2007 Paley Festival Recap: UGLY BETTY

america ferrera ugly betty

Not a hint of UGLY on America’s newest sweetheart America Ferrera, looking absolutely radiant in person at the 2007 Paley Festival.

“Ugly is the new pretty,” wrote the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, rightfully predicting that viewers and critics alike would fall in love with the charm and humanity of UGLY BETTY. Not surprisingly, the entire cast of UGLY BETTY were just as likable and charming as their on-screen personas. What follows is some of the highlights of theTVaddict’s final Paley Festival event of 2007.

UGLY BETTY came to America via Ben Silverman, then an agent at William Morris. “At the time, I was scanning the globe for different ideas and concepts for television show. An agent friend of mine called me up and told me about a telenovela that was taking Columbia by storm called YO SOY BETTY, LA FEA.” Continues Silverman, “My friend sent me an image of the Columbian actress that played Betty and the ratings information — I immediately said I’m beyond interested. It’s the perfect vehicle for television.”

What follows is the traditional pre-requisite for a Hollywood success story. Showrunner Silvio Horta was just about to give up on Hollywood having recently failed to get his comedy pilot off the ground and deciding to flee to Europe for a vacation. But not before grabbing a script that had been floating around ABC/Touchstone. “I said I’m done with TV, but before I left I took the UGLY BETTTY script. I was in Switzerland when Ben [Silverman] and Teri [Weinberg] called me up to talk about the show.”

His first idea for BETTY came as a surprise to the producers. Explains Horta, “I was on the phone with Ben and Teri and I said I’ve figured it out — I know exactly how to do this — Betty is an FBI agent!” Thankfully for fans everywhere (as much fun as it might have been to watch Betty go Sydney Bristow on Amanda) Horta’s first idea didn’t come to fruition. But luckily, an early idea did get pushed ahead. Bring on Salma Hayek as producer. Right away Salma knew who she wanted for her Betty. As star America Ferrera explains.

“I was in a hotel having dinner and I hear a voice in the distance, ‘America, you are my ugly girl!’ I turn around and it’s Salma Hayek, who I’ve only seen once or twice so I was still taken aback by how gorgeous she is in person. I was like, ‘Why am I your ugly girl?’ So she sat down, and told me about this character and this world and said, ‘I promise you it will be the best show, it will change television.’ For Salma, nothing can just be good, it has to change the world. I didn’t really have a choice. She was really just like you’re my ugly girl and I’ve been her ugly girl ever since.” Filling out the rest of the all-star ensemble wasn’t quite so easy, as the cast explains:

VANESSA WILLIAMS (Wilhelmina Slater)
In January my father had passed away. I had just come off a show called SOUTH BEACH (which wasn’t picked up) and I really didn’t care about acting. I went to Egypt with my family where I was going to read the script and do a conference call on the Nile. The conference call never worked out and I moved on. Back in New York, I was doing a benefit for Katie Couric with Tony Bennett and Sting. It’s 10PM, as I was about to do a sound check, my agent called and said that UGLY BETTY wanted me to start tomorrow. I said I can’t as I have a benefit. My agent said you’ll shoot a scene and get to the benefit. So the next day, I was in bed with a frenchman for my first scene and then sang with Tony Bennett. The pilot was phenomenal, it shot in New York, I said if this thing works out it will be fantastic. Of course they moved the show to LA, so now I’m commuting on the weekends because my kids are all in school in New York. I really debated whether I should do the show or not. But my oldest daughter who’s studying fashion at FIT got a chance to work on the pilot with Patricia Field (costume designer for SEX AND THE CITY) and was totally enamored with the pilot. So after I had the blessing of my kids, my ex-husband, and the help of my mom and nanny I was good to go. It takes a village.

america ferrera ugly betty

Michael Urie looking very stylish, having ‘borrowed’ clothes from his alter ego Marc signs autographs after the event.

MICHAEL URIE (Marc St. James)
Well I was doing a Supremes Number with Tony Bennett… actually I was doing an off-OFF-broadway musical about geology. This is actually true, playing a character also called Marc, but with a big beard. When I auditioned, they were like, can we see you without the beard… but what about my artistic integrity? Of course I shaved the beard. In the pilot I didn’t have much to do except stand over Vanessa’s shoulder. But luckily, she kept screaming ‘Marc, Marc” and I’d have to come over and they couldn’t cut around me.

becki newton ugly betty

Becki Newton poses with theTVaddict himself — and if you’re wondering why the photo is so ‘artsy’, well Becki took the photo herself (without being able to see the screen). Yes, Becki Newton touched my camera (it’s being cast in gold as we speak).

