Slip on your poncho and clean those braces because after six years, Ugly Betty is back! At the ATX Television Festival’s main event Saturday night in Austin, Texas, the show’s cast and its creator, Silvio Horta, gathered at the Paramount Theater for the Entertainment Weekly-sponsored reunion.
Almost everyone from the Betty universe was in attendance — America Ferrera (Betty), Vanessa Williams (Wilhelmina), Eric Mabius (Daniel), Michael Urie (Marc), Tony Plana (Ignacio), Ana Ortiz (Hilda), Mark Indelicato (Justin), Rebecca Romijn (Alexis), Ashley Jensen (Christina), and Judith Light (Amanda) — with the notable exception of Becki Newton (Amanda), who tweeted the reason for her absence: pneumonia.
For those who are unable to make it to ATX, we’ve got your front row seat right here as EW reporters Natalie Abrams and Marc Snetiker live blog the event.
7:26 p.m.: An absolutely packed house has entered the Paramount Theater here in Austin. Ugly Betty theme music is playing in the background and is significantly jazzier than memory serves.
7:39 p.m.: The Ugly Betty cast files down the wings to applause from the audience. Vanessa Williams is recording the crowd with her phone. The panel is about to begin…
7:49 p.m.: ATX executive directors Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland reveal that the Ugly Betty reunion only took two weeks to plan. The cast actually responded within 24 hours that they all wanted to attend.
7:51 p.m.: Moderator Jessica Shaw of Entertainment Weekly takes the stage wearing Betty’s famous poncho before introducing the cast, who enter through a Mode-style circular hallway.
7:54 p.m.: Since Newton was unable to attend, Shaw leads everyone in a live get well soon card, with everyone chanting, “Feel better, Becki!”
7:56 p.m.: Silvio Horta on pitching the show, which was based on a Columbian telenovela: “I came up with the brilliant idea of making Betty an FBI agent,” he said. “I was met with just crickets. Silence.”
7:57 p.m.: Ferrera was approached for the show after running into executive producer Salma Hayek. “I hadn’t heard anything about the show and she ran up to me and said, ‘You are my Ugly Betty,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means, but I will do whatever!’ And then she pitched me the show.”
7:59 p.m.: Ana Ortiz says she actually auditioned for Betty, “but every Latin actress in Los Angeles and New York I think did.”
8:00 p.m.: Michael Urie says his character was supposed to be replaced every episode, with Wilhelmina set to have a new “assistant every week because either they quit or were fired or murdered,” he said. But Horta corrected him: “This is a myth, but there’s a truth to it: They only ever give us a certain amount of money in a budget, so the way to sneak people in that aren’t supposed to be regulars is to make them a guest star. So we said, he’ll be a guest star!” “I have been telling that story wrong for 10 years!” Urie responded.
8:02 p.m.: Vanessa Williams on working with Michael Urie: “From the pilot, he started to mimic my movements. When we walk into the conference room, and I walk in with a flourish and I go in and slink into the chair and Michael slinked into the chair exactly the same way, we knew we had something there.”
8:04 p.m.: Judith Light joked about working on Hot Flash Magazine: “That was one of the greatest things that was identical to what I was going through personally.” As for joining the show, she previously starred in one of Horta’s pilots called Sold, which did not get sold. “But Silvio said to me, ‘I promise you that I will find something else for you, and [he’s a] man of his word.”
8:05 p.m.: Horta on his inspiration for the show: “I was just driven by, you write what you know. I grew up with a single mom and a sister, whose name is also Hilda. And I wrote a lot of myself in Justin’s character, so yeah, it was less about… a deliberate ‘I’m going to write something that’s different for TV,’ but ‘I want to write about my own life and experiences.'”
8:08 p.m.: Ana Ortiz and America Ferrera keep whispering to each other and giggling between answering questions.
8:10 p.m.: Tony Plana shared his own story of joining Ugly Betty, which brought tears to America’s eyes during the panel. “I felt so honored because I knew about the Latino show, the Spanish show, and reading the script, I felt a lot of responsibility for this character to do it right, and also I was challenged by the fact that it was both comedy and drama. It was very fulfilling that way for that reason… I still have that speech that I give to my two girls on my demo reel because I loved that speech in the kitchen when I tell you what happened with mom, etc. and again, it was just [that] we put a face on immigration in a way that no one had done before.”
8:10 p.m.: Mark Indelicato said the best part about playing Justin was that he was going through the same process as the character at the same time. “I was kind of discovering myself and my sexual orientation at the same time that he was, so we really helped each other and guided each other along that road the entire way,” he said.
