the spotlight. The Panamanian born actress who moved to the States when she was just 10 years old has been acting since she was a teenager.
“As a child growing up in Brazil, I knew I wanted to be an actress, but there weren’t a lot of ways to do it,” says Brewster. It wasn’t until after moving to New York City that her dream began to take shape.
Before she could pursue acting, Brewster needed to adjust to a whole new way of living. She describes the move from Rio de Janeiro to NYC as complete “culture shock,” and admits she felt like “a fish out of water.”
“I went from attending a co-ed school back home to now being a part of an all-girl Catholic school. The way in which I related to just about everything was so different and it took some time to adjust.”
Once settled, Brewster was ready to start acting, but first needed to convince her parents who, she says, were against her decision. “I was a level headed and practical kid,” she says. After they saw she was able to keep up her grades while working, her parents eventually came around.
Brewster’s first foray into television came at the age of 15. After one day of filming a recurring role on the daytime drama, “All My Children” she landed a three year contract on another soap opera, “As The World Turns.” “My mom used to call me a mini-Susan Lucci, and while the decision was difficult, the contract role won out.”
As promised, Brewster kept up her grades while attending the Professional Children’s School in NYC, which enables kids to study and have a career at the same time. “The teachers understood, and if it weren’t for them I couldn’t have done it,” she says. Between school and long hours on set, there was little time left for anything else. “But it kept me sane and balanced.”
As their daughter excelled in both school and her craft, Brewster’s parents came to respect her choice to become an actor. “I’m glad it’s something I tried when I was younger because kids have a thicker skin; it’s tough to start acting when you’re older,” she says.
At the age of 18, with her contract about to expire, Brewster decided not to re-sign with the show. “It was time to go and try other things.” In 1998, as she was preparing to end her run on daytime television, she received an offer for her first movie, “The Faculty,” which also starred Salma Hayek, Josh Hartnett, and Jon Stewart. Still under contract with CBS she recalls having to beg the powers that be to let her go to Texas and shoot the film. “My career required a lot of begging at times,” she jokingly recalls.
“I worked with such a great group of people that there was no way I could pass that up.” Excited to be part of the film, Brewster believes it was a game-changer for her; not only was it her first time on the big screen, it was also her breakout role.
With intentions of heading to college (she was accepted to Yale University), the up-and-coming actress decided to put her education on hold for a year to shoot the mini-series, “The 60s” and the film “The Invisible Circus.” Once the projects were complete, Brewster headed to New Haven, CT. College was always part of the plan for the actress; it was something she didn’t want to put off for too long. “I had already been accepted so I couldn’t turn that down, she says. “You really don’t turn down Yale.”
While it might seem a bit strange that Brewster voluntarily put her career on hold to attend college, she didn’t think twice about it. “I wanted longevity in this business and a career that was slow and steady,” she says. “What I didn’t want was to be a flash in the pan.”
Focused on her studies, Brewster took off only one semester in 2001 to film the blockbuster hit, “The Fast and the Furious,” a role that would catapult her career and bring a whole new legion of fans. Despite numerous offers following the film’s success, Brewster returned to Yale to finish up her degree.
In 2003, right after graduation, Brewster made the move to the west coast, striking out completely on her own in a city where she didn’t know anyone. “It’s a strange and lonely place unless you know people there,” she says. In comparison to life in NYC, it was completely different, “very isolating,” she recalls. She admits it took a couple of years to adjust but now that she’s surrounded by her family and friends, she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Upon settling in Los Angeles, Brewster’s career picked right back up and she went on to star in such films as “D.E.B.S,” “Nearing Grace,” “Annapolis,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” It was on the set of “Texas Chainsaw” that Brewster met her husband, producer Andrew Form, whom she wed in 2007. In 2008, she went back to television with a recurring role in the NBC series, “Chuck.”
Brewster reprised her role of Mia Toretto in the fourth installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise in 2009. The film’s successes led to a total of three more, with the latest “Furious 7,” which premiered last month in theatres.
“What’s so great about this franchise is it keeps growing and adding new actors to the mix, and the stunts keep getting bigger and bolder,” says Brewster.
When talking about her latest film, the actress says there is a sense of family and loyalty intact. That sense of family was put to the test in November of 2013 when one of the cast members and stars of the franchise, Paul Walker, lost his life in an automobile accident. Fans around the world were devastated by the loss of such a talented young actor, none more so than his family and friends.
As Walker’s love interest on-screen, the loss was extremely difficult and heartbreaking for the actress. “He was the most amazing person,” says Brewster, “and I’m constantly reminded that he is not here. It’s very strange and so completely wrong.”
A huge presence in each other’s lives for 14 years, Brewster and Walker, like the rest of the cast, were more than just friends, they were family. “We’ve been a family since 1999 and are fortunate to have one another; it’s what is getting us through this.”
In looking back at the various installments, Brewster admits “Fast Five” is her favorite. “I loved the journey of Mia and Brian, plus it was set in Brazil, one of my favorite places.” Her character is also someone to whom she can relate on a personal level. “I’m extremely close to my family in the sense that we always know what the other is doing,” she says. Likewise, the character of Mia puts family above everyone else; she’s the backbone of Dominic (her brother) and Brian (her husband). “I can relate to her strength,” says Brewster.
In 2012, Brewster returned to television in the revamped series, “Dallas.” A huge hit when the original show premiered in 1978, the Ewing family returned with a new generation of the famous family viewers couldn’t get enough of. Cancelled after just three seasons, Brewster describes the series as a “really fun show to do,” especially when watching the original shows in preparation. “It reminded me a lot of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ in the sense that I really got to know my cast mates and the crew.”
In addition to “Furious 7,” Brewster starred in two films this past March: “American Heist,” an action film starring Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen, and the dark comedy, “Home Sweet Hell,” with Katherine Heigl and Patrick Wilson, which she describes as “a role so out of my wheelhouse it was fun to play.”
With all Brewster has going on in 2015, her biggest role, and the one she’s enjoying most, is as a mother to her 16-month-old son Julian. Unable to imagine not being a mom, the actress is more selective in the projects she chooses.
“I always feel guilty not being with my son,” she says. “I won’t go longer than two nights being away from him.”
Brewster knows she’s lucky to have the luxury of taking her son to work and being in a business where there is flexibility. “I pinch myself that I chose this job.” With each new project, she raises the bar a bit higher, seeking out challenges while looking at what’s next.
In looking ahead, Brewster credits her husband for giving her the guts to be comfortable in trying new things, things that might be a little bit more risqué than she’s used to. “I feel very secure, and he’s supportive of my career,” says Brewster. The love of family and being a mother to Julian are what bring her the most joy.
“I am happiest when I hear my son giggle,” says the actress. “He has the best laugh I have ever heard.”
Photography: John Russo