By Justin Cox - 08/09/10 11:29 PM EDT
America Ferrera made her name playing a homely magazine assistant on the TV show “Ugly Betty,” but she takes on a more serious role in the new film “The Dry Land.” Ferrera plays the small-town Texas wife of a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after fighting in Iraq. The movie, which was an Official Selection winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, also stars Wilmer Valderrama.
In an interview with The Hill, Ferrera talks about taking on such a serious role and how she hopes the film will affect the national dialogue regarding the difficulties confronting soldiers returning from war. The Washington release of the “The Dry Land” is yet to be determined.
Well, the vision for the film really came from writer-director Ryan Williams. He was compelled to learn what soldiers, many of whom are about his age, were going through after returning from war. So he did a lot of research and got to know a lot of people familiar with the situation. He explored how their relationships changed after coming back and tried to focus on that when he was writing the scripts. He tried to focus on the human costs incurred by returning soldiers and those close to them.
Q: Who do you hope will watch it?
We’ve screened the film for military personnel and for non-military types, and we hope that both groups will feel compelled to hear a story that’s happening on a daily basis. I think on average for the last month, one soldier per day has committed suicide, so this is a very real issue. It’s something everybody should know about.
What do you think it says about the wars going on in the Middle East?
I think it’s not about the wars in the Middle East. It’s more about the human cost of war spanning generations. Veterans from every war we’ve fought as a nation have dealt with PTSD. So I think it’s more about [the] experience families go through after a soldier comes back from war.
Q: Do you think it could have an impact on policymakers who see it?
That’s a best-case scenario. We’ve played it for some congressmen and military brass and want to get into the White House. And that’s why we’re excited about [President] Obama’s stated interest in helping soldiers grappling with PTSD. They really need help and understanding. But on a smaller scale, our more humble hope is [that] the movie can at least inspire a dialogue among people and their communities about the issue. This is important, because we’ve screened the film in military and non-military communities, and there is such a disconnect between the two groups. People outside of military life don’t know or understand nearly as much about this widespread issue.
Q: Is there a message you hope viewers will take away with them?
Hope. The movie by no means has a Hollywood ending, but it does show that we can begin to have conversations about these issues, that there’s help out there. The message is that we can help people coping with this feel less alone by understanding what they’re going through. We want them to know that their sacrifice is not going to be swept under the rug.
Q: Your character gets caught up in her husband’s bout with PTSD after returning from war. What was it like playing a role dealing with such sensitive issues?
I was really drawn to the character Sarah because her feelings of loss and desperation were so real. And interestingly, when I first approached the topic and read the script, I thought it was capturing a near-worst-case scenario. But then I started doing research and talking to people dealing with this, and realized that we were just scratching the surface. So many of these people feel isolated and invisible because no one is talking about what they’re going through. So again, I hope taking on this role will help get people interested in learning about this and helping each other.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect for you in doing this film?
I was also an executive producer, and taking on that wide perspective and range of responsibilities while simultaneously trying to get into my character, which takes a very narrow type of focus, was difficult. Dancing between those two very different roles was challenging.
Q: What are your plans moving forward after “The Dry Land”?
After all the intense, sort of grassroots promotion I’ve been doing for the film, I think I’m pretty ready for a vacation.