Naya Rivera (pronounced N-eye-ah Rivera) (born January 12, 1987) is an American actress and singer known for her role in the musical comedy television series Glee, as cheerleader Santana Lopez.
Rivera was raised in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California and has lived in or around Los Angeles for most of her life. At eight or nine months old, she began to be represented by the same talent agent as her mother, who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling. She took up songwriting at the age of 15.
As a baby, Rivera appeared in commercials for Kmart, but her first significant acting job was at the age of four when she starred as Hillary Winston in the Eddie Murphy produced sitcom The Royal Family in 1991. Between 1992 and 2002, she had small roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Live Shot, Baywatch, Smart Guy, House Blend, Even Stevens and The Master of Disguise. In 2002 she also appeared in the music video for B2K's "Why I Love You". She was hired for a single-episode guest appearance on The Bernie Mac Show in 2002, but was brought back to work on a further five episodes. She was later featured in single episodes of 8 Simple Rules and CSI: Miami.
In 2009, Rivera was cast as Cheerios cheerleading squad member Santana Lopez on Fox's musical comedy series Glee, about a high school glee club. Rivera's character comes off as a cold-hearted and vicious cheerleader, who often shows her softer side to fellow cheerleader Brittany (played by Heather Morris). Rivera auditioned for the opportunity "to sing, dance and act all in the same show," and because she was a fan of co-creator Ryan Murphy's previous work on Nip/Tuck. Rivera drew on her own high school experience of unpopularity to prepare for the role, as well as watching films such as Mean Girls to "really get in the zone and feel like a bitchy Sophomore".
Rivera is of half Puerto Rican, quarter German, and African American descent. Rivera is an avid reader and dedicates time to various charitable organizations. According to Rivera, "My passion for music is one of my greatest loves." Like on Glee, Rivera is best friends in real life with co-star Heather Morris. Rivera's brother, Mychal Rivera, has started as tight end for the Tennessee Volunteers football team.
''Glee'' Panel at Comic-Con 2010 - Day 4 July 25, 2010