It was pilot season and the day of the UGLY BETTY audition I had two auditions earlier which I tanked. So much so that on the way to the UGLY BETTY audition I got a call from my manager who said, “Listen, I don’t know what you’re doing in the room, but you really should re-think it all.” So the scene in the audition was the one where Betty walks into Mode for the first time and Amanda says, “Are you the before?” And I was so mad at life, my manager, at Silvio that when I went into the audition, I was so annoyed it was perfect for Amanda. It was funny, the nature of the day really shaped my first audition and ever since, that’s what I’ve been doing… although I’m much happier these days

ASHLEY JENSEN (Christina McKinney)
Well I was doing this show called EXTRAS in Britain, when my agent in London fixed me up with an agent in America who said while I was vacationing in LA, I should go out for some pilots. In the first audition, I did what I thought was my best New York accent and they looked at me and said, why not try your own accent? So they changed the character from a straight talking New Yorker to a straight talking Scottish Woman and here I am.

ALAN DALE (Bradford Meade)
I went into one of the earlier auditions and I didn’t get the job. But I was told not to forget about it because the person who they were thinking of for the part might be too difficult. So I carried on going to auditions through pilot season when one Friday afternoon I got a call that whoever was cast was being too difficult and that I should fly to New York the next day.

rebecca romijn ugly betty

Rebecca Romijn poses with theTVaddict. Guess which one of us was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition?

I had been looking for a project following PEPPER DENNIS and I had fallen head over heals in love with UGLY BETTY from the get go. I really wanted a meeting with Silvio, Marco, ABC and the powers that be and I begged for a meeting. I came in wanting to be Betty’s best friend and someone who could help really help her. They said, okay, we have another idea. They pitched Alexis Meade and at first they said, Do you know the character of the masked woman? And being a fan of the show, I thought, yes, that’s the story-line I never pay attention to — get back to Betty and the interesting story. So they pitched Alexis and that’s what happened.

Eric Mabius (Daniel Meade)
I had a really good meeting with Silvio and Teri, I thought great show, good luck with it, but they didn’t get my sense of humour so I left and wished them luck. I was going to test for this show called HEROES… but my manager called and said they wanted me for the character of Daniel.

Christopher Gorham (Henry)
I came in late in the game, having completely missed pilot season because of a show I was doing (OUT OF PRACTICE), [small audience cheer] thank you to the twelve of you watched! I worked with Silvio before on a show called JAKE 2.0 (more audience cheers!) But those shows are dead to me! Silvio called and said I don’t know what you’re doing tomorrow but we have this part and it started out as a one episode thing, than a three episode thing and now its turned into more. It’s amazing to come in and be part of something that’s so great. I’m very humbled.

Unlike Mr. Chris [Gorham]… Mr Big Shot! I had to go through a couple of more auditions before I go to meet with America. But when I did finally meet America it was just great. I went through the whole audition process and got the pilot and didn’t get my hopes up or anything, and look where we are now.

Let me try to describe my career at the time. Vanessa was singing with Tony Bennett and Michael Urie was doing the geology musical that I didn’t get.

After some discussion with regards to the look of the set (a very iPod like feel) and the importance of costumes, the cast talked about what they loved about the show.

It’s like doing theatre, you get a chance to be broad, play the scenes in their entirety, and not worry about being realistic. Most of the things we do on television — be it a cop, lawyer, — you have to play small and realistic. With this cast everyone is on the same level, completely willing to take chances. It’s like doing theatre, which is really like flying.

Marc is so subtle…. 95% wardrobe! You put the pants on, the vest and that’s just how you have to walk. The writers get together and write this great dialogue and I’m done. The fact that I’m allowed to say the things that I get to say, and with the attitude… I mean hello!? [points to his co-stars Becki Newton and Vanessa Williams]. I get to spend the day with these ladies… Greatest Job Ever!

I think what’s great about Amanda, is in title — she’s a receptionist, but you never actually see her doing any work. I enjoy so much that Amanda is never working. In the beginning, Amanda was the stereotypical office (can I say?) B*tch. But then, within a few episodes, Amanda had this whole breakdown scene with Betty. It’s all the writing, they keep everyone surprised.

ashley jensen ugly betty

Ashley Jensen signs autographs for fans following the event.

We’re all so appreciative that we’re here and that we’re in this wonderful show. It’s a real joy just being amongst everyone. Nobody is dragging it down. But I don’t know how the crew are coping with it? We do not work these hours in Britain I’ll tell you. Here you have a chair with your name on it and everything! My character is straight talking, she cuts through the BS (as you American’s say). I also love how American’s cheer all the time. The table read is amazing. All you need to do is introduce your name and you get a cheer, I love it! [Audience Cheers!]

We don’t cheer that much in Australia either. I spent many years in Australia playing the nicest man in Australia and now I so love not having to play that role. I love being the guy you can’t trust and being the evil fellow is just great. [Audience Cheers Again!]

I love the tone of the show and the slightly cartoony vibe with a lot the characters. But I also like the fact that they’re all real human beings which brings it back down to earth. What’s interesting about my character [Alexis] is that she’s different, but still being true to herself. It’s sort of the theme of the show, being true to who you are and I love being apart of that.

