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America Ferrera: Insights Into Race, Religion, & Career

Our Family Wedding explores the havoc reeked when the African-American and Hispanic cultures clash, instigated by the stereotypical macho dads played by Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia. With predictable racial clichés flying across the screen, America Ferrera, who has received multiple awards for her portrayal as Ugly Betty, renders a centered, believable performance as the bride-to-be, Lucia Ramirez.

Mirror: Growing up did you experience any of the racial tensions depicted in the film?

Ferrera: I went to El Camino Real public school where a lot of kids were bussed in from all areas of Los Angeles so we had a very diverse student body. I grew up with friends from every background and whether they were Filipino or Black, or Italian or Greek or Arabic, whenever I spent time in their homes, it felt like my home. Despite the different languages or food or music, the way the traditional family values were incorporated into their lives, were very similar to my family. So I grew up not understanding racism and actually feel uncomfortable in homogenous groups because I don’t really know how to relate to that.

Mirror: What about the culture clash in this film?

Ferrera: There is a culture clash but I think the more important, deeper clash is generational and how the parents’ generation, who taught their kids to be color blind, has not really embodied that. I’m not saying that everyone in my generation is without prejudice because that’s just not true, but the people I know who are my age move in and out of cultural experiences and are in multi-racial relationships. The kind of racism depicted in the film is just not part of our language and the idea of such exclusivity is very foreign to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up on one of the coasts and not in the middle of the country.

Mirror: What about ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles?

Ferrera: We do have minority groups living side by side such as Korea Town, Chinatown, Little Armenia, East L.A., and Compton. You have all these minorities sectioning off but although they’re having similar experiences, there’s little engagement between them. I think that’s an incredibly interesting phenomenon.

Mirror: What attracted you to the script?

Ferrera: I was attracted to this character and the conversations I had with Rick (Famuyiwa) our director about making her a woman of her generation. We see wedding movies all the time and often the women are obsessed with this one day that means everything to them.

Mirror: Do you feel the same way?

Ferrera: I’ve never been the type of person who dreams about what my dress is going to look like and I have tons of friends who feel the same way. I’d be fine just getting married at City Hall with my family and then getting on with my life.

Mirror: What’s the farthest you’ve travelled for a wedding?

Ferrera: I like destination weddings. A friend of mine got married in Puerto Rico. I travelled 26 hours to get to get there and made it through the ceremony and dinner and then passed out for the party.

Mirror: Why does it take your character so long to assert herself in the face of all the conflict going on between the families?

Ferrera: With all the confidence and strength and knowing what she wants, it’s almost a universal truth that you can be a grown up, intelligent woman but when you get around your family, you revert to being a 15-year old. I’ve watched 40 or 50 year olds act the same way. Family structures are so strong, that it’s hard to redefine yourself. I was interested in Lucia’s journey in finding the courage to be the woman that she was becoming within the family structure.

Mirror: Could you identify with the character’s withholding important information about her education change of plans?

Ferrera: I personally was never secretive about anything. I was always wide open and Lucia’s inability to be truthful with her parents is precisely the conflict that comes between her and Marcus (Lance Gross) who wonders where is the woman with whom he’s in love; the strong, confident woman who knows what she wants. All of sudden, nothing is more important than being daddy’s little girl and pleasing him.

Mirror: Did you have any input with regard to some of the Hispanic customs depicted in the film?

Ferrera: I certainly have Latin influences in my household, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. I didn’t know about goats being slain at weddings and couldn’t believe it was actually a custom. You know, I went to 50 Bar Mitzvahs and consider myself more of an expert on Bar Mitzvahs. (laughter)

Mirror: How did shooting work into your schedule with Ugly Betty?

Ferrera: Last summer I wrapped at 2 a.m. and was on a 6 a.m. flight to a wardrobe fitting for The Dry Land, a film that I executive produced and starred in and worked on that film for four weeks. Three days after I wrapped, I was filming this movie. After that, I was back on Ugly Betty for season four. So, that’s what my schedule has been like.

Mirror: This is the last season for Ugly Betty. How did this series change your life and do you have another film or series coming up?

Ferrera: Right now I’m having trouble seeing my life past March 26th.

I grew up on that show and only know myself as an adult in this job.

You go through a lot of changes between the ages of 21 and 26 in learning about yourself and I’m so grateful and thankful for this opportunity. I love the show, I love the cast and I love my character and I’m grateful that I was able to see her through her journey and that we can wrap it up in a way that is satisfying versus ‘oh, that was your last episode.’ Even on days when I was totally exhausted, where I didn’t think I had any more to give, coming from a place of pure love and true passion about my character, my body just automatically kicked and I was able to deliver. Ending the series is bittersweet and will always hold some amazing memories for me.

Mirror: I suppose you can’t tell us about your final episode.

Ferrera: Of course I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. (laughter) But I will say that we are very happy with how it’s going to end.

Mirror: Do you think the network was wrong in cancelling Ugly Betty?

Ferrera: We have a devoted and loving audience and I think they will miss us, but I’m not a network executive and it’s not my place to say it’s right or wrong.

Mirror: How did you enjoying doing the voiceover for How To Train Your Dragon?

Ferrera: It’s hard because it’s a different way of performing. You could think you’re emoting but when they play it back, I think ‘Oh God!’ Usually you can use your face and gestures but nothing translates except your voice and so it’s using a different muscle.

Mirror: Who’s your character?

Ferrera: I play Astrid who is the kick-ass Viking. She’s a very tall blue-eyed blond with a killer body. (laughter)

Mirror: We’re looking forward to the final episode of Ugly Betty.

Ferrera: I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.



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