8:12 p.m.: Ana Ortiz and America Ferrera take pride in themselves in raising Indelicato. “Did we do a good job?” Ortiz said, sharing a story about how he first discovered Justin was gay. “It was the first day the four of us were all together and we had gone out to lunch in Queens. America was 21, and she’s was like, ‘You guys, this is so fun, you look like my family! Ana, I just feel like your younger sister! And Mark, you’re like my gay nephew!’ And he just stops in his tracks and said, ‘Justin’s gay!?'”
8:15 p.m.: “We were trying to figure out how to delicately deal with this, because we felt like you were going through that same process as the character, so for me, there was an ethical dilemma,” Horta said to Indelicato. “I didn’t want to push you to a place that you weren’t ready to go. It always felt like you handled everything in an incredibly adult way.”
8:18 p.m.: Michael Urie praised the relationship between Justin and Marc. “They didn’t shy away from that dynamic, which hadn’t really been on TV before and they let it grow for four years,” Urie said. “They would have interactions peppered throughout the entire series. It started early and continued often, putting those two characters together.”
8:19 p.m.: Rebecca Romijn said she was immediately interested in portraying a transgender character on the show. “I didn’t hesitate for a second,” she said. “I thought it sounded amazing. Yeah, it hadn’t been done before. It was a no-brainer. I played her as a woman, and sort of paved the way for people like Candis Cayne and Laverne Cox and here we are today.” Horta said he had the idea very early on, though he “was probably more hesitant about pitching it to” the network, but having Romijn in the role really brought it together.
8:22 p.m.: The cast shared their favorite outfits: Tony Plana joked his was a thrift shop sweater. “Ignacio got the short shrift on that,” admitted Horta. “I always thought it was funny that the Suarez family was not meant to have money, but Justin went through season 3 exclusively in Mark Jacobs sweaters,” Indelicato said. Ferrera recalls finding Betty in the wardrobe room before the pilot and that they went through different iterations of outfits. “I tried on like 200 pairs of glasses on the table,” she said.
8:25 p.m.: Eric Mabius’ closet is full of his old Ugly Betty wardrobe. “They put everything up for sale after the show was cancelled and I bought all my suits at like one-tenth the cost,” he said.
8:28 p.m.: Vanessa Williams said she was given a vintage style for Wilhelmina, with “one-of-a-kind suits that had cut-outs and broad shoulders that really gave Wilhelmina a really distinct style — which is now knocked off 10 years later.”
8:30 p.m.: Ashley Jensen on using British slang on the show: “There was something written and it was like, ‘Bollocks wanker!’ and I was like, ‘We don’t say that!’ But you guys bought it, so I was like, ‘I’m going to embrace it!’ ‘Wanker!'”
8:33 p.m.: Horta praised the writers room, remembering that they would just laugh the day away. “Then we’d realize, ‘Oh Jesus, we have to turn this script in in two days!'” Some writers came from the world of drama, while others worked on sitcoms like Will and Grace, which helped provide some of the great zingers on the show. “It wasn’t a drama, it wasn’t a comedy, it was a dramedy, and where it best functioned was where we really kept that line balanced very well,” Horta said.
8:35 p.m.: Vanessa Williams recalled one of the funniest scenes she was involved in, which took place during the first season when Marc and Wilhelmina got caught in Queens. “She is completely rude to the taxi driver and he kicks us out and we have no money. We see some street walkers, or ladies of the night, standing in the corner and I’m wearing a white fur and we’re all dressed up,” Williams said. “One of my favorite lines was, ‘Stop pawing my piece.'”
8:39 p.m.: Michael Urie was most proud of his character coming out to his mother, played by Patti LuPone, during season 1. While Betty is pretending to be Marc’s girlfriend, “Justin runs by and says, ‘There’s a Golden Girls marathon on!’ and my mom says, “That boy, he’s just so swishy.’ That’s the tipping point. And I say, ‘Mom, open your eyes, and look at your own swishy son.’ I got a Myspace message from someone who said, ‘I was watching that episode with my mom and at the end of it, she said, “I hope that if I had a swishy son, he wouldn’t be afraid to say so.”‘ And we all got messages like that. The show really touched people and really spoke to truths. They never took the easy way out.”