Our read throughs are like summer camp. By the end of the episode, we’re all more surprised with where the show is going than the audience. I don’t think I’ve ever paid this compliment to Silvio, but by the end of the pilot there were things being done that I didn’t see on the page. The parallels he was drawing between Daniel and Betty. I was very impressed.

christopher gorham ugly betty

Christopher Gorham said it best, “Henry’s bringing Sexy Back to TV!”.

I like Henry and how he’s bringing Sexy Back! I love how sweet and quirky he is, but honestly the best thing about the show is working with this one [points to America] all the time.

It’s so strange for me because I get so excited for that script every week. I don’t feel like I’m Betty, that’s why it’s so easy for me. I’m so much more comfortable watching myself on screen as Betty then if it were me. I don’t like watching myself on a talk show because that’s me, but to be able to watch Betty, I feel like she’s such a different entity. When I’m Betty I feel like I’m the best version of myself. It makes it a lot easier for me to get into the character. The best thing about all the characters on the show is that nobody apologizes for how they act. Wilhelmina is evil and that’s it. Marc is who he is, Amanda is who she is. We don’t have to like eachother, she’s a b*tch, I’m ugly, that’s the way it is.

I love how there’s a little of Walter in everyone

Now everybody’s favourite (or least favourite) part of the evening: AUDIENCE Q&A

How do you think UGLY BETTY had changed the idea of beauty in pop culture?
Christopher Gorham:
I’ll handle that [audience laughs]

Ben Silverman: There’s inner Betty, inner Walter inside of everybody. But there’s no doubt when we named the show Ugly Betty, we wanted to address the issue head on. We’re glad that people are feeling better about themselves and we’re really happy that we’re maybe changing and shifting people’s perceptions. I think UGLY BETTY is having an effect, but it will take a long time to change the world. We’re happy to be a cog in the wheel.

Ashley Jenson: The program has come at a really good time because it’s kind of reached a crescendo in the ridiculousness to which woman, men and children are going to now. It’s become obscene that thirteen year old girls — and woman — are turning to Botox because they’re scared of getting old. God forbid you get old! It’s a ridiculous time, and if this program in any way can kind of counteract that and tell people that it’s actually okay to be yourself, it’s a good thing. Attributes like being good, professional, these are things that are overlooked in the world that we live in.

UGLY BETTY has had great guest stars such as Gina Gershon, Lucy Lui. Can you talk about working with them?
Becki Newton:
I grew up idolizing Judith Light. When I saw her on the set I literally had a melt-down. I think I scared her a bit. She’s someone I looked up to for such a long time. She can do comedy, drama and hits a home rn everytime. It’s amazing for me just to have this part and work with this cast, but to have someone like Judith come in and say, ‘thank you so much, I’m so happy to be on your show’… and I’m like ‘me, my show…’

America Ferrera: Patti LuPone was working with us for literally a week everyday. The second week, she comes in and is like, “I finally watched the show!” We’re like great, we’re glad you did your research. She was like, “I had no idea what I was apart of, I feel so blessed to be here.” And to hear that come out of Patti LuPone’s mouth… she’s amazing and wonderful.

America, how do you keep your kindness and good heart in Hollywood?
America Ferrera:
I try. It’s really hard to talk about this without crying. I love these people that I’m up here with. You just have to remind yourself everyday to be so grateful. That’s what Betty does [America is literally crying]… It’s not about what I don’t have, it’s what I do have.

Any thoughts on Salma Hayek as a producer?
Vanessa Williams:
I don’t want to name drop, but I did a series with a very high profile actress who I only talked to once [theTVaddict.com speculates that Vanessa is talking about Jennifer Lopez, and her failed UPN series SOUTH BEACH]. Salma called me after the pilot saying that she was sorry she didn’t meet me. When we started shooting the series, she was behind the lens, talking about lighting, clothing, asking if I was happy, do I like the way I look? Salma was there everyday with her dogs by her side, she has about twenty of them on a farm somewhere. She is the salt of the earth

marc Indelicato justin ugly betty

Marc Indelicato signs autographs for fans following the event.

Did you have any hesitation in creating the character of Justin — a child who acts very different than the average kid on television?
Silvio Horta:
There was absolutely no hesitation. Going into it, we wanted to create a child that you haven’t seen on the air before. He fits the world. Marc brough this wonderful innocence, sassyness and comedic flare to the role. His part in the pilot wasn’t that large, but he quickly became a character the writers loved to write for. Recently we wrote an episode where he got to sing from the musical HAIRSPRAY.

Marc Indelicato: My good friend loves HAIRSPRAY and my friends and I always immitate her. So when I got to do the scene from HAIRSPRAY, it was very exciting to get to mimic her… That and sing at the table read hear everyone from the cast clap for me!

I love that Justin’s so different from the rest of the kids on TV. He’s not macho, into football etc. He’s into fashion, broadway. all the artsy stuff. My favourite part about playing Justin is having a positive effect on kids lives. They’ll see Justin and realize that there are kids out there just like them. It may allow them to have a better grasp on their life.

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  • Fantastic! Thanks so much for writing this! I loved it, and thanks for sharing your experience with us.