We all fell in love with America Ferrera as the adorably awkward Betty Suarez on Ugly Betty back in 2006, but in the years since we’ve gotten to see her everywhere from the stage to the screen. And in her latest feature, Todd Berger’s It’s a Disaster, Fererra co-stars alongside a cast of eight in this delightfully biting and funny comedy about the end of the world.
Starring Julia Styles, David Cross, Rachel Boston, Erinn Hayes, and Ferrera, It’s a Disaster centers on a group of friends at a "couple’s brunch" who find themselves faced with the threat of impending annihilation. As they realize the world might be coming to an end, relationships unravel, come together, and, naturally, chaos ensues. Taking on her role with ease, Ferrera plays Hedy, a chemistry teacher trapped in an eternal engagement to her fiancé, Jeff. With a scientific knowledge of the situation at hand, Fererra plays the one character most impacted by knowing the severity of their predicament and begins to strip away any pretense and live out her last hours exactly as she sees fit—by making homemade ecstasy, for example.
Actor, writer, and director Todd Berger, who made the film for a modest budget, first brought large-scale attention to the feature by premiering it a few weeks ago in six-second clips on Vine. Speaking to the chopped version of the film that he debuted, Berger said, “Jean-Luc Godard once said that he pities French cinema because it has no money and American cinema because it has no ideas…Well this is certainly an idea.” And although it may seem like an rather bizarre way to market a feature, Berger need not be worried. For those who will see the film when it premieres April 12th in theaters and on VOD, they’re in for a truly enjoyable treat of movie.
Last week, I got the chance to chat with America Ferrera about taking on the role of Hedy, shooting in one house for fourteen days, and how she would react in the face of impending doom.
The cast of the film is all very diverse but you guys had an amazing chemistry. How did you come on board the project?
I got sent the script by Todd, the director, and his producers who happened to be the others in the film—together they’re The Vacationeers, a comedy troupe. And I read the script and found myself really enjoying it and laughing out loud and liking the characters. At that point Julia Styles was already attached also, and it just sounded like a really fun project.
And did they want you specifically for the role of Heady?
Yeah, they wanted me to consider playing her.
Could you identify a lot with her? I imagine she was a fun role to play.
Yeah, I thought I would have fun playing the role. I don’t know if I can relate to her so much. She has a very specific reaction to what happens, and I just liked her relationship with each character and liked that she had a very certain response and reason for reacting that way. I thought her journey was interesting. I don’t quite know what my response would be in that situation. But I definitely thought it would be a good time to work with these talented, fun people and I thought the script was really funny.
Did you guys rehearse a lot as a cast before you began shooting in the house?
Well, we didn’t do a bunch of rehearsing. We did have the director ask if the couples could spend some time together creating a history, so I spent time with Jeff who plays my fiancé in the movie and each of the couples hung out together off camera. Then together we all met for a dinner and a read through, and then we just dove in into it. It felt pretty easy.
Even in the more intense moments of film, it seemed like you all were having a great time. How was the atmosphere on set?
We shot the whole thing in fourteen days inside one house. So it definitely comes from a crazy moment, but we had really great time and most of us were there for all of it and it was just good to be able to keep off each other’s energy and it was a very supportive ensemble.
How was working with that many people in one location for that many days on end?
It was good, very intense bonding. It’s very, very low-budget film so it’s not like we had separate rooms or trailers or anything, so if we weren’t shooting, we would spend the day inside talking and chatting and getting to know each other. So it was an experience of power-bonding.
Do you enjoy shooting smaller, more intimate films like this? I assume is a very different experience than your work on larger movies or a television show.
It’s a very different experience and it lends itself to staying in it and powering through it. Also, it really gave us a lot of freedom to just play around and work, because we had less time moving locations and setting everything up and more time just getting to roll the camera and playing around when the cameras were on. It was a cool experience just to have more time experimenting.
Your character has a pretty big breakdown throughout the film and changes a lot from where we saw her in the beginning. Did you have a lot of freedom to create how arc?
We played with it quite a bit and I talked with Todd a lot about it but we stuck pretty close to the script—there wasn’t a lot of improvising. Well, there was some improvising but there wasn’t really a need for it because the script was really well-written and we could just stick to the lines and it was all there for us. We had freedom in the acting of it but sometimes it’s nice when you have lines that you can really depend on.
And with a cast like this—Julia, David Cross, etc.—how was working with these other actors, and did you know them beforehand?
It was great. I knew David just as friends before because I’m very close with his wife, so we knew each other socially but had never worked with one another. It was a really fun experience and David’s an incredibly funny guy but he’s also very professional and very focused and committed. And Julia, I knew slightly but not very well and we’d never worked together and that was great too. Everyone in the cast was amazing and very, very funny. The boys from the Vacationeers, they had such a camaraderie and history and chemistry but it was really easily come into, and they were very welcoming and didn’t impose their comedic tone on anybody. It was sort of a natural fit.
The film has a very ambiguous ending, cutting it off right at the crescendo—was that always the plan?
That’s the way it was written. When I read the script that was the ending of it and we didn’t shoot any other alternate ending. That was what Todd had planned the whole time and he stuck to it and I’m glad he did. If you go back and watch the movie a second time, you start to realize that it’s sort of the tone of the film—a lack of satisfaction and cathartic moments getting cut short and cut off. So if you watch it again, you see how that ending is very much in line with what’s happening in the rest of the film.
How do you think you would have reacted in this situation?
Oh, I have no idea. I guess you never really know until you’re in that moment. I think I could probably say that my initial reaction would be to be proactive and get prepared and think of plan, but where it goes from there just depends. You don’t know what you’re really capable of until you’re in that situation.
Did you know that Todd was going to premiere the film on Vine and do something unique with the marketing of the movie?
I didn’t know that until recently, but I think it’s really interesting. I love watching content online, I love watching TV shows online, and I watch movies online and so I think it’s great. And with a film of this size, you do have to be quite creative in how you build your audience and how you reach people that want to see it. I think online content is a brave new world and people are stretching it out and it’s fun to get creative with it.
Your career is pretty varied between film and television and you’re able to keep a good balance of both—do you like navigating between those two mediums?
Absolutely. I also just finished a play, I did a couple films last year, and then I also did a guest star on Good Wife a few years before that. I love all of the mediums—I love television, I love film, and I love theatre and they’re just very different platforms and a very different process for each. When you’ve been doing one for a while, it’s fun to switch it up and keeps you flexible and makes you a better actor and challenges you in different ways.
Were there are moments when shooting the film that you remember particularly fondly?
I like the scenes with the entire cast, there were a few scenes where all eight of us were there and those tended to have the best energy and we had the most fun shooting them. One was the scene where we’re all signing and have sort of accepted that this is the end and we’re singing "House of the Rising sun." We had been in this house for fourteen days and were starting to keep a little stir crazy and get cabin fever.
So what are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of shooting an independent film called X/Y that I’m acting in and producing that my husband actually wrote and directed. It’s all on location in New York City and later in the year there’s a film with Diego Luna that he directed called Chavez and that’s coming out. So, all sorts of things.