While on a modelling assignment in India in 2009, Fernandez successfully auditioned for the fantasy drama Aladin, which marked her acting debut. Fernandez's breakthrough role came with the psychological thriller Murder 2 (2011), her first commercial success. This was followed by glamorous roles in the ensemble-comedy Housefull 2 (2012) and the action thriller Race 2 (2013), both of which earned over ₹1 billion (US$16 million) worldwide. Her performance in the former garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at IIFA. In 2014, Fernandez played the leading lady in the action thriller Kick, which ranks among the highest-grossing Indian films of all time. Fernandez received critical acclaim for her role in Brothers. She received further success with the romantic comedy Housefull 3, the action adventure Dishoom, and the superhero thriller A Flying Jatt (all 2016).
One of the most popular actresses in India, she is the recipient of the several awards. Alongside her screen acting career, Fernandez has worked as a judge in the ninth season of the dance reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa (2016–2017), is a popular celebrity endorser for various brands and products, has participated in stage shows, and is active in humanitarian work.
Fernandez was born on 11 August 1985, in Manama, Bahrain, and was raised in a multi-ethnic family. Her father, Elroy, is Sri Lankan, and her mother, Kim, is of Malaysian descent. Her maternal grandfather is Canadian. Her father, who was a musician in Sri Lanka, moved to Bahrain in the 1980s to escape civil unrest between the Tamils and Sinhalese and subsequently met her mother who was an air hostess. She is the youngest of four children with one elder sister and two elder brothers. She hosted television shows in Bahrain at the age of fourteen. After receiving her early education in Bahrain, she pursued a degree in mass communication from the University of Sydney in Australia. After graduating she worked as a television reporter in Sri Lanka. She also attended the Berlitz school of languages, where she learnt Spanish and improved her French and Arabic.
According to Fernandez, she had aspired to become an actress at a young age and fantasized about becoming a Hollywood movie star. She received some training at the John School of Acting. Although, she was a television reporter, she accepted offers in the modeling industry, which came as a result of her pageant success. In 2006, she was crowned the winner of the Miss Universe Sri Lanka pageant and represented Sri Lanka at the world Miss Universe 2006 pageant held in Los Angeles. In a 2015 interview, Fernandez described the modeling industry as "a good training ground" and said: "It is a medium that is about shedding your inhibitions, knowing your body, confidence". In 2006, she appeared in a music video for the song "O Sathi" by music duo Bathiya and Santhush.
In 2009, Fernandez traveled to India for a modeling assignment. She studied acting under the mentorship of theatre director Barry John, and successfully auditioned for Sujoy Ghosh's fantasy film Aladin (2009) her acting debut. She played the love interest of Riteish Deshmukh's character, a role based on the character of Princess Jasmine. and Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN felt that she was: "easy on the eyes and appears confident but has precious little to do". Although the film was a critical and commercial failure, she won the IIFA Award for Star Debut of the Year - Female.
In 2010, Fernandez appeared opposite Deshmukh in the science fiction romantic comedy Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai. She was cast as a girl from Venus, who lands on Earth in search of love. The film, along with Fernandez's performance, received poor reviews; Rediff.com's Sukanya Verma noted: "She gamely makes a fool of herself whilst aping the actions of movie stars, ranging from Sridevi's Naagin dance, Mithun Chakravarthy's Disco Dancer moves, to Big B's violent headshake in Hum. Her Tara could be a keeper if only Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai wasn't so intent on turning her into a love-struck Barbie." Critic Anupama Chopra also criticized Fernandez, calling her "a pin-prick on a balloon". Later that year, she made a special appearance in the song "Dhanno" for Sajid Khan's comedy Housefull.
