Image Credit: Francois Durand/Getty ImagesLast week, PBS revealed that Ugly Betty star America Ferrera would take over hosting duties for the upcoming ninth season of their documentary series Independent Lens, which premieres Oct. 19. It’s certainly an interesting choice, considering her success with mass-appeal projects like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Betty, but it makes sense for the star, considering her love for documentaries. Lately, she’s been traveling the world promoting the documentary The Dry Land — about soldiers back from tours in Iraq who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — that she produced alongside her fiancé Ryan Piers Williams. EW took a few minutes of Ferrera’s time to chat about why she wanted to host Independent Lens, her upcoming nuptials, and what the likelihood is for Ugly Betty movie in the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hosting PBS’ documentary series Independent Lens is an interesting step to take in your career. What made you want to do it, or how did it come together?
AMERICA FERRERA: They approached me about hosting it a couple of months ago, and I just loved the whole concept. I have been a part of many independent projects, and I feel kinship with independent filmmakers, and I love documentaries. I feel that this is a really wonderful thing, that PBS is making documentaries that most people would probably never have a chance to see in a regular theater — in a lot of towns in the country there aren’t independent theaters. I think it’s really awesome that someone can turn on their television and watch a documentary that they probably would never have had access to otherwise, and they’re all really wonderful, unique, interesting, quirky, and some really powerful stories that just help give a bigger perspective of all the different stories in our world. I was honored to be asked to join the really great people that they’ve had hosting in the past, like Susan Sarandon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Terrence Howard.
Yeah, you’re following in the footsteps of Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Edie Falco, and more — what an honor.
Lending your name may get more people to tune in — great added benefit, right?
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that, but that would be wonderful if it made people more interested.
Have you watched all 26 of the documentaries yet? That’s more than a weekend activity.
No! But I’ve gotten to see a lot of them, and I just love them. I’m out promoting an independent film I executive produced now, The Dry Land, and people in those smaller towns ask, “How can I see it? Where can I see it?” Most of the time, the only option is get it on DVD — if it even comes out on DVD. For some of these documentaries — and these filmmakers who have poured so much of their life and time and passion into telling one story — it’s so wonderful that they’ll be able to reach such a huge audience at the same time on television.
Are you thinking of focusing on documentaries exclusively in the future?
I’m always on the lookout. I’m always looking for something that makes me passionate enough to dedicate that much time to. It’s a huge commitment! But I am always on the lookout for what that might mean, if there was a story that I felt that I really wanted to tell in a documentary fashion.
You’re so passionate about this!
When I’ve learned that a filmmaker can sit down with literally hundreds of hours of footage and try to cut that down to two hours or an hour-and-a-half to tell a story, that’s just a tremendous amount of work. But I think that documentaries are so powerful because they have the ability to educate and entertain at the same time, and I think that people who are willing to sit down and watch documentaries, it’s less than watching a narrative or a film, which mostly has an element of escape. When you sit down to watch documentary, you kind of come to it with an open mind that you want to learn more about whatever it is that it’s about, whether that’s about dolphins like in The Cove, or the way our food is produced like in Food Inc. Whatever it is, it’s about curiosity and wanting to know more about the different ways that people live in this world.
It sounds like you could talk about them all day. I’m sure you loved all the Independent Lens documentaries, but are there any that you want to make people aware of?
Yeah, there are two, actually, that I want to share. One is probably one that people are going to know a little bit more about — it’s probably the most recognizable one in the 26. It’s called Bhutto, and it’s about the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. It follows her life, and I find her to be incredibly fascinating. And then another one, Marwencol, which I had no idea what it was going to be about when I sat down to watch it. But it’s about a man who created a whole replica of a World War II town in his front yard, and he goes through this terrible accident and he winds up in a coma. After the attack, he basically created his own form of therapy, and his therapy was to create this small town and live a double life. I’m not describing it well, and everyone reading this will be just as confused as I was when someone told me what it was about, but it was such a fascinating [film]. It’s just something that no one would ever know about, like these secret little lives and incidents that go on completely unnoticed. And when you’re watching it, you’re just thinking, Gosh, I’m so glad that someone found out about this and told this story because otherwise no one would ever know that these kind of little worlds exist inside one big world.
Do you have other projects in the works?
There are things that I’m working on as a producer that are coming up that I’ll be a part of, but not in an acting role. But at the very moment, I’m about to go on vacation.
And you’re planning your wedding right now?
Thinking about it.
Congratulations, again. We’re headed into pilot season for the next TV season already. Any chance you’ll make a return to television? Fans would love it.
I’d never rule anything out. If you asked me five years ago if I thought I was going to spend four years of my life being on a television show, I probably would’ve never guessed that’s what my future held. I think I sort of realized that whenever I make plans, life sort of has a way of making you laugh at your own self, so I’m just staying open, and, for me, it’s about the next thing being as wonderful and incredible an experience and as dear to me as Betty was, and whether that’s a film or a TV show or a play, I don’t know. I’m just staying open to all of it.
Any news to report about a potential Ugly Betty movie?
No news on it! I think that the rumor is well and alive — it’s always a possibility I suppose! But I don’t know about any plans.
The media — like me! — love to talk about the possibility of it!
Yeah, you guys do!
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