Actress America Ferrera is working to increase Hispanic voter turnout
The actress is passionate about her advocacy
She is also starring in a popular Web series
She made television audiences fall in love with the hapless but adorable Betty Suarez in “Ugly Betty.” But today, America Ferrera is captivating digital fans as the hopelessly romantic yet enigmatic speed-dater “Christine,” in the new WIGS Web series by the same name.
Being able to catch the show on her mobile phone is convenient for this grassroots activist, who is more than happy to use her fame to engage others in politics. In particular, the 28-year-old actress and producer hopes her latest initiative, “America4America,” helps increase Hispanic voter turnout in the 2012 election.
Ferrera recently talked to CNN’s JD Cargill to share her thoughts on the future of Web-based entertainment, her ideas about making America – the country – better, and why she’s glad her dating life is over.
JD Cargill: Should I be embarrassed that I’m a 35-year-old man hooked on “WIGS?”
America Ferrera: No, don’t be embarrassed, that’s awesome!
Cargill: Talk to me about the series.
Ferrera: They’re exciting! I think the time limits on them is what’s exciting about this new online medium of just getting spurts of something. What’s great is that they live online, so one could wait until they’re online and just sit and watch all 12 episodes back to back as if it was a film. I think as an actor it’s really fun to think of your character going through this arc in seven-minute spurts. It was really interesting to develop a character based in seven-minute arcs within a much bigger arc. It was a new challenge.
Cargill: How do you think people will watch TV in the future?
Ferrera: I think about that all the time. I remember being a kid and if you had to pee, well you had to hold it until the commercial break. Then you rushed, and hopefully, if you’re going to the kitchen for a snack, you’ll be back before so you don’t miss a line. If your sister sneezed or was talking over a line, there was no way of knowing what that line was or what the joke was. Those elements just don’t exist in television anymore because you can pause, rewind or fast-forward or TiVo. I particularly am a TV binger. I like to sit down and watch a whole season of a show back to back, which wasn’t available to use before.
Cargill: There’s some argument to be made that characters in well-written stories like Christine’s will be required because it won’t be advertising but content itself that people are paying for.
Ferrera: That’s what’s really sort of exciting about this format. I’ve watched this show on my iPhone, I’ve watched a few episodes on my iPad, I’ve watched on my computer – I can watch them where ever I am. That’s kind of weird and funny and exciting and my own friends are excited that they can on their lunch break catch up on three episodes if they felt behind on their lunch break on their iPhone.
Cargill: They’re catching up with a character that at times is inspiring and making you laugh and is relatable, but sometimes Christine’s antics are just downright depressing, aren’t they?
Ferrera: She’s crazy – which I really loved about the character. It’s not until episode seven where you really start understanding what’s going on with her. You know something is going on, you’re not sure what it is. She then becomes unhinged and you see a much darker side of her. To me that’s what was so appealing about playing the role, was that she was weird and complicated, and yet likeable and in some ways you could relate to her.
Cargill: My one obvious question – have you ever been on a blind date?
Ferrera: I don’t think I have. I’ve been set up sometimes like friend-wise, not for a romantic date. More like a friend of friend who says “I have a friend in that city, why don’t you guys have lunch?” It’s not meant to be romantic, it’s just like a friend set up. So maybe I have been set up! I just wasn’t smart enough to realize it.
But I’ve never been speed dating! I sort of wish I had, just for the experience of it. If Christine’s experience is any indication of it, you can come across some cuckoos. I have a friend who runs speed dating on a weekly basis. She’s the character who tells people to move along, and she loves it! She says people actually do find people in it. It would have been fun to experience it, but I never did and I don’t need to now.
Cargill: You’re out of that mix! How is married life treating you?
Ferrera: It’s really great so far!
Cargill: You come from a big family – six children. Is that something you’re looking forward to, a large family?
Ferrera: I have no idea. At different times in my life, I’ve made grand statements like, “I want these many kids and I want them by this age.” I think with every year that goes by, I accept that I don’t know when it’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. I’ll just take it one day at a time and when I’m ready I’ll be ready. It’ll reveal itself I guess.
