Wilkes was born on November 11, 1959 in New York City. She was born in Spanish Harlem to a Spanish and French mother and Irish father. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a nightclub singer. They divorced when she was 3 months old. When she was six she made her first commercial, for Keds sneakers. She trained in acting at Dominica American Theatre of Performing Arts, but stopped her training at age 11 to become a "normal student. " At age 12, she went to live with her aunt and uncle in the Dominican Republic. Being a good student at high school, she skipped a few grades, graduating at the Collegio Santo Domingo at the age of 14. At age 15, she moved to Los Angeles, California, but, unable to work at such a young age, convinced many employers that she was 18 and married. Her first jobs included being a computer operator for an ambulance service, and secretarial work for a large corporation in Culver City, adding up to 16 hours a day for five days a week.