8:40 p.m.: A story that really stayed with Ferrera was when Betty and Marc were both vying for the same position at the young editors’ training initiative. “They’re competing and they hate each other,” Ferrera said, reminding fans that Betty won. “Marc says something like, ‘Yeah, well, of course. You’re the Latina. You’re exactly what they were looking for.’ He cuts her down that she got the job because she was Latina. And it was one of the first times that Marc said something that actually hurt Betty.” That comment, Ferrera said, really stuck with her because it cut Betty down and made her feel so small.
8:44 p.m.: The cast is impressed with each other’s episodes. Urie cites Ortiz’s episode where Hilda imagines her husband is still alive. Ortiz remembers Indelicato’s episode where Justin is humiliated at prom. “That was beautiful work,” she said.
8:46 p.m.: It wasn’t always the plan to wipe the word “Ugly” from the title card in the finale. “I didn’t know what the ending was going to be when I started,” Horta said. “Most who say they know how the series is going to end, they’re lying. It was an organic thing. By the time that we did ‘the makeover’ episode, it was almost so beside the point. The point is, what does a person think when they hear those words? The reality is, look beyond this — the title, the name — so at the end the word fades because it never really should have been there.”
8:49 p.m.: Initially ABC wanted to call the show Betty the Ugly, much like Alexander the Great, joked Horta. Rumor has it — and Tony Plana confirmed it — that the show was on Fridays and America Ferrera walked up to the ABC network chief and said, “If you like us so much, why not put us on Thursdays?” “It sounds like something I would do,” Ferrera said.
8:51 p.m.: Williams said the cast bonded a lot over the years over catered meals or themed dinners, and they’d watch the episode together before it came out. “It was like a theater company,” Judith Light said. “Everybody was there, part of this ensemble, invested in everybody else’s story, what the story was going to lead to, and where you might fit.”
8:52 p.m.: Horta said one of their big regrets is they never got a chance to do a musical episode. “We started having the conversations,” he said. “I know there was a money budgetary thing, which was always a factor. We moved to New York and that was a big deal and then by that point in the following year, we just never got to do the musical episode.”
8:55 p.m.: The cast shared their favorite guest-stars, including Lucy Liu, Adriana Lima, Salma Hayek, Lindsay Lohan, and Adele. “We made Adele famous,” Ferrera joked. “You’re welcome, Adele. You still haven’t returned my e-mail, by the way.”
8:56 p.m.: Did Betty and Daniel ever end up together? “It was about a different kind of love, and it wasn’t about this ugly girl, quote unquote, looking for some guy to say she was good enough,” Ferrera said. “If anything, Betty showed him that he was good enough. I always thought of that last scene as Daniel coming back to say thank you, because…” and then Ferrera had a realization. “You didn’t say bye to me when I left! You didn’t say bye to me! And you were mad at me for going to get a better job. Why were you so mad at me!?” Mabius added: “Because things were just starting.”
8:58 p.m.: Considering last year’s big Saturday night event was Gilmore Girls and they will soon be reunited on Netflix, is there an Ugly Betty revival in the works? “Hulu’s going to pick us up for a two-hour special, so we’re going to find out [what happened],” Ferrera said. “That’s not true, but if you tweet it. Everybody here take out your phone. Hashtag: Betty Reboot. We need a hashtag and tweet it out and then we’re going to get Hulu to buy at two-hour special.” The hashtag, for the record, is now #HuluBringBackUglyBetty.
9:00 p.m.: Where are the characters now?
Michael Urie: “Exact same spot.”
Vanessa Williams: “I think we’d be at Mode UK. We’d cross the pond and take shit over there.”
Rebecca Romijn: “Getting released from prison.”
Judith Light: “Back in the sanitarium.”
Ashley Jensen: “I think I’ve got a 10-year-old child, haven’t I? Hell, [Betty is] probably living with me!”
Eric Mabius: “I think he asks Alexis to take over the magazine and maybe heads off into something meaningful… philanthropy?”
America Ferrera: “I have thought about this. So, fade in: I think that it’s been six years, maybe seven, depending on how long when Hulu wants to premiere this. I think that Betty has been in London for six years and now she’s coming home.”
Ana Ortiz: “I think Hilda probably had another baby with Bobby and since they were moving to Manhattan, she either opened her salon, probably uptown, or maybe she started her own skin care line.”
Mark Indelicato: “Maybe Justin is finishing fashion school.”
Tony Plana: “I am cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry for my family.”
9:05 p.m.: Silvio Horta is game for a revival: “Here’s the only thing I know for sure: If we were to do something, it would be a dream, but everybody on this stage would have to be involved, and Becki Newton,” he said, to which Ferrera added: “I mean, it took 20 minutes for everyone to say yes to my email to be at ATX!”