Mahesh Bhatt's thriller Murder 2 was Fernandez's first commercial success and marked a turning point in her career. She took on the role of Priya, a lonely model who is in a confused relationship with Arjun Bhagwat (played by Emraan Hashmi). Fernandez was praised for her performance, and for the boldness and sex appeal she displayed in the film. Gaurav Malini of The Times of India stated that she was "tastefully tempting" but noted that her romance with Hashmi was "literally half-baked". The following year, Fernandez appeared in the ensemble comedy Housefull 2 alongside Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, and Asin. It became one of the top grossing productions of India that year and earned ₹1.86 billion (US$29 million) worldwide. Fernandez received mostly negative reviews for her performance. While Gaurav Malini praised her for her looks, NDTV called her a "blathering bimbo" who "find[s] no pleasure in [her role]". Despite the negative reviews, Fernandez received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 14th IIFA Awards for her performance.
Fernandez's first release of 2013 was Race 2, an ensemble action thriller (alongside Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham and Deepika Padukone), described as the "cinematic equivalent of a trashy novel" by critic Rajeev Masand. She played Omisha, a femme fatale, a role which required her learn fencing and some acrobatics. The film emerged as a commercial success, with the domestic gross of more than ₹1 billion (US$16 million). In a particularly scathing review, Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV wrote that both Fernandez and Padukone "strut around like wound-up automatons that are all decked-up but have nowhere to go." Also that year, Fernandez appeared in an item number, titled, "Jaadu Ki Jhappi", for Prabhu Deva's romantic comedy Ramaiya Vasta Vaiya.
In 2014, Fernandez appeared in Sajid Nadiadwala's directorial debut—the action film Kick, a remake of a 2009 Telugu film of same name. She starred opposite Salman Khan, playing Shaina, a psychiatry student. She retained her real voice for the first time in Kick. While Sneha May Francis commented that she is: "incredibly dazzling, and moves like a magic", Raja Sen of Rediff.com was more critical of her dialogue delivery, calling it "unfortunate." The film received mixed reviews from critics, but with worldwide revenue of over ₹3.75 billion (US$58 million), it became the fourth highest-grossing Bollywood film. The film established Fernandez as one of the most popular Bollywood actresses.
In 2015, Fernandez featured in Vicky Singh's Roy, a romantic thriller, which critic Sarita A. Tanwar described as a "boring, exhausting and pretentious" film. Fernandez played dual roles, Ayesha Aamir, a filmmaker in a relationship with another filmmaker (played by Arjun Rampal) and Tia Desai, a girl in love with a thief (played by Ranbir Kapoor). While India TV called it "her best act till date", critic Rajeev Masand felt that she "appears miscast in a part that required greater range." Roy failed to meet its box-office expectations, and was a commercial failure. Later that year, she appeared in a guest appearance for the comedy-satire Bangistan.
Karan Malhotra's action drama Brothers was Fernandez's next release. Co-starring alongside Akshay Kumar and Sidharth Malhotra, Fernandez played Jenny, a fearless mother struggling for her child, a role which she described as "challenging", "intense", and "difficult". The role marked a departure from the glamorous characters that she had a reputation for portraying. Film critics praised her performance, though their response to the film was mixed. Dhriti Sharma of Zee News called her character "soft, timid and promising", and praised her for: "convincingly pull[ing] off a pleasing character of a street fighter's wife". Film critic Subhash K. Jha noted that she: "...in a limited role gives her finest emotive shot", while critic Raja Sen remarked: "[she] plays Kumar's long-sobbing wife who gets so deliriously happy on seeing a text message that it may well have contained news about a Kick sequel." Later that year, she starred in the horror thriller Definition of Fear, which marked her Hollywood debut.
Fernandez began 2016 with a role in the sequel to Housefull 2. The ensemble comedy film paired her with Akshay Kumar as her love interest. The critic for Firstpost was disappointed with the picture and criticized Fernandez for her inclination towards a film, where she was "treated as [a] visual attraction [...] and nothing else". Nevertheless, the film was a commercial success, grossing ₹1.88 billion (US$29 million) worldwide. Her next film—the action adventure Dishoom—also grossed ₹1 billion (US$16 million) at the box-office. Later that year, she served as a judge to the ninth season of the dance show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa.
