'Gentefied': America Ferrera on Growing as a Director With Emotional Thanksgiving Episode (Exclusive)

America Ferrera
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Netflix

Ferrera opens up to ET about being 'excited but also terrified' when directing the show's emotional Thanksgiving episode.

America Ferrera's journey as a producer and director on Gentefied has been so rewarding.

The actress once again stepped behind the camera to direct three episodes for season 2. But there was one in particular that she was "excited, but also terrified" to take on. Ferrera kicks off the season by directing the first episode, "Welcome Home, Pop," setting the show's new storylines in motion. She returns for the second episode, "Vivian Castro Hates Mexicans."

The show's sixth episode, "Sangiving," is among the most emotional and a major turning point for the characters. It follows Pops (Joaquín Cosio) after he requests a peaceful Thanksgiving family meal before his deportation trial. However, as everyone gets together, tensions arise when their secrets start coming out.

"It was so awesome. [Creators] Marvin [Lemus] and Linda [Yvette Chávez] and this show have given me the gift of getting to grow as a director, to get behind the camera, to tell stories that are so close to my heart, that I so relate to and resonate with," Ferrera tells ET. "When we sat down and read all the scripts, and we read the Thanksgiving script, I was just, like, salivating!"

"I knew I was directing one and two, but I didn't dare ask to direct another episode," she continues. "And I just assumed it would be another director directing it. And as it turned out, Marvin asked me to do it and I couldn't believe it. I was so excited, but then also terrified, but it pushed me and challenged me!"

The episode includes the entire Morales family, a total of nine members, all spending the day inside Pops and Lupe's (Alma Martinez) home. There's Ana (Karrie Martin Lachney), her sister, Nayeli (Bianca Melgar), and mom, Beatriz (Laura Patalano), who touch on their patriarch's death. Chris (Carlos Santos) reveals to his father, Ernesto (Manuel Uriza), and the rest of his family that he's decided not to go to France and instead landed a job in Mexico. Erik (J.J. Soria) and Lidia's (Annie Gonzalez) problems as new parents are also made public.

"The Thanksgiving one presented so many challenges because it was basically the whole cast in one location, scenes that went on for pages and pages that were supposed to be dramatic and funny," Ferrera recalls. "And it was all going to be about pacing and performance. That was such a fun episode to do, and also a really challenging episode to do too."

The episode -- which the three young leads called their favorite -- takes an emotional turn as Pops admits that there have been a lot of changes and this might be the last time the family celebrates a holiday together. There's lengthy heart-wrenching monologues, comedic scenes, bickering and great rapport between the actors as they sit at the dining table for their meal.

"We're really excited about [the] Thanksgiving episode," Santos also shares with ET. "It was so much fun and it was because of the nature of the way that it was done. It was a different experience for us [and] to approach it in the way that it was made. There was a lot of plates that were moving, behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. And I thought that that was such a great experience to have as an actor."


It would be hard not to shed a tear as one listens to Pops' final monologue after everyone's emotions are high and Chris literally throws the turkey across the room.

"My son is right, I'm not a saint," he sternly says, as he touches on why Ana and Nayeli's dad is dead. "The day I left Mexico, I didn't want to come. But my father told me it's what I had to do. To sacrifice everything for the family because that's what men do. They sacrifice."

As Pops continues describing his last days in Mexico before he left for the U.S., the entire family listens with tears in their eyes.
"Each episode I had to direct challenged me in so many ways," Ferrera reflects. "And especially because I had been in so many conversations with Marvin and Linda about what they wanted for this season, visually. They really wanted to grow the visual aesthetic of the show. They wanted it to take on a different kind of maturity and cinematic value in this second season."

She continues, "And so I felt really challenged to really go as far as I knew how to go as a director and try to bring those aspects to each of the episodes that I directed."

Season 2 of Gentefied is now streaming on Netflix. For more on Gentefied, see below.