Ferrera credits her five older siblings for the fact that she's always felt older than her years. "I learned the naughty words before anyone else in my class," she says, laughing. "And I think I avoided many of the pitfalls because I got to watch them live through it." Indeed, chatting with her, it's easy to forget that she's only 23. Her maturity is not just a matter of her intelligencewhich becomes more and more apparent as she quotes New York Times articles over dinner and discusses genetics while having her hair done pre-photo shootbut emotional precocity as well. "Happiness is something that you have to decide to have in your life," she says. "No amount of accolades can make you a happy person, and learning that as young as I did was a gift." Though she sounds like a poster child for the positive psychology movement that has lately dominated the self-help realmthe Oprah-endorsed best-seller The Secret being its latest missiveFerrera says she figured out this truism on her own, as a result of her aforementioned Gotta Kick It Up experience.
Still, despite her belief that achievement isn't a one-way ticket to bliss, Ferrera remains a doer, and an intensely ambitious one at that. Rather than spend her summer hiatus resting up, she hopes to use the time to shoot a movie, though she's hesitant to talk specifics since nothing is set in stone. "When there's a film I want to do, sleep doesn't matter," she says. "Part of me would love to be sitting in the sun in Italy, but I'd be crazy by day four." One would think that, considering her recent rise in profile, offers of leading-lady roles would be rolling in, but Ferrera says that isn't the case. "When it comes to envisioning an actor in a role that they haven't seen them in, people in this business can be a little uncreative," she says. "No one is willing to take a gamble." As a result, she says, she's had to take a more proactive approach to her career: "It's been more about developing my own material, finding roles that I would like to play and figuring out a way to