On the new NBC comedy Superstore (premiering tonight), America Ferrara plays Amy, an introverted young woman working as a floor supervisor in a Walmart-type emporium. The 31-year-old actress is practiced at playing the unsung hero; in ABC’s Ugly Betty (2006 – 2010), she essentially defined the archetype as the bespectacled, mousy Betty Suarez, a wannabe writer who outsmarted her fashion-icon bosses on the daily.
Now, Ferrara is speaking out about how she relates to these characters based on her own struggle to make it in Hollywood, having come up from very little and carved out a path to success independently.
“I always felt like an underdog,” she said at a recent luncheon hosted by NBC. “My parents are immigrants; they came to this country with nothing, and we grew up with very little. My mother was a single mother raising six kids. Come hell or high water, we were all going to go to college, and we were all going to graduate, and we did.”
Growing up during a time when very few Latinas were featured in starring roles on American TV shows, Ferrara faced even more barriers to entry when it came to show business.
“My whole childhood, I knew what my dream was,” she says. “It was, for so many people who saw me, an outsized dream. No one who looked like me or came from my background or didn’t have training…they didn’t look at me and think, ‘Oh, sure, you’re going to be an actress someday.'”
Ferrara added that she hopes her roles on major broadcast networks can help move national conversations towards broader notions of inclusivity and diversity at a time when cable networks are becoming known for pushing the envelope.
“My feeling is that there is real value in telling stories on broadcast television and kind of having to consider a lager audience,” she said, “and the idea that a show like Modern Family does for our culture what 25 The L Word’s couldn’t do, because you’re bringing people along who otherwise wouldn’t be attracted to that conversation.”
Superstore premieres Monday, November 30 at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.