In less than six years, America Ferrera, daughter to Honduran parents, has passed from absolute anonymity to one of the most recognized faces in current television. Ferrera is one of the protagonists in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants", the sequel to the 2005 film that brought her to light a little before being transformed now and forever into Betty Suarez. The series "Ugly Betty", produced by Salma Hayek, is a success in the United States and is broadcast all over the world.
Undoubtedly gifted with a special sensibility that helps her pick projects, America also had a small role in "The Same Moon", the Mexican-American co-production starring Kate del Castillo. This year the film surpassed all the box office records in the United States for Spanish language movie.
America, born 24 years ago and raised by her divorced mother in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, is the youngest of six children. At the age of eight she began to act in community theaters and 10 years later surprised the world with her extraordinary work in "Real Women Have Curves", by Colombian director Patricia Cardoso, for which she won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. And although it took some time to convert that good debut into a solid career, three years later Ferrera premiered two feature films on the same day, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and "Lords of Dogtown." That same year she completed a third film, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer", which premiered in May, thanks in part to the enormous popularity America gained with her television series.
Ferrera, the long-time girlfriend of short films director Ryan Williams, does not have plans to be married for now. Neither is she pressed to finish her university career in International Relations at the University of Southern California, where she only has a semester left. She is scheduled to move to New York, where the next season of Ugly Betty will be filmed. As for her film career, America is the voice of a character in the animated film, "How to Train Your Dragon", which will premiere next year. She is also waiting on the production of "An Invisible Sign of My Own", the début in the fiction of the Cuban director Marilyn Agrelo. In this exclusive interview, America tells us the secret of her success.
SRD: You star in a television series, do movies, study, have a boyfriend and even have participated in politics. How do you do so many things at the same time?
America: I work a lot, but I love what I do and I feel that a good part of my energy to continue ahead comes from the passion that I feel for my work. Many times the only thing that I want to do is watch television. But then I remember that this is a very special moment in my life and who knows how much time I am going to have these opportunities?
SRD: Why did you decide that you had to reprise the role of Carmen in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2"?
America: The first movie interested me because I saw these girls fighting with themes that most movies generally do not relate with girls of that age. Generally you see them worried about who is going to take them to prom or who they sit with at lunch. I believe that movies tend to represent young women, and even all young people, with a very superficial, emotional life. Therefore, what I loved about the character is that not only did she fight with superficial questions, but with real things such as ethnic identity, her relationship with her father and the meaning of family. That part of the character touched me. And I wanted to know what happened to the character four years later. In the second movie, the girls finish their first year in college and return home.
SRD: Do you see a parallel between Carmen's life and yours?
America: I believe that almost all the roles I've played have a very special place in my heart and they are part of who I am. I have asked myself the same questions that Carmen has asked herself in terms of how should I define myself. Yes my close relationships define me, or the people with whom I feel comfortable with or the new people that I meet. Each time that you involve yourself in something new you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. But at the same time it is a horrifying experience. One has to be willing to accept the new experiences and, in my case, each time I begin a new job I experience that sensation again.
SRD: What do you think of Hollywood in light of the fact that of the film's four main characters, two, that is to say you and Alexis Bledel, are Latinas?
America: I think that there is a more open attitude to accept people of different races in the large studio movies and in the programs of the large television networks, because that is the direction that the media is taking nowadays. It is marvelous to harvest the fruits of many years of fighting on the part of the Latin Americans to enter this medium. It's about being at the right place at the right time. But I also know that I am breaking even more barriers for the next generation of actors of all races and colors.
SRD: Have you always been as determined as you are now? What kind of girl were you?
America: I was very noisy and loudmouthed and full of energy, passionate and sensitive. I was about seven years old when I announced to my family that I wanted to be an actress. The movies always caused me to shed tears. I felt everything with a lot of intensity.
SRD: How was it to grow up in a house with five other women —your mother and four sisters— and a brother?
America: I am very thankful for the childhood that I had. My mother taught me to believe in myself and that there was nothing in the world that I could not achieve. Although it sounds cliché, that's what gave me strength to achieve my ambitious goals. I have five marvelous siblings, and we are all very different. Each one of us has our own interests and our own road.
SRD: Do you consider your mother a heroine? All your siblings went to college, and she raised them alone.
America: One of the truly marvelous things in the relationships between parents and children is that it never stops evolving and, logically, when you are small and you see your parents you think that they are infallible. But when you grow up you realize that they are simply human. In some way that makes what they have done be even more amazing. I believe that raising children is not easy. It's not that I know from experience, but from what I know, I can say that all parents are heroes to their children.
SRD: When they gave you the role in "Ugly Betty", did you know that you had hit the lottery before it became the success that it is today?
America: The truth is that I did not know if it was going to be a success or if it was going to have good ratings. But I knew that it was something special the moment that Salma Hayek told me that it was about a kind and very intelligent girl, that works in a fashion magazine, and that looks like no one else that works there. There was something in the way in which Salma described this character and the world that surrounds her that caused me to realize how beautiful this story could become. I had the foreboding that people were going to like it.
SRD: What have you learned from Salma having worked so close to her during these years?
America: What I learned from her is that Salma does not feel that there are barriers for anything she proposes. It impresses me that she does not succumb in an industry dominated by men.
SRD: Did it surprise you that "Under the Same Moon" is the best selling Spanish movie in U.S. box-office history?
America: Truthfully, no, because when I read the script, although they asked me to do a minor role —two minutes in the whole the movie— I liked it a lot and I felt very connected with the story. It gave me a very human sensation. Even when you are going to see blockbuster productions of fantasy and superheroes, you can put all the large names that you want and present them in an ostentatious way, but what makes something function well at the theater and attractive to people is the human connection that I found when I read the script for "Under the Same Moon."
SRD: Do you think that you have a good eye at the moment for picking projects or do you truly have King Midas' touch?
America: I wouldn't call it a good eye. I just do what truly resonates with me. Besides that, the fact that it seems good to me does not mean that others are going to think the same thing. I just guide myself with my intuition.
SRD: Would you say that part of your success is due to your representation of the authentic woman and not the image that has been sold to us by Hollywood during years?
America: Well, that is something that can be seen in my career. I know from my own experience that old and young women, men, homosexual and heterosexual, old and young, all they are seeking to be represented in an authentic way. It is certain that we like to see superhero movies and to look at photos of models to distract us with very distant worlds than ours, but at the same time, when we seek a human connection we also want something that we can identify with. And I believe that Betty and, certainly, Carmen in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" more honestly represent the way the majority of people are seen.
SRD: Do you volunteer with some charity work?
America: Yes, I volunteer with many. One is Peace Game, a program that is taught in our country's public elementary schools whose objective is to teach children to be become agents of peace. I am convinced that if we want to change the future we have to change the form in which future generations think. Therefore I love to work with children and I enjoy participating in the development of these young minds.
SRD: If you compare how the movie industry was when you did "Real Women Have Curves" with the present time, do you feel that you have helped to change the future of Hollywood?
America: I do not believe that I can say that. As I said before, I am at the right place at the right time. Fifteen years ago, this career probably had not been possible for a young Latin American actress, therefore I feel very fortunate.