America Ferrera has been making a name for herself since the 2002 hit Real Women Have Curves. The star’s career took off with a slew of feature-length hits followed by the successful run of the Ferrera-led sitcom, Ugly Betty. Getting the job hasn’t always been easy. Ferrera recalled one audition where the casting director requested something problematic.
A look at America Ferrera’s childhood
As the youngest child of six, Ferrera knows how to navigate the competitive world of Hollywood. Born in Los Angeles, California, her parents came to the United States in the 1970s from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Though her parents divorced — and her father moved back to Honduras — the Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Award winner knew she wanted to act from an early age.
Ferrera participated in school plays and community theater but remained dedicated to getting a higher education, as her parents insisted. Ferrera continued pursuing her dream of acting but stayed in school, taking odd jobs to help pay for acting lessons.
The star attended the University of Southern California on a presidential scholarship where she doubled in International Relations and Theatre. She dropped out but later returned to finish what she started.
Even with all of that on her plate, Ferrera eventually graduated. She went on to create more art, such as follow-ups to the hugely successful How to Train Your Dragon franchise, as well as NBC’s hit comedy, Superstore. Still, there’s one audition that sticks with the actor even now.
Ferrera recalls her cringeworthy first audition
The 2020 Emmys had a variety of interesting moments. From the socially-distanced speeches to the at-home glam, it was definitely one for the books. One emotional segment, “This Is What I Sound Like,” showed Ferrera talking about her first audition at the age of 16 — one that took an uncomfortable turn.
“I was this little, brown, chubby valley girl who spoke, you know, like, a valley girl,” she said via Entertainment Tonight. “I walked in, did my audition. The casting director looked at me and she was like, ‘That’s great. Can you do that again, but this time sound more Latina?'”
“‘Um, so, like, do you want me to do this in Spanish?'” Ferrera replied. “She was like, ‘No, no, no, do it in English. But just, you know, like, sound more Latina.’ I am a Latina. And this is what I sound like. And she looked at me and was like, ‘OK, sweetie, thank you. Bye.'”
Though the experience left the star confused, she said her family wasn’t.
“I told my family, and they said, ‘They wanted you to speak in broken English. They wanted you to sound like a chola. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to have you starring in the next role meant for Julia Roberts?'”
“Yeah, that is what I thought,” Ferrera said at the time.
The moment could’ve been off-putting; enough to pull Ferrera from the craft and into something else. Instead, she used it as a learning tool for herself, and others like her.
“That has fueled me to create more opportunity for little brown girls to fulfill their talent and their dream,” she said.
Ferrera carried those feelings of inadequacy throughout her career
In May 2020, Ferrera spoke with Dax Shepherd on his podcast, Armchair Expert. During the interview, Ferrera revealed she didn’t enjoy her Emmy win for Ugly Betty and the root issue likely stems from that first audition.
“When I won the Emmy, I can’t bring myself to go back and watch that because the only thing I remember about being on that stage, accepting that Emmy, was the feeling that no one in the room thought I deserved it,” she said. “And that’s a shame.”
“‘She doesn’t really deserve that,'” Ferrera imagined her peers saying about her. “‘What is she really doing in that role? That role is not interesting enough, it’s not dark enough, it’s not edgy enough.’ Like, you know, all of the bulls**t of like, ‘Oh, she got it is because it’s a good story, not because she deserves it.'”
She continued: “There were people in my life perpetuating those narratives and making me feel like I hadn’t earned this moment,” she said. “When I look back at that time, my heart aches for that 22-year-old girl, who didn’t get to really enjoy those moments.”
She’s come a long way since that first audition, and the Ugly Betty Emmy win. The happily married, mother of two is ending her hot streak on Superstore to pursue other projects, where she’ll keep creating “more opportunity for little brown girls to fulfill their talent and their dream.”