05/21/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
Even though Maria Conchita Alonso grew up eating beans and rice rather than pasta, her hot-blooded heritage prepared her well for her American film debut as Robin Williams' Italian immigrant girlfriend in Moscow on the Hudson. A Cuban exile who moved to the U.S. from Venezuela two years ago, Alonso felt a special kinship with her character, a newcomer in search of the American dream. "I left Venezuela looking for something bigger," Alonso says. "I wanted to be an international star."
At 27, the 5'6½" dark-eyed beauty is one of Hollywood's rare Latin success stories. Moscow director Paul Mazursky spotted her picture in a Hollywood Reporter column and chose her over nearly 100 actresses who read for the part. "She has the beauty and strength of Sophia Loren and the freshness and life of Carmen Miranda," says Mazursky. While she is currently rehearsing for her co-starring role with Michael Keaton in the forthcoming film Touch and Go, Alonso's musical career is also taking off. She wrote the lyrics and sang the theme for Scarface, and her album Maria Conchita featuring horn player Herb Alpert quickly rose to the top of the charts in Venezuela and is selling briskly in the U.S.
Alonso left Castro's Cuba at age 5 with her parents and two older brothers. Although they arrived in Caracas with only $500, the Alonsos eventually opened a prosperous health spa. Maria, driven by a desire for acceptance from her upper-class peers, won the title of Miss Teenager of the World in 1971. Four years later she was named Miss Venezuela and began acting in popular local soap operas. She also cut four disco albums, two of which went gold in Venezuela.
Once linked with playboy singer Julio Iglesias, Alonso now goes out with aspiring rocker Gregg Tripp, 29, whom she met in a supermarket. The walls of her one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood are papered with Venezuelan magazines with her face on the cover. "I've always wanted to be the center of attention," she admits. The way things are going, Alonso may need more wall space soon.