Cargill: Let’s talk about your “America for America” campaign – what’s the primary goal?
Ferrera: Well, the primary goal of the “America for America” campaign is to really focus on some of these battleground states where the Latino community has a huge potential to dictate outcomes of local elections, and also the presidential election. To really make sure that the right kind of information and education is out there for voters so that they’re not being discouraged to participate based on any kind of voter suppression laws or any kind of misinformation that’s been placed out there. and that has the potential to keep people from participating in the process.
We’re very keyed in on what’s happening in certain states that might hinder participation. Like identification laws. Sometimes it’s not laws, it’s just rumor and intimidation that can happen on very local levels.
I’ve been on the ground in Alabama and on the ground in Arizona and people can be very general, “Well, why don’t they just go get a license?” It’s actually a lot more nuanced than that. There’s a lot more happening on the local level and a lot more intimidation that’s happening in subtle ways that keeps people from exercising their rights.
Cargill: Is it nonpartisan?
Ferrera: It is nonpartisan, which was one of my big motivators in doing work with votes. The campaign is one that I’m doing with Votes of Latino. For years, they’ve done wonderful work that’s nonpartisan, and it’s really about education and participation and registration of Latino voters. It’s not about party lines, it’s about the voice of the community.
We all know the kinds of conversations that have been happening around the potential within the Latino community, and I think that what happens this November is not just going to be about the next four years for Latinos, but it’ll be about staking the plane to a political voice in this country.
Cargill: Latinos are at the forefront of the presidential race and recently President Barack Obama wrote an executive order that helps the children of immigrants stay in the country legally – this was the exact character you once played on “The Good Wife,” right? What was your reaction to that and did you draw the parallels between that character that you played?
Ferrera: When the opportunity to play this character came up, I had actually spent some time on ground in Arizona meeting with a lot of young Latinos, many of them who are the dreamers: the young kids who would be the beneficiaries of the passing of the DREAM Act or the legislation that Obama just passed.
I was deeply impacted by the stories that I heard from the 17-, 18-year-old kids who didn’t find out that they were nondocumented citizens until they were 18, until they had been accepted into college with scholarships and then had to produce paperwork. It was just then that their parents finally broke the news that they weren’t actually born in this country and didn’t have the proper documentation to accept scholarships and enjoy the opportunities that they worked so hard to receive.
I was very deeply impacted by these personal stories I was exposed to when I was on the ground in Arizona. When I heard that the Kings, who write “The Good Wife,” were hoping to do a storyline based on a character like this, I spoke to them a lot about what was the message and what did they want to get across and I felt very drawn to play that character and be representative of thousands upon thousands of young people living that experience in this country.
Cargill: What was your reaction to the president’s executive order?
Ferrera: I was overjoyed. I knew immediately that those are real lives that have now changed. With that one action, the amount of lives that were impacted and changed and the opportunities that opened up was immediate. Is it the DREAM Act? No. Is it as far reaching as we want it to be? No. But it’s a start, and I think that it went a long way in the Latino community to feeling acknowledged and heard.
There will be a real-life impact on so many people’s lives based on that one decision that he took. I was elated when I heard the news!
Cargill: What’s the misconception? What are people who are fighting the DREAM Act missing, in your opinion?
Ferrera: I think they’re missing the understanding that these kids are American in every single way. The understanding that they are what this country is built on and that they have so much to offer. There’s no threat to allowing young people who have been educated and raised in this country by the country to be fitted into this country and to give back and to contribute.
I think that it’s like we’re cutting our own foot by trying to limit the kinds of contributions that these young people can make to our society and creating a self-fulfilled prophecy that they won’t contribute. If we don’t give them the opportunity to then they won’t and they won’t be able to. It seems irrational to not make it possible for this generation of young people who are American in every way that one could be American to not give them the opportunity to contribute.
Cargill: Do you consider yourself a role model? Is that a title you are comfortable with?
Ferrera: It’s not really anything that I carry around with me or think about in terms of some sort of obligation that I have to fulfill.
I feel like my convictions and my passions come from my very personal experience and the life that I’ve led. I feel the very naturally tendency to stand up for and use my voice for the things that I know about and the things that I feel passionate about.