America Ferrera and Sue Freitag
America Ferrera secured her place as one of Hollywood's most vibrant young talents with her starring role in the Patricia Cardoso film Real Women Have Curves. Her performance earned her a Sundance Jury Award for Best Actress, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "Best Debut Performance," and a Young Artist Award nomination for "Best Performance for a Leading Young Actress."
America also stars as the title character in the ABC series smash hit Ugly Betty about an unattractive but spirited secretary who doesn't quite fit in at the high fashion magazine where she works. The show, based on the enormously successful Colombian series Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, is Executive Produced by Salma Hayek. America's portrayal as Betty has earned her a Golden Globe for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series-Musical or Comedy" as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award for "Outstanding Performance for a Lead Actress in a Comedy Series."
In 2005, America starred in the hit film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, directed by Ken Kwapis and based on the bestselling novel by Ann Brashares, for which she was nominated for an ALMA Award. She reprised her role as Carmen in the 2008 sequeal, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2. She also appeared in Catherine Hardwicke's Lords of Dogtown and the 2005 Sundance Film Festival entry How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, written and directed by Georgina Riedel and co-starring Elizabeth Peña. In recognition of her work, she received a 2005 Movieline "Breakthrough" Award.
In 2007, America worked on the bilingual independent film Towards Darkness, which she also Executive Produced. Directed by Antonio Negret, the film follows the last 90 minutes in a kidnap hostage's life, and the frustration his family, a man in charge of delivering the ransom money, and a special ops team all feel as they rush to save him. America plays a young woman who has a complicated relationship with the young kidnapping victim. The feature is based on Negret's short Darkness Minus 12, which America also starred in.
America also worked in a Spanish-speaking role in the independent film Boy, Immigrant. Directed by Patricia Riggen, the story chronicles a 9-year-old Mexican boy's journey to the United States to find his migrant mother after the grandmother who is taking care of him passes away. The film also stars Mexican actors Kate DelCastillo and Eugenio Derbez.
At the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, America appeared in the Brian Jun film Steel City, which premiered in Dramatic Competition. On stage, America starred off-Broadway in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, directed by Trip Cullman.
Sue Freitag says she has “the best job in the world.” A drama teacher at L.A.’s El Camino Real High School, where she was also once a student, Ms. Freitag is America Ferrera’s favorite teacher.
“I literally get to play all day,” Ms. Freitag says of her job, though she acknowledges that drama is perhaps a more playful subject by nature than most academic disciplines. While her enthusiasm for both teaching and acting were certainly major factors in America’s choice, Ms. Freitag believes that El Camino Real’s drama program as a whole should share the credit. “When you walk into the drama room, you know you belong,” she says. “It’s a place to take risks, be courageous, and not be afraid to be yourself. I think [America], and so many other students, including myself, felt safe and at home in Grieb Theatre.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, Ms. Freitag went on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre at UCLA. After experimenting with several different careers in the entertainment industry, she realized her true passion lay in teaching. Upon finishing her credential in 1998, she was hired to teach English and drama at El Camino Real. Ms. Freitag, it seems, is part of a cycle of inspiring teachers—Ms. Debra Grieb was her drama teacher, mentor, and friend before she retired in 2001, leaving her in charge of one of Southern California’s best high school drama programs.
Ms. Freitag says there is no shortage of acting talent among El Camino Real’s students, past and present, though she does seem extremely proud of America Ferrera, with whom she has kept in touch since her graduation. “She is so classy and so articulate,” she says. “I’m her number one fan.”