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America Ferrera Recalls ‘Ugly Betty’ Emmy Win, Breaking Ground for Latinas

America fell in love with “Ugly Betty,” and fresh-faced star America Ferrera, the moment the snappy dramedy debuted in 2006. And that was just the beginning of a charmed ride for Ferrera, who went on to take the TV acting kudos “triple crown” — the Golden Globe, the SAG Award and the Emmy — in 2007. Now toplining NBC’s successful half-hour “Superstore,” Ferrera looks back at her groundbreaking Emmy victory.

What do you remember about the night you won the Emmy?
I remember there was a strange seating arrangement where the audience was in the round and my cast and everyone from the show was seated right behind the podium. We were on camera the entire time. People kept texting us, like “don’t pick your nose” or “don’t look at your phone, we can see you.” That was a little stressful. I remember when they called my name and I walked up to the podium I wanted to be able to look at my cast, but they were behind me. I don’t think they’ve ever gone back to that seating arrangement, I think they realized there were a lot of problems with it.

It was already a big year for you, did you have any expectations to win?
That was definitely an expectation after the Golden Globe and the SAG Award and I’d been nominated for the Emmy. I knew it was in the realm of possibility that I could win. But anything’s possible in the moment. When I did win, it was very, very surreal. I also remember the feeling of really, really quickly wanting to get off the stage. Because I had won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award there was a little bit of “people are probably really sick at this point of hearing me gush about how honored I am.”

What did it mean for “Ugly Betty”?
For me the most exciting thing after every award show was on Monday morning I had to be on set. I had a job to do, I had a cast and crew to collaborate with who I loved. We were making this show we were all so proud of and I got to play this dream role. I think when you get the recognition for something you truly love and believe in, it’s always sweeter. The show was a bit of an underdog. It was something that had never been on television before. To get that overwhelming response — it wasn’t obvious from the outset that it was going to be received the way that we loved it so much.

Beyond the Emmy, how did “Ugly Betty” change your life?
In a practical sense it changed in every way. I was working very, very, very long hours. All I did was work. I was on set and I loved it, but it was the most grueling challenging schedule I’d ever had. When I wasn’t on set filming I was doing photo shoots or flying across the country to do talk shows and doing events and award shows. It was constant, every day of the week I was working. I’m someone who loves sleep, I was very, very sleep deprived for those first couple of years on the show. For all four years I was sleep deprived.

I’ve never had to work that hard and that much and I wasn’t doing things like that ever before in my life. In the sense of what changed in my life is I was removed from my life for a long time, seeing my friends and my family, being present for birthday dinners and holiday, all of that became work was the number one priority and I stepped out of my own life for awhile while I was doing the show because it demanded so much of me.

You also broke ground as the first Latina lead actress Emmy winner.
I wasn’t even aware of it until after the fact, until other people brought it to my attention, that I was the first Latina to win the Emmy, which was not a big part of the story and I certainly didn’t even think of it that way. Looking back and thinking, “Oh wow, that barrier was broken when I won,” that’s really special and regardless of what happens that can never be undone. I was so in a bubble that I wasn’t even aware of what that moment meant in a larger context for women like me in the industry.

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