Her four-season run as Ugly Betty is winding down, but América Ferrera's film career is heating up. Fresh off Sundance Film Festival accolades for The Dry Land, a drama she produced and appears in as the wife of a war-scarred veteran, Ferrera, 25, has two movies opening this month, the romantic comedy Our Family Wedding on March 12 and the animated How to Train Your Dragon on March 26.
In Wedding, Ferrera plays Lucia Ramirez, who drops a bomb on her unsuspecting family when she tells them that she has left law school and is engaged to her African American boyfriend (Lance Gross). The big news doesn’t go over well with their fathers, for whom it's dislike at first sight, and the battling dadzillas threaten to ruin the wedding—and the relationship—before it all gets resolved (remember, this is a romantic comedy) in the end.
Meanwhile, the couple, forced to make the best of the situation, remind themselves: “Their wedding, our marriage.” “Weddings are mainly about other people,” says Ferrera, admitting that the thought of planning real-life nuptials “gives me hives.” Though she admits she had fun wearing Monique Lhullier wedding dresses in the role. “I’ve worn some of her gowns to award shows and just felt very comfortable and pretty in them.”
Set in L.A., the movie sends up cross-cultural and generational divides, an idea that intrigued Ferrera. “Marcus and Lucia are of a generation that truly is colorblind, and their parents are of a generation that teaches their kids to be colorblind, but don’t necessarily embody that,” she differentiates. “Each generation becomes less and less bounded to cultural roots and becomes more part of the melting pot,” observes Ferrera, a Los Angeles native of Honduran descent who grew up in “a very diverse community.”
"The neighborhood was predominately white,” she says, “but my school had kids bused in so we had a student body of every race, color and religion. I’ve had a lot of multiracial friends in multiracial relationships and marriages and was always much more aware of how we were alike,” says the actress, whose longtime boyfriend Ryan Williams is Caucasian. “Racism feels like something that is so outdated to me. But these prejudices do exist."
They exist, too, in show business. “I had to go on a lot of auditions for stereotypical pigeonholed roles before Real Women Have Curves came along. I was in the right place at the right time. I’m lucky,” she says about the career-launching project that led to Ugly Betty and to awards from Emmy, SAG and Golden Globes.
Ferrera speculates that the “incredibly underrated” Lupe Ontiveros, who played her mama in Curves and plays her abuela in Wedding, would have had an easier time of it had she been starting her career today. “Instead she’s probably played 100 maids, and played them with dignity and humor,” she says of Ontiveros, who speaks five languages. “It’s thanks to her generation that I can have the career I’m having. There’s more work to be done, but I hope it keeps getting better and easier for Latinos in front of the camera and behind the camera. The more us that are behind [the camera], the better that it will get for Latinos.”
As her success continues, Ferrera hopes to use her name to help get projects made, like Salma Hayek did with Ugly Betty. While she’ll miss Miss Suarez, the cast, creators and crew, and the “near flawless experience” of making the show, she’s grateful that the cancellation notice came in time for the writers to end the show in a satisfying way. “This is a story about transformation and achieving dreams, and my biggest fear was that we’d never get a chance to tell that. We’ve discussed it since the beginning, and I am very satisfied with the way it’s going to end."
She acknowledges that Betty has “had its ups and downs creatively, but I’m so happy with it this season and where we’ve been going. I feel like we really got back to the heart and the root of the show, and to get to go out on that high note is a blessing.”
Looking forward to getting more sleep and having the time to attend plays, watch movies and read books once Betty wraps, Ferrera plans to remain in New York and "feed my creative juices. I just stay open to what's next and don’t really feel that I need to rush into anything. I’m just excited about the unknown. It’s a new decade, new everything, and it feels like a natural cycle,” she says eagerly. "Okay, new chapter. Let’s do it!"