Actress American Ferrera says everyone should be able to relate to her character, Betty Suarez, on the new ABC television show “Ugly Betty.” Betty, an assistant to the publisher of a prestigious fashion magazine, is a “fish-out-of-water” in the industry. Not only does she not look like the waifish models that are around her, her fashion sensibility would be considered questionable at best.

But that’s okay, says Ferrera, 22, who broke into the film industry with 2002’s “Real Women Have Curves.” For her, Betty is someone young women can learn something from. Ferrera says Betty is a female heroine that doesn’t have to rely on her looks to be noticed.

“[Betty] is a hero because she has more to offer than just her looks,” Ferrer told me during a phone call to promote the TV show. “This a wonderful message to send out to [young women]. I feel like too many young women get caught up in their lives chasing that one dream – to be as beautiful as possible. It’s such a waste of talent and life. It would be wonderful if they could learn that they can become heroes in society in a way that does not involve their appearance.”

Although Ferrer knew she would have to undergo a physical transformation to become Betty, the role was not one she worried would turn her into something she is not.

“There were really no hesitations (when accepting the role),” Ferrera said. “I understood what the role was. I know very well who I am on the outside. As an actor, it seemed like a wonderful, challenging opportunity to play something that was a lot different than who I was as a person. The physical transformation is what makes it exciting as an actor.”

After earning the role, Ferrer said she watched a few episodes of the original television show from Colombia (“Yo soy Betty, la fea” starring Ana Maria Orozco) to get an understanding of why it was received so warmly. The idea for “Ugly Betty” has also been remade in other countries, including
Germany, Russia, Spain and Mexico.

“Of course, on the outside, [Betty] doesn’t fit in,” Ferrera said. “But ultimately… she represents the best part of what a person can be. She’s pure and honest.”

Despite the show premiering in other countries over the last few years, Ferrera says she wants to give this rendition a style all its own.

“I definitely wanted to make sure that the American adaptation is tailored to the American sensibilities of television,” she said.

The show, she admits, is the most difficult project she has worked on in her five year career. She, however, looks forward to watching it grow into something that will be around for a long time.

“I’m working harder than I ever thought I would in my life,” Ferrera said. “Movies are a little bit of a sprint. But on a television series, you are working all year long, except for a short hiatus.

“The hours are long and the days are really packed. You want to get some sleep, but you also hope the show never ends. At the end of the day when I am so tired I can tell myself that I am working on something that I love.”

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