Emmy Contender: America Ferrera

'Ugly Betty'

America Ferrera could be the happiest actress on primetime television. The star of “Ugly Betty” can’t think of a more satisfying character to play than the adorably unstylish, goodhearted fashion-mag assistant from Queens.

“There’s something magical about this story,” says Ferrera. “People want to see a truly good person get what they deserve. Rooting for the underdog is rooting for yourself.”

Previously best known for starring in the features “Real Women Have Curves” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Ferrera owes her oversized glasses and braces to the perseverance of producer Salma Hayek, who convinced her to take the role.

After Hayek had her watch several episodes of the original Colombian soap “Betty la Fea,” Ferrera was hooked.

“Anyone within earshot of the Latino community knew about Betty,” Ferrera says. “And I really felt like it was something that could be colorful on American television as well.”

Despite knowing what a phenomenon “Betty” was throughout Latin America, Ferrera had no idea how quickly and easily the adapted “Betty” would become a freshman hit.

“Israel, Germany, Spain — they all have their own versions of ‘Betty,’ and they’ve been huge in every country,” Ferrera says. “It’s amazing. There’s been this immediate human connection to Betty.”

A self-proclaimed “romantic comedy freak,” Ferrera loves that Betty has gotten a chance to develop an old-fashioned, hand-tingling romance with chivalrous accountant Henry (Christopher Gorham) this season.

“Every time Betty gets to do any of the awkward romance scenes with Henry, I get really excited because that’s the kind of stuff that makes me swoon.”

With the near-instant success of the show, Ferrera has grown into a phenomenon herself, winning 2006 Golden Globe and SAG comedy actress honors. Not surprisingly, bigscreen offers have been piling up for the golden girl, who also plans to produce.

“Initially, there was that skepticism that Betty would pigeonhole me,” Ferrera confesses. “But it’s such a compliment that I’ve been approached to do great romantic comedies and other films, not just the Cinderella swan stories.”

Favorite scene: “There are so many; I can’t pick just one.”

Where you’d like to see your character go next season: “I love the ‘frenemy’ relationship between Betty and Marc and Amanda. … Betty is so wonderfully sweet and innocent, and I totally want to preserve that, but I think she has the potential to give it right back to them.”

TV guilty pleasure: “I’ve always been a huge ‘American Idol’ freak. I don’t like to admit that I watch reality television, but ‘American Idol’ is one of those shows that I love. … I was rooting for LaKisha!”

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