Isabella Ferreira is a “glowing person” according to her Love, Victor co-star Ana Ortiz. And within minutes of our video chat, I quickly agree. While the 17-year-old actress is known for playing a rebellious teen on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, in real life she’s delightful. It’s a demeanor that also contrasts against her latest onscreen persona: Pilar Salazar in the aforementioned Hulu Original series spun from the hit flick Love, Simon. “I love that movie,” Isabella said. “I was obsessed with it. I remember saying I always wanted to be a part of something like that.” And thanks to hard work and a lucky Hollywood gate (more on that later), Isabella got her wish!
HOLA! USA: First of all, how are you hanging in during this time?
Isabella Ferreira: “I’m doing okay, I guess. You know, this quarantine has me a little bit crazy. I’m with my family in Philly right now, I’ve definitely been spending a lot of quality time with them.”
What have you been doing to stay creative?
“I have this drawing journal, and I’ll do a page a day and that’s really been keeping me busy. I used to love painting when I was younger, so I thought: ‘let me try this when I’m in quarantine to stay busy.’”
I know you also started dancing at a young age, how did you transition to acting?
“I started when I was five years old and did that for about ten years. Then, I realized my real passion was acting. When I was younger, I was a really shy girl and with acting you don’t have to be yourself, obviously, so I could just portray these characters. I didn’t have to be Isabella - I could be Olivia or something like that.”
Who did you idolize growing up?
“There’s so many people, but I think the main person that has always been there is Jennifer Lopez, of course. She also grew up dancing and then she booked the role of Selena. And also, Selena. I love her! I wish she was alive today so I could meet her. Jennifer Lopez for sure, though, she definitely built her own empire and that’s very inspiring.”
And speaking of Jennifers. I hear you love Jennifer Lawrence?
“I love Jennifer Lawrence - she’s amazing! I watch her interviews on Youtube all the time. I just sit there laughing. She seems like a fun person!”
You’re in the position to be a role model now, do you have any advice for kids looking up to you?
“If you have a passion for something and you really, really love something - always go for it. Don’t let anybody try to tear you down or tell you otherwise because who are they to tell you anything? If it’s something that you really think that you can do and you believe in yourself, then you can. Hard work, too. That also helps.”
Well it paid off, because you’re now a series regular on Love, Victor. What was your audition process ?
“I actually had a really smooth audition process, which I’m extremely grateful for. I got an email from my agent Natasha Matallana [Take 3 Talent] saying there’s this show - it was Love, Simon at the time, the same as the movie. I remember going into a little studio in New York and it was just one audition. I didn’t hear anything back for about three weeks, so I thought maybe I didn’t get it. Then, I got a call from my agent and she’s like, ‘yeah, so remember that thing you auditioned for, they wanna screen test you in L.A. literally tomorrow.’ I was in Philly at the time. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know what’s going on.’ I was just excited to have that screen test whether or not I actually got the job. Then she called me an hour later and says, ‘you know what, never mind they don’t wanna screen test you… you actually just booked the job!’ It was all so sudden.”
Wow. How was it filming on the iconic Paramount Studios lot?
“It was life-changing. It’s funny because a year ago, from the time I first stepped foot to start filming, I was at Paramount in California doing a tour. I was like, let me just envision this… maybe one day. In the tour they said if you touch the front gate you’ll get good luck for anything you want. And so I touched the gate. I was like, ‘this is so cute!’ Who knew that a year later I’d be working there. It’s still crazy to this day.”
When we meet your character Pilar, she’s struggling to find her new normal - something we can all relate to currently. How did you go about breathing life into her?
“When I first read for her I was kind of like, I am definitely not this character in real life. I’m not as rebellious or sassy or feisty or anything like that. Then I looked back to when I was her age, 14, and I was kinda going through the same thing in regards to feeling alone and not feeling understood. So I brought my memories and past experiences and meshed them together with her.”
What was it like to have veteran actors Ana Ortiz and James Martinez play your parents?
“When I found out I was working with Ana and James, cause I watched One Day At A Time and Ugly Betty, I was like, ‘no, no, this isn’t real!’ They’re just so talented and I learned so much from working with them and they’re honestly like my parents in real life at this point. James is a new-time parent and I told him ‘I’m the older sister!’”
What’s something you learned from them?
“Ana would always tell me to stay true to myself and be the ‘glowing person’ that I am. She was always sweet and kinds with words. James, too, he always said nice things all the time. It was really nice to hear those words onset, because it was my first time being a series regular in a pretty big series. It was really comforting.”
What does it mean for you to be a part of a project that tells diverse stories, especially with the series coming out now?
“There’s so many emotions. I’m really excited and very grateful because growing up there weren’t a lot of shows like this, featuring leading Latinx families. Not only that, families that showcase the struggle a lot of Latinx families have to deal with in America. I think it’s empowering to be able to be a part of something like this.”
Hulu moved the premiere date up due since it was set for June 19 - when America marks 155 years since slavery was abolished. Can you speak to that?
“Throughout these past couple of weeks, all I’ve been really doing is learning and listening and trying to be the best me I can be. When I found out that they moved the date, I was so proud and so relieved. This needed to be done. It felt right. I was really excited that it got pushed forward and that they could give that its own day to shine.”
Shifting gears, will you all celebrate the premiere somehow? A zoom party perhaps?
“We’re not gonna get together in real life obviously, cause of quarantine. I wish I could - I miss them all so much! I’m on the East Coast right now and everyone else is really in L.A. I think we’re gonna be doing some fun Twitter stuff while the show premieres.”
So, you’ll watch with the family? Is it weird for you to watch yourself?
“I hate watching myself. My mom’s so excited, she’s counting down the days. I’m pretty sure she has an alarm set on her phone for when it drops. It’s so cute.”
People binge shows so fast and will instantly be ready for season 2. Any word on that?
“I know that we have a writer’s room which is really exciting, but nothing’s set in stone. I’m crossing my fingers!”
Beyond Love, Victor, what do you see down the road?
“I definitely want to get into movies. That’d be super fun. I always say I want to be like a spy or a supernatural being. I’d love to be in an action movie.
You act, you dance, you sing. How about Broadway?
“I’ve always thought about Broadway. I’m so close to New York. I don’t know, I can’t see myself doing live theater. It’s so much harder - I give them so much credit! Maybe one day, I’d love to try and do a show just to experience it. Maybe it would be my thing and I’d just continue doing that.”
No matter what, you seem to have such a supportive family.
“My mom has always been my biggest supporter and she still is to this day. I honestly don’t how I would do any of this without her. She’s really my rock. My family is so supportive. All of them. They’re all my biggest supporters.”
Catch Isabella in Love, Victor on Hulu now!