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America Ferrera, from ugly to Viking bombshell

The Associated Press, Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 11:21am (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- America Ferrera got her break as a curvy teenager in "Real Women Have Curves" and broke into stardom as the lovely "Ugly Betty."

A few months before the hit ABC series gets to its finale, the actress says she found some of herself in the blond Viking bombshell she voices in "How to Train Your Dragon," the new DreamWorks Animation movie opening Friday.

Based on Cressida Cowell's children's book, the 3-D movie follows the adventures of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the scrawny, misfit son of Viking chief and master dragon-slayer Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).

With no heart for killing these creatures, Hiccup discovers his skills as a dragon whisperer and becomes a local hero among the villagers and a rival for fierce classmate Astrid (America Ferrera), also his love interest.

"She's a fantastic actress and she has a very beautiful and powerful voice, and Astrid, the character that she plays, I think is a great role model," DreamWorks' CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said. "We wanted to have somebody who could really deliver the strength and the power of a great Viking warrior woman and she did it beautifully."

Aboard a cute Viking ship set up in the heart of Times Square on a chilly, cloudy morning, the 25-year-old Ferrera talked to The Associated Press about this new adventure and the end of the "Ugly" era.

Excerpts from the interview:

AP: It was refreshing to see you as someone so different from the actress we have seen before. How was it to play the bombshell in this movie?

FERRERA: It was really fun, you know. They had created the character Astrid before they cast me so I was just glad that they were very open minded to casting someone who didn't look like the character. ... It was nice to play something that wasn't really a version of me at all.

AP: This is not your first animated film. Can you tell us a bit about this particular experience?

FERRERA: It takes a while to get used to being in a studio and just having you and a microphone and no other actors to work off of. ... But once I did, it was freeing to just be able to play around.

AP: As different as you and Atrid are, do you find anything of her in you?

FERRERA: Definitely. In the way that Astrid wants to be the best of what she's doing regardless of whether she's a boy or not. You know, I was always the girl on the boys' baseball team, one of the only two girls in the Little League playing baseball, so I think there is a little bit of Astrid in me.

AP: What is the most powerful message for you in this movie.

FERRERA: It's about the Vikings and the dragons and how from the beginning of time all they've known is that they're each others enemies and they fight each other and no one really asks why. And the fact that Hiccup, the main character, dares to ask why turns the whole world upside down, and they realize that what they think is their enemy is actually their strongest partner.

AP: The end of "Ugly Betty" is nearing. How are you feeling about that?

FERRERA: It's a little sad to say goodbye and also, you know, (I'm) just always grateful that it was a part of my life, and I'm excited about the future and all the possibilities.

AP: Do you think it is ending too soon?

FERRERA: I don't think so. I mean, I think from the beginning I had a concern that we wouldn't get enough time to kind of complete her transformation. ... Could it keep on going? Maybe. But you know, I think we found a really good sort of peace with the character in her journey and now that it is the way it is it feels like it was always meant to be this way.

AP: Are you emotionally ready to leave Betty behind?

FERRERA: I don't know. I think that no matter when it happened I was going to be sad, because she's been a big part of my life, but yeah, I think that I'll be fine (laughs). I'm excited about the future and moving forward.

AP: Besides fame and recognition, what did Betty give you as an actress and as a person?

FERRERA: Being on the show and playing her gave me a place to really grow as an actor and show up every day and challenge myself again and know if I felt not great about the works that I did, I can always wake up the next day and come back and do it again.

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