It’s been six years since Ugly Betty went off the air. Happily settled in London, we saw Betty Suarez (played by Golden Globe-winner America Ferrera) walking into a crowd as the show’s title faded out the adjective that so defined the beloved character, leaving us with a name we’d all learned to love: Betty.
To commemorate the show, the cast of Ugly Betty, alongside the show’s creator Silvio Horta, sat down for a reunion panel at this year’s ATX Television Festival in Austin. They addressed the positive themes the show addressed, the wonderful costumes they got to wear, even the possibility of a Jane the Virgin/Ugly Betty crossover — “I mean, if Gina can get the CW and ABC to shake hands, sure!” But mostly, they just showed that even a decade after the show began, the cast remains as tight as ever.
Find some highlights from the reunion below.
On Being More Than Ugly
Ferrera shot back at the usual questions focusing on her experience playing an “ugly” character: “We never ask men that. We just say, ‘Wow, what a great performance!’ It’s sad that the bravest thing an actress could play was play ugly.” We also learned that Ana Ortiz, who went on to play Betty’s sister Hilda originally auditioned for the title role: “But then I think every Latina actress did!”
On Bad Ideas That (Thankfully) Never Made The Final Cut
The development process for the American version of Betty la Fea — which went on to be adapted in almost 20 countries — was a difficult one. Once Horta was on board, he had a handful of ideas to spice it up for American audiences, including making Betty an undercover FBI agent at Mode. Similarly, once the show was greenlit the network wanted to call the it “Betty the Ugly” (“you know, like Alexander the Great,” Horta joked), and we’re all better off for having been spared such a title.
“I just loved the way we were portrayed as people and as a family. It set a new paradigm for how Latinos should be portrayed.”
On Setting a New Paradigm For Latino Representation
Creator Silvio Horta based the Suarez clan on his own family (“write what you know!”), admitting that Justin and Hilda are modeled on his own childhood living with a single mom. He never set out to write a corrective for what he saw as a lack of Latino families on television; it all came out organically. As actor Tony Plana later put it, “Latino people are defined by family and the fact that we were portrayed in a multidimensional way — we were flawed, we were funny, we were courageous, we were weak at times, strong at times — I just loved the way we were portrayed as people and as a family. It set a new paradigm for how Latinos should be portrayed.”
On Justin’s Coming Out Storyline
Horta pointed out that the show’s writers and producers took their time figuring out Justin’s story, and he credits the show with telling that story with patience and care. Mark Indelicato, rocking platform shoes, a neckerchief and fabulous plaid pants, talked about how he was grateful for Justin. “We were going through this process at the same time,” he confessed, and he’s been amazed at the positive reaction he’s gotten from fans.
Ana Ortiz shared a funny story about how Ferrera’s excitement during their first few days of shooting showed that both she and Betty are prone to getting into awkward yet hilarious situations. “Guys! We look like family!” the excitable 21 year old told her castmates. “Ana you look like my sister! And Mark, you look like my gay nephew!” To which Indelicato, then just 12 years old, responded, “Wait, Justin’s gay?” (“And she was right,” Indelicato deadpanned before bursting into laughter.)
Horta also talked about the ethical dilemma he struggled with as he watched his young actor going through the same issues as his written character, and worried about pushing him too far. Ana and America, though, went the opposite route. They reminisced about the absurd lengths they went to make their young co-star comfortable: “I want a gay son! We love gays!” they’d say, overcompensating to the point where he asked them, “So, if I’m straight, will you guys like me less?” As Ferrera notes, it wasn’t too far off from the Suarez’s decision to throw Justin a coming out party.
On Designer Patricia Field’s Amazing Costumes
Despite the Suarez family getting the short end of the stick with costume designer Patricia Field’s high-fashion outfits (Indelicato joked that he nevertheless got to wear Marc Jacobs cardigans as Justin), Ortiz remembers that the famed Sex and the City designer always knew how to dress them — even if she was sometimes taken aback by Field’s choices. “Tits, hairs, and animal prints!” is how she remembers her character’s style.
The entire cast fawned over what Field was able to do with her sense of style and eye for color. Everyone from Vanessa Williams to Judith Light recalled how integral she was to helping create their characters. Ferrera admits that she and Pat found Betty “in the wardrobe.” What’s more, Betty’s glasses were literally Pat’s own personal pair, which Ferrera discovered after none of the hundreds of pairs she’d already tried felt right.
On The Dearth Of Latino Stories On Screen
Both Ferrera and Horta addressed the unfortunate fact that Ugly Betty didn’t usher in more diverse representation for Latinos on TV, Jane the Virgin notwithstanding. “If we’re not getting those stories on screen it’s because we’re not getting the people those stories,” said the actress. Horta put it more bluntly: the people making the decisions are not the people hoping to be represented. There is a disconnect. But he wonders if there is also potential first-generation Latino talent that’s discouraged by their parents from going into creative careers.
On Making Adele Famous
Ugly Betty was ahead of the curve when it came to Adele, which the show featured in its third season. “We made Adele famous… That was all me,” America deadpanned. She’d been a longtime fan of the 19 singer and ran into her after Adele performed on SNL. Turns out the “Chasing Pavements” songstress was a big Ferrera fan: “It’s Ugly Betty!” Of course, they talked about her doing a cameo on the show, which she did, singing “Right as Rain” well before she became the mega superstar she is today. Thank you, America!
On Pushing For A Two Hour Hulu Special
The cast came with a mission to amp up excitement about a hopeful return for the series, since it worked so well for the Gilmore Girls cast reunion at ATX the year before. But they struggled to come up with a hashtag. #BettyReboot? #UglyBettyHulu? “Maybe #HuluBringBackBetty? Or maybe #HuluBringBackUglyBetty just in case to make sure they get the right Betty” — they wouldn’t want Hulu to reboot Betty White! And don’t worry, Ferrera has plenty of ideas: in her mind, Betty stayed in the UK and the show would pick up with her finally returning home.