Laura Elena Harring was born in the northern Mexican city of Los Mochis on March 3, 1964. With German and Austrian lineage, she already stood out in her native land, where she grew up for the first 10 years of her life. At age 11, she and her family moved to San Antonio, Texas. When she was 12, she was in her parents' car when two cars behind them got into a gunfight. A stray bullet hit the car and grazed her head, missing her brain by one millimeter.
Already multilingual and with an irrepressible travel bug, she convinced her family to let her go to Switzerland at age 16, where she spent her high school years attending Aiglon College. After graduation, she backpacked through Europe and Asia, going as far as India, where she spent a month as a social worker, digging ditches and planting vegetable patches. Though she would spend a brief period backpacking throughout the world following her exploits in Switzerland and India, it wasn't long before Harring returned to her family in Texas and made the fateful decision to enter the Miss El Paso contest. After becoming the first Latina to win the title of Miss U.S.A. in 1985 at the age of 21, Harring entered the world of royalty with her marriage to Count Carl Edward Von Bismark. Shortly after her marriage, Countess Harring would pursue her love of drama at the London Academy of Performing Arts. Refining her talents on the stages of Los Angeles' downtown theater arts district, the Countess made her screen debut as the bride of Santa Anna in the 1987 made-for-television film The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory. Harring alternated between television and film in the following years, later igniting the screen with her passion for tango in 1990's The Forbidden Dance.
Amicably separated from her husband shortly thereafter, the emerging actress focused her career and continued to alternate between the small and silver screens with roles in Exit to Eden (1994), The Elian Gonzalez Story, and Little Nicky (both 2000) before hitting her stride under the assured direction of eccentric director Lynch the following year. Originally conceived as a television pilot, Mulholland Dr. was rejected by the networks before being retooled into a feature that fascinated audiences and critics at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, where it earned a Best Director award. Drawing much attention at the 2002 Oscars for her pricey footwear, the now in-demand starlet continued her Tinsel Town ascent with a role in the Denzel Washington hostage drama John Q. the following year.