9:06 p.m.: Ferrera on why it seems to be so hard to have Hispanic families on TV: “As we heard Silvio say earlier, he wasn’t trying to break boundaries. He was writing what he knew. I think a big part of seeing ourselves onscreen is getting people, more diverse experiences and voices, in the writers’ room, and creating and telling these stories. It’s also not always the most authentic experience to have a room full of non-minority people writing the minority experience.”
9:08 p.m.: Ferrera revealed she took the poncho and glasses as keepsakes. “I think I stomped on the braces,” she said. Has she ever tried them on at home? “That’s for me to know,” she joked.
9:10 p.m.: If the cast could play any other character, who would it be?
Tony Plana: “I think I would have liked to play Judith Light’s character.”
Judith Light: “And I would do the laundry.”
Mark Indelicato: “Amanda.”
Ana Ortiz: “I think a toss-up between Amanda and Wilhelmina.”
Ashley Jensen: “I would be Hilda.”
Michael Urie: “I would be Hilda.”
Ashley Jensen: “Except I would do the worst Latina accent in the world and they’d laugh at me.”
Eric Mabius: “I would be Marc.”
Rebecca Romijn: “I’d go with Marc or Amanda.”
Vanessa Williams: “I like Hilda too.”
9:12 p.m.: Michael Urie said the dynamic between Marc and Amanda was very organic on and off-screen. “That was one of those chicken and the egg things,” Urie said. “Our friendship kind of came from the characters and the characters kind of came from our friendship. We sort of just glommed on to each other and we’re still really close. If you couldn’t tell, we’re all still really close. And the strangest thing to me about this is that it doesn’t feel like any time has passed at all.”
9:14 p.m.: Judith Light on the show’s message to young women: “Their beauty comes from someplace else that has absolutely nothing to do with how they look or the way that culture tells them how to look.”
9:16 p.m.: Eric Mabius wished the show got to explore more of Daniel’s life after he became the man he did in the finale. “Not to sound cliché, but there was something about the upbringing that Daniel had and such a dysfunctional family,” Mabius said. “I felt like the ending, for me, was for Daniel, the beginning, really, because he really saw Betty as an equal through and through, I believe for the first time, where ‘Let’s see what happens’ was the promise of the ending. It was a new beginning. He learned how to not only access his feelings, because he couldn’t with that father that he had, but also, Betty taught him how to love unconditionally.” Just like when Betty walked away, Mabius said, “The possibilities are limitless.”
9:20 p.m.: Rebecca Romijn and Eric Mabius said the strained relationship between the Meade siblings, particularly the gag of fighting over chairs, was fun for them, but also emotionally challenging. “It was the estrangement and the betrayal that Daniel felt really, because he had to mourn the death of his brother and also at the same time, process the fact that he’s not a he anymore, and the whole world turning upside down,” Mabius said. “So as we got to know one another as actors, I felt like the characters were unfolding as Silvio and the other writers were creating that.” Romijn added: “I actually went back into brother mode with you sometimes. I loved getting in your face sometimes and still being your big brother. ‘Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!'”
9:25 p.m.: Ferrera revealed that when the show ended, she went through a deep depression. “It was like losing a family!” she said. “Actually, I know a couple of you went through depressions. Honestly, I think a part of why, when we all get together, we start crying — which we did, you can see it on GMA on Thursday, we cried. Why we cried is because there’s always a little piece of me — I’ll speak for myself — that still doesn’t want to let this go.”
9:27 p.m.: “It felt like a plane crash,” Tony Plana concurred about the end of the series. “The whole thing crashed and I lost these people.” What was more heartbreaking, the cast joked, was the fact that in the final days of shooting, Ortiz and Indelicato “just started stealing everything from the house!” Ferrera said to big laughs.
9:30 p.m.: A fan tells Vanessa Williams that she’s her childhood idol, to which the actress comes to the edge of the stage to hug her, with the fan tearing up over the gesture.
9:31 p.m.: Horta said it was tough when the show moved to New York, especially leaving the L.A. crew behind, Ortiz noted. But the move had some positives: “We gained back New York City as a background,” Ferrera said.
9:34 p.m.: With one last #HuluBringBackUglyBetty from Ferrera, the cast gets a standing ovation from the crowd to close out the night.
Watch the full cast reunion panel below:
Entertainment Weekly is on the scene at ATX in Austin, Texas. Go inside the TV festival with all our coverage, available here.