God bless America — Ferrera, that is. Last week, the Golden Globe winner had barely wrapped the season finale of ABC’s Ugly Betty in California before jumping on a plane to New York City. Her mission? To promote Towards Darkness at the sixth annual Tribeca Film Festival. ”I just came at the tail end [of the festival],” she told EW, apologetically. Directed by newcomer José Antonio Negret and executive-produced by Ferrera, Darkness is the feature-film version of a short the two made in 2004 while students at USC. It’s a gritty, Spanish-language drama about kidnapping in Colombia and it stars Ferrera as a nice girl from Bogotá who falls in with some bad, bad folks. A few minutes before getting dolled up for a gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ferrera called us up.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How was your Tribeca experience?
AMERICA FERRERA: It was great. The audience was wonderful — a very different kind of audience than what I’m used to at festivals. It wasn’t just industry, it wasn’t just a room full of agents and buyers and acquisitions people, but residents of the city taking part in a festival of film. It felt more open to the public. It was exciting.
Was it even more so for you since this is the first feature you’ve executive-produced?
Yeah, it was. I was part of the short film [Darkness Minus Twelve] that Antonio, the director, did when he was a film student at USC. He was interested in developing it into a feature and asked if I would be interested. I got to [work on] expanding my character, and I also had a little to do with bringing some of the cast members in.
Like your Ugly Betty dad Tony Plano, who plays the father of a kidnapping victim? Did you hook him up?
No, actually, I had nothing to do with that. Antonio was already talking to Tony about it before we did the Ugly Betty pilot. That was just a coincidence. [Laughs]
You flew in for the final screening of Darkness. Did you have time to catch up with everyone from the film?
Yeah, we went out to a little cast dinner after the screening. There was a group of people sitting at the table next to us and they bought us drinks just to say that they loved the movie and they wanted to celebrate [with us]. That was really nice to know that people connected to it and enjoyed it.
You act entirely in Spanish in this movie, which is a first for you, right?
Yes, absolutely. It was nerve-wracking! I was nervous on set, but I practiced with a dialogue coach and after a while, I just had to find that character in my head versus in a specific language. It was hard but I’m glad that I did it, and I hope to find other roles in Spanish.
Did you grow up speaking Spanish at home with your parents?
No. My parents were both Spanish-speakers and they used to speak to me and my siblings in Spanish and we’d answer them in English. So I understand Spanish and I can speak it, but not fluently.
Well, to this gringa’s ears, you sounded pretty great.
Oh, good! [Laughs] Yeah, I knew that I could fool people who didn’t speak Spanish, but a Spanish-speaking audience, I’m afraid they might know. There was a big part of the [Tribeca] audience that was Latin, but nobody mentioned anything. I don’t know, maybe they were being nice. [Laughs]
For people who know you from Betty, this is such a different type of role because the movie’s so bleak. Was it gratifying to exercise different muscles for this part?
I shot this after the Ugly Betty pilot, so it was definitely a switch of characters. I love playing Betty, but it’s refreshing to try something different, to be able to go to different places in my head.
What’s next for you?
This summer I’m filming the sequel to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And then it’s right back to season two of Betty.
Your career has really taken off this year. Are you having a good time?
Yeah. I really enjoy the work, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. I’ve been kind of locked up in two sound stages for the last ten months, so I haven’t really gotten a feel for what impact Ugly Betty has had. But I’m in New York City right now and just walking around, I get recognized and people everywhere are like, ”You’re Ugly Betty! You’re Ugly Betty!” For the first time since the show began I’m realizing that people are actually watching it.
The Golden Globe win didn’t do that for you?
No, not really because I just went back to work. I mean, that was great. They say 15 million people are watching the show, but what does that mean, you know? It’s not until I’m accosted on the street that I understand!