America Ferrera: From Ugly Betty to dragon training
America Ferrrera won us over as the meek, perpetually put-upon ‘Ugly’ Betty – but she much prefers playing kick-ass characters and strong female roles. The star of How to Train Your Dragon 2 exchanges some star-spangled banter with Tara Brady
There are plenty of Latina superstars with gazillions of fans and unit sales, who exist completely above and beyond the Anglo- sphere. And then there’s America Ferrera. The 27-year-old became a household name as the star of Ugly Betty, a role that won her a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, an Emmy and a global fan base.
“Betty will always be with me,” says Ferrera of the part she played for some four years. “She’ll be a huge part of my life forever.”
There are internet rumours – unfounded, of course – that America Ferrera’s smile is insured for x (think of a number) million dollars. It ought to be. A sunny creature who says things like “Oh, you’re too kind” and “I’m so, so blessed”, it’s easy to forget that “being blessed” couldn’t possibly account for her success. With only a few exceptions – J-Lo, Sofía Vergara, erm . . . Spanglish superstars are few and far between.
Fererra is more exceptional still: not simply a statistical anomaly but a critical darling. Her career has inspired the kind of rave notices and wows that poor old Jenny from the Block can only dream of. Even before she donned lawnmower blade braces and let her eyebrows run free as Betty Suarez – a process she called “Bettification” - the actress had won awards for such female-oriented pictures as Real Women Have Curves, How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.
“Growing up, the characters I most often related to were male characters,” she says. “So I think I’ve always held out for the female characters who are in the driver’s seat. It’s fun to bring them to the screen.”
She also done a critic-pleasing stint on London’s West End, as Roxie Hart in Chicago, and will return to Broadway later this year in a revival of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart.
“I don’t think anyone knew what my career would look like,” she says. “So we were all surprised by the turn of events. So very surprised.”
Ferrera is, additionally, involved with the organisation Voto Latino and has worked on Barrack Obama’s election campaigns. She routinely features as part of America’s Most Influential Hispanics compendiums.
Life and work must sometimes feel a little ambassadorial, surely?
“It’s tricky,” she says. “It’s been my own journey to figure out what I care about and what I want to stand for. But certainly people place and project their own meanings. My career is definitely something that that Latino community is proud of and claim. I think that that’s wonderful. I love being Latina. I love the fact that I’m a woman who doesn’t fit easily inside common stereotypes. I’m grateful that people latch on to that. But it’s not really something that I think about myself. I don’t wake up wondering: ‘How am I going to represent all these minorities and groups?’”
America Georgine Ferrera was born in Los Angeles in 1984, the youngest of six children born to Honduran immigrants America and Carlos. They divorced when Ferrera the Younger was seven-years-old; Carlos returned to Honduras, leaving her mother, who worked as the director of housekeeping staff for Hilton Hotels, to raise the children alone. Her daughter suspects that her mother is the reason she developed a taste for strong female role models.