A genuine antidote to Hollywood's size zero culture, Ugly Betty's America Ferrera is the reluctant role model
Off-screen, without her character’s trademark bushy mane, oversized specs and caterpillar eyebrows, America Ferrera looks like a petite twentysomething dressed for the gym (T-shirt, black tracksuit bottoms and New Balance trainers). OK, so she’s also sporting a Fendi bag, and there is a personal trainer awaiting her arrival.
But she’s not interested in being a size-zero Hollywood lollipop. ‘I was never told to lose 50lb [over three stone],’ she has said. ‘I think it’s hilarious when people call Jessica Alba or Eva Longoria curvy. Come on! They’re not curvy – I’m curvy,’ she laughs.
Blessed with a strong sense of herself, Ferrera is in no danger of becoming the next young Hollywood bad girl. ‘I’ve never been to rehab,’ she smiles. ‘[Work] keeps me away from the Hyde Lounge (LA’s starlet hotspot).’
‘People think LA is a little society club where everyone meets,’ she laughs. ‘You know, Angie is talking to Madonna over iced tea, and Bono and Michael Jackson are golfing. I don’t want to work my way through every young, hot Hollywood actor – it’s not even realistic. I’d love to say I’m turning down proposals from Jake Gyllenhaal and everyone is dying to date me, but that’s not the way it goes, and I’m with someone who I love very much and I’m happy.’
The youngest of six children, America Georgine Ferrera was raised in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Her father left the family and returned to his native Honduras when America was seven. Her working mother, also Honduran, was the family’s sole supporter.
She has not seen her father since his departure. ‘It wasn’t easy, but as a kid you find ways to make sense of it. It wasn’t until I was older that I thought, “Damn, I never really grieved over that.”’
In addition to the love and support of her brother and four older sisters, Ferrera had the therapeutic release of acting. At 11, she joined the California Youth Theatre in Hollywood.
‘I would ride on three different buses by myself,’ Ferrera remembers. ‘I wasn’t afraid of very much at that age but, where I lived, no one rode the bus.
‘It helped me deal with life in a much more realistic way,’ she continues. ‘Very early on in my life, I was thinking, “Nobody cares who I am in this world. I could just be another kid who falls in the cracks, another pregnant teen or another druggie, and it’s not going to affect anyone but me.” I would sit on that bus and think, “That’s not going to be me. I’m going to do something with my life.”‘
This is an edited version of the full feature which appears in the December issue of Marie Claire, out now