Daphne Rubin-Vega may have spent the better part of her career playing tough and emotionally complex characters in feature films and on television, but the true measure of her success was playing the passionate yet vulnerable HIV-infected dancer in the smash Broadway musical "Rent" (1996). The contemporary musical juggernaut, which followed a group of impoverished musicians and artists battling the coming wave of gentrification in New York City's bleak Lower East Side, reenergized the Great White Way, attracting a new generation of theatergoers, and grossed more than $280 million since its Broadway debut. It also paved the way for a then-relatively unknown actress like Rubin-Vega to make her mark on and off the stage, as well as to start the wheels in motion for the talented actress to pursue a long and successful onscreen career.
Daphne Rubin-Vega was born on Nov. 18, 1969 in Panama City, Panama. Her father passed away when she was two, and she was sent to Washington, D.C to live with an aunt. At nine, she moved to Manhattan's Greenwich Village to live with her mother and two older brothers, up until the time her mother died in 1979. As a teen, Rubin-Vega began to rebel and was eventually kicked out of the house by her stepfather. Friends in the music industry started taking her along to recording sessions. Soon after, she began writing her own songs and found work as a studio singer. In the late 1980s, Rubin-Vega formed the pop trio, Pajama Party, which released one hit single, "Yo No Sé" in 1988. While she did not set out to pursue musical theater, her agent persuaded her to audition for a 1994 workshop for a new stage musical created by the acclaimed composer and playwright, Jonathan Larson. Rubin-Vega so impressed Larson during the workshop that he inevitably offered her a plum role in the Broadway production of "Rent" (1996), one of the biggest cult phenomena in pop culture. Sadly, its creator died two and a half weeks before the show opened in February 1996 due to an aortic aneurysm.
A rock version of Puccini's opera "La Bohème" (1896), the musical "Rent" told the story of a group of disenfranchised youth and impoverished musicians struggling to survive in New York's Lower East Side under the shadow of AIDS. Rubin-Vega played Mimi Marquez, an HIV-infected club dancer who lived in the apartment below her love interest, Roger Davis (Adam Pascal), an ex-junkie who was once a successful musician, and Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp), a nerdy documentary filmmaker and the show's narrator. Rubin-Vega lit up the stage as the show's feisty yet vulnerable heroine who drew audiences inside her volatile relationship with Roger, while showcasing her vocal range with the heart-wrenching ballad "Without You" and the rock-tinged "Out Tonight." Following its Broadway debut, "Rent" went on to win four Tony Awards - including Best Musical - and the Pulitzer Prize, as well as earning Rubin-Vega a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in 1996. The musical also transformed its mostly unknown cast into stars, and led to hundreds of variations staged across America. A movie version of "Rent" was released in 2005 that featured many of the original cast reprising their roles. Rubin-Vega, however, turned down the opportunity because of a pregnancy, so Rosario Dawson played the part of Mimi.
After she starred in one of Broadway's most popular musicals, Rubin-Vega turned her attention toward film and television. She played a detective investigating a possible rape case in the erotic thriller "Wild Things" (1998), and starred as a dancer in love with Robert De Niro's character in Joel Schumacher's comedy-drama "Flawless" (1999). Rubin-Vega also had a cameo in the film adaptation of the hit TV series "Sex and the City" (2008), where she played a baby-voiced woman talking to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in a restroom. In 2010, she surprised critics with a raw and poignant performance as the sexually adventurous half of a bickering couple in Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial film debut, "Jack Goes Boating," based on Bob Glaudini's 2007 play. A story of love, betrayal, and friendship, Rubin-Vega's honest portrayal of a woman trying desperately to keep her marriage from disintegrating while encouraging another couple to take their relationship to the next level earned her a 2011 Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Female Lead nomination.