Ferrera focuses on the choices

Published May 17, 2007

LOS ANGELES - Since her eye-catching film debut in Real Women Have Curves in 2002, America Ferrera has moved swiftly to award-winning star of TV's Ugly Betty, novice movie producer and, as fans tell her, a role model for girls and Hispanics.

Add her spot on Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people (she was one of fewer than two dozen artists and entertainers to make the cut) and her rise is more impressive.

This is her moment, and Ferrera, who turned 23 last month, is making the most of it.

"I am incredibly, incredibly fortunate about the opportunities I've had. But at the same time, I've had plenty of opportunities to screw it up, too, " she said. "Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is 'No' . . . and not feel the need to do everything. It's about doing what rings true to me."

Real Women Have Curves, in which she played a Mexican-American teenager balancing family tradition with her dreams of education, helped set the standard.

"Early in my career I was really spoiled with a beautiful project, " she said. "I got such a good start that I thought, 'Why would I ever take a step back? Why would I take on something that wasn't meaningful - to me, if nobody else - and powerful and groundbreaking?' "

She found such a project in ABC's Ugly Betty. Based on a Colombian telenovela that has been successfully adapted worldwide, the comedy-drama centers on a dowdy young Latino with a blazing spirit who intends to make her mark on the world. It's been one of the few new hits of the TV season; the season finale airs tonight.

Ferrera is keeping her hand in movies as well, returning in the sequel to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, due out next year, and starring in Hacia la Oscuridad (Towards Darkness), a film about Colombian kidnappings that showed at the recent Tribeca Film Festival. Ferrera also was an executive producer for the drama, directed and written by Antonio Negret.

She has no intention of giving up Ugly Betty, she said, even as her marquee value increases.

"There's something pretty awesome about staying with a character and growing, " she said. "Just thinking about the end makes me want to cry."

Watch it

Ugly Betty

The freshman hit's season finale is at 8 tonight on WFTS-Ch. 28.