Your new movie is called, "The DUFF". What exactly is a Duff ?"The movie is based on a best-selling young adult novel written by Kody Keplinger. Basically, DUFF stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend"; but, in our film it's not to be taken literally, but rather stands for something broader. There's always going to be labels that we get in life. And, if you compare yourself (to others); there's always going to be someone who's more athletic than you, richer than you or more smarter than you. But, what we do with that theme in the film is bring a heartwarming message by having our main character figuring out that she likes herself for exactly who she is, and that she can be simply the be the best version of herself that she can be."
How does the film give teens who suffer from those often mean-spirited labels some hope and self-esteem ?"What I love about our film is that we present our characters who bear those labels that others give them and we get to show that there's something deeper going on inside them. We have one character in the film who's supposed to be the "brainless jock"; but you come to find he has all these layers and more to his personality than the outer looks and label. Through his journey to help the main character Bianca Piper (The film's designated "Duff") rid herself of her "DUFF" label, he comes to realize there's more to himself than what's seen on the surface. With each character in the film, we come to realize that all have these layers and we don't have to be one-dimensional versions of ourselves."
The film also touches on the serious issue of high school bullying, with a somewhat light touch, but still effectively. How important was it to include that element in the film ?"We're in a time where bullying is displayed in so many different ways. We touch on cyber bullying in the film and we also got to partner with an anti-bullying campaign. The more we talk about bullying and how to recognize it and how to cope with it … we can bring to light a subject that truly hurts a lot of young people. One way or another, I think everyone has felt bullied. Even in the workplace as an adult, being bullied or just feeling bullied is such a real ( experience ) and I love that this film kind of shines a light on that."
Have you ever felt like a DUFF in your own life or was there something in the film that you related to on a personal level?"I related to the main character, Bianca Piper, 100-percent. The woman I am today has also gone through a lot of changes. We all go through awkward phases and changes and I was the DUFF in high school. I was the girl who was barely 100 pounds with braces and a face full of acne. But I was so unapologetically myself all the time, because I was so into getting up in front of my math class and dancing, performing and putting on a show. One of the most empowering things was to realize that the only person holding me back from the things I wanted to do in life would be myself… and I just have to do it and accomplish it."
You were on TV's The Fosters on ABC Family, which featured a very multi cultural family and was executive produced by Jennifer Lopez. You're also a mix of Cuban and Brazilian heritage. How important are your cultural roots to you ?"It was a great experience for me to have so much diversity on the show and deal with so many different issues. Even though I'm a first generation American, it's still very important to me to be in touch with my Cuban side and my Brazilian side of who I am. I grew up speaking with three languages and every holiday, I was alternating between these two different cultural worlds that my parents come from. Because of that, I bring a pride as being a Latina. I have a joy for life and a gratitude that comes from my roots. The Brazilians are all about celebrating life and the Cubans are so proud and happy and grateful… and I think because I know where I came from, it makes me happier for all I've accomplished."
How does a young actress like yourself stay grounded in a competitive atmosphere like Hollywood?"For me, as someone who had things happen in my career very quickly, you can easily lose yourself. One of the things that keeps me grounded is that my family is here with me in Los Angeles. I go home every weekend and I do either lunch or brunch or dinner on Sunday with my family. I think keeping my family as one of the most important things in my life, as well as staying close to my best friends from high school has helped keep me grounded. Having a group of people around me who support me and have known me through my earlier awkward stages (also) helps keep me grounded… and just having those people to remind me where I came from."
As a Latina actress, there may be stereotypical obstacles that one might face in Hollywood. Has that ever been a challenge for you ?"For me, being a Latina has actually afforded me roles. I would say that there's a lot more opportunities these days with casting. 20-years ago, not as many opportunities might not have been available to someone like me. However, even though we are seeing positive changes regarding Latinos in Hollywood, I think there's still a long way to go. But, (Hollywood) is becoming more and more aware that diversity is so important and I love that… and it's amazing."
The DUFF hit theaters nationwide on February 20th!
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