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America Ferrera Takes a Dry Run

The multi-faceted star plays a military wife dealing with the return of her husband in the new film, The Dry Land.

By New York City
America Ferrera and Ryan O'Nan in The Dry Land
America Ferrera and Ryan O'Nan in The Dry Land
America Ferrera has secured her place in Hollywood's heart by playing spirited young women in movies such as Real Women Have Curves and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; plays such as Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead; and, most notably as the star of ABC's hit television series Ugly Betty, in which she played a fashion-challenged journalist who eventually finds true style (and maybe even true love) while staying true to herself.

Now, the actress adds to her impressive roster of parts as she takes on the heartbreaking role of a military wife whose husband is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in the new film, The Dry Land, opening on July 30.

The story follows the struggle of a returning Iraq war veteran (played by Ryan O'Nan) as he tries to readjust to "normal" life in Texas. Haunted by his experiences and unable to reconnect with his life at home, he becomes increasingly dysfunctional and ultimately threatening to his family.

"A lot of soldiers are coming home from Iraq, and we wanted to talk about what was going to happen next to them and their families," says Ferrara, who is also the film's executive producer. Indeed, she is deeply dedicated to the film and its primary agenda, which is to start a conversation about how we treat our soldiers. "This war in particular, and your political feelings of whether or not it was just, that chapter is done," she says. "We're in it. Now what? How do we make their transition easier?"

The struggles of a modern military wife are incomprehensible to most celebrities, but Ferrara found her way into her role by connecting to the core of her character's pain. "She is a woman who had a partner in life who is now inaccessible. How do you get him back? How do you find that person that was supposed to be there forever?" she asks.

The actress' research brought her to ask the unsparing questions that wives of husbands with PTSD often ask themselves. "One woman said to me, 'I allowed myself the thought of would it be easier if he didn't come home." Fighting back a few tears, Ferrara adds, "A lot of family members take on the guilt of how do I heal this person. And they can't. The person has to heal themselves."

Ferrara gives a lot of credit to the film's director, Ryan Williams -- who is also her fiance. "His intention was to tell a story that a soldier or soldier's family would recognize and say 'yes that feels real to me," she reports. "He wanted each of us as actors to feel that obligation to be authentic."

As it happens, the couple got engaged the day before they traveled to Iraq for a special USO screening. "It's an extra added layer when something that can inspire you has been created by your partner," she says. "That their art and their work inspires you to go deeper in yourself has been an added benefit."


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