America Ferrera Talks Onscreen Diversity, 'Ugly Betty' Follow-Up 'Superstore'

Superstore Still - H 2015
Courtesy of NBC

American Ferrera wants to see more diversity on television — and she thinks that her new NBC comedy Superstore is furthering that effort.

In her first series regular role since her ABC star vehicle Ugly Betty, Ferrera is proud of the diverse ensemble cast that makes up the midseason entry. It's why the 31-year-old actress was drawn to the single-camera series, which centers on a disparate group of employees working at a big-box store in middle America. She first received the script for it after several of the roles were cast, a number of which went to non-white actors.

“‘When you’re a person of color, you notice those things, like, “Oh wow, they’re not casting all white people,’” she said onstage Wednesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, noting that she was taken by the fact that the script didn’t have predetermined ethnicities for any of the characters either. “This is the first role I’ve ever been offered in my career that wasn’t written Latina,” she added.

“You would think that a hit show starring a Latina and with a Latina family would be some sort of watershed moment,” she said of Ugly Betty’s four-season run. “But we went off the air and it wasn’t years until we saw another Latina, so I think when it comes to diversity and breaking stereotypes and finding opportunities for non-white actors, progress gets made in these individual steps. … I applaud NBC for what they’re doing this season. Three shows starring Latina leads is history — it’s groundbreaking. I don’t know [if] it’s ever happened before.”

Ferrera joins Jennifer Lopez (Shades of Blue) and Eva Longoria (Telenovela) in the network’s diverse slate of originals this season. “The more we talk about it and the more we talk about how it’s succeeding and the more we talk about how people are hungry to see stories like this — not necessarily to check the diversity boxes but to say, “Hey, that cast and that world looks like the world I live in” — will encourage other networks and showrunners and writers to enrich their storytelling by reflecting the world that we actually live in,” she continued.

Starring in the half-hour as Amy, a floor supervisor that has has been working at the store, Cloud 9, for 10 years, she’s initially put off by newbie Jonah's (Mad Men alum Ben Feldman) superior attitude and propensity for clowning around on the job — but the pair quickly bond as Jonah helps Amy find more joy at work, and she starts to fall for her co-worker.

The show shot its pilot at a real, working Kmart, which proved challenging for both the actors and the team behind the screen. “People would come up to America and ask if she knew where certain items were,” said creator and exec producer Justin Spitzer (The Office). Eventually, the studio built a sprawling department store set on the Universal lot.

The series — which also stars Lauren Ash, Colton Dunn, Nico Santos, Nichole Bloom and Mark McKinney — is executive produced by Spitzer, Ruben Fleischer, David Bernad and Gabe Miller. Superstore airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on NBC.