At the West Hollywood Halloween Parade there were so many grown men dressed up as Betty, recalls America Ferrera. I thought, Maybe Betty will be like Cher and Madonna. Given the collective embrace Ugly Betty has received from the gays, thats not so far-fetched. The comedy, which follows Betty Suarez (Ferrera) between her Hispanic working-class family in Queens, N.Y., and her job at the ultraglamorous Mode magazine, where she doesn't quite fit in, was an immediate hit with the queer cognoscenti. It seems the mainstream has caught on toothe show recently snagged Golden Globes for best comedy series and for its leading lady.
Just what is it that we love about Betty? Fashion, divas, and a gal who has problems fitting in because shes different, says E! Onlines Marc Malkin, who pens the sites Planet Gossip column. Its campy, over-the-top, and broad, adds Vanessa Williams, who stars as the shows conniving Wilhelmina Slater. Dialogue-wise, its racy and biting. Its amazing what we get away with on a week-to-week basis.
They get away with it every week thanks to show creator Silvio Horta, who based the series on the popular telenovela from Colombia Yo Soy Betty, la Fea. Its my sense of humor, says Horta, sitting in Bettys Los Angeles production office. Its campy and fun. Its a show Id want to watch. Im gay, so, yes, the sensibility is there.
The sensibility also emanates from virtually every character on the show, including bitch goddess Wilhelmina and campy assistant Marc St. James (Michael Urie). But nowhere is the parallel drawn more closely than with Betty herself, an outsider at Mode, where her quirky sensibility and appearance (larger than a size 2, and she wears braces) dont fit in with the beautiful people around her.
The sadness in the story lies in the people who cant see beyond it, says Ferrera when comparing Bettys situation with people who are intolerant of gays. Shes walking back to her trailer after finishing a scene in front of her familys brownstone in which she says so long to Walter, Bettys longtime boyfriend. Its jarring to see her home surrounded by nothing but green screenthe effects team will add in the surrounding houses and the city later. Outside the soundstage, Ferreras quirky
character is replaced with a thoughtful young woman. They miss out on the truly beautiful people because they cant see through the stereotypes they live their lives by. Betty really proves that; if you dont love Betty, youre the asshole.
Judith Light, who plays deliciously broken matriarch Claire Meade, wife of Modes owner, and is a longtime gay rights activist, takes it one step further. Betty is considered the unattractive one, the outsider, the othermuch like the gay community has felt for so long, she says. And yet, she is the beauty. Its about Betty saying, You may not think I look like the right stuff, but I know Im great.
One of the ways Betty is leading the way is by offering the first (possibly) gay 12-year-old on television: Bettys nephew, Justin (Mark Indelicato), whos being raised by his single mom (Ana Ortiz) and has a penchant for fashion and musical theater, although the creators have yet to formally address his sexuality.
Hes very comfortable with himself, says Horta. It doesnt mean we havent discussed the sexual part of that. He may be gay.
Dont hold your breath for any revelations this year, though. As Marco Pennette, one of the shows executive producers (and the out creator of last years Crumbs), points out, It would seem creepy to me if Justin was looking at the guys in the Sears catalog. At this point this kid loves the more colorful side of life, and his mother totally supports him.
To read the complete Ugly Betty cover story, pick up the April issue of Out.