In April 2017, Jacqueline Fernandez collaborated with Rakyan Beverages by investing in their juice products. As of August 2016, Fernandez has several projects in various stages of production. She has completed shooting for Chandran Rutnam's English-Sri Lankan crime-thriller According to Mathew. The film was her maiden cinematic appearance in Sri Lankan cinema as well. The film was released in Sri Lanka on 7 April 2017 in CEL Theatres with the title Anuragini. In addition, she has completed filming for A Gentleman with Siddharth Malhotra from the director duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K..
She is currently filming for Judwaa 2 opposite Varun Dhawan and Taapsee Pannu, a sequel to the 1997 comedy film Judwaa. Fernandez is also filming for Tarun Mansukhani's action comedy Drive opposite Sushant Singh Rajput, slated to release in 2018.
Fernandez shares a close bond with her family, and admits to missing being around them. She says: "I miss them so much everyday. You don't realise when you live away from home how difficult life can be [...] At the same time, staying away from them has taught me to be more responsible. It has taught me so many things about myself, about priorities and time management." In March 2012, Fernandez turned vegetarian for a 40-day period to observe Lent, a period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.
In 2008, Fernandez started dating Bahraini prince Hassan bin Rashid Al Khalifa, whom she met at a mutual friend's party; they separated in 2011. While filming Housefull 2 in 2011, Fernandez began a romantic relationship with director Sajid Khan. The relationship attracted media coverage in India and there was speculation of an impending wedding. However, the relationship ended in May 2013.
In addition to acting in films, Fernandez has supported charitable organisations and a number of causes. In 2011, on the behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), she sent a letter to the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner asking for an end to horse-drawn carriage rides in Mumbai. In early 2013, she asked the consulate general of the Philippines, William John T Perera in Colombo, to hasten the transfer of an elephant from its inadequate housing at the Manila Zoo to a humane sanctuary. Later that year, she auctioned a breakfast in Mayfair, London, where she raised around £4000 for the Pratham NGO, which helps children's primary education. In 2014, Fernandez was named "Woman Of The Year" by PETA (India) for advocating the protection of animals. The following year, she auctioned her outfits on an online portal for a philanthropic cause. Some of her outfits included the ones she wore in the song "Party On My Mind" (from Race 2) and "Hangover" (from Kick). In March 2016, she was part of "Jacqueline Builds" campaign that raised funds for the victims of the 2015 South Indian floods.
Fernandez has participated in several concert tours and televised award ceremonies. In 2013, she performed at the Temptations Reloaded in Auckland, Perth, and Sydney alongside Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji, and Madhuri Dixit. She also performed at the live talent show "Got Talent World Stage Live" with Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Varun Dhawan the following year. In July 2014, Fernandez opened a restaurant in Colombo, Kaema Sutra, in collaboration with chef Dharshan Munidasa, which specialises in contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine.
She has been cited as one of the most attractive Bollywood celebrities in history by many newspapers and media outlets.
In the early 2013, Fernandez became the ambassador for HTC One, which she endorses in India. She was the face of Indian Bridal Fashion Week—IBFW of 2013. Later that year, she became the spokesperson for Gareth Pugh's designed Forevermark Diamonds in Mumbai, and was at the inaugural opening of the Forever 21 store in Mumbai. That year, she also launched Gillette Shaving System with Arbaaz Khan and Aditya Roy Kapur. While analysing Fernandez's career, India TV noted: "Slowly and steadily Jacqueline Fernandez is climbing up the ladder of success [...] Jacqueline is comfortably grasping every aspect of the work, which an actress is required to do and is accordingly giving results." On the contrary, Charu Thakur of India Today criticized her acting skills, but remarked that: "[she has] managed to find her feet in Bollywood now by banking on glamorous roles".
In 2008 and 2011, Fernandez featured in the UK magazine Eastern Eye's "World's Sexiest Asian Women" list, ranking twelfth. She was ranked third on The Times of India's listing of the "Most Desirable Woman" in 2013 and 2014, after being ranked eighth, seventh and fourteenth, respectively, in the preceding three years. In 2013, Rediff.com placed her on their list of "Bollywood's Best Dressed Actresses". The following year, she held the sixty second position in the Indian edition of the Forbes' Celebrity 100, a list based on the income and popularity of India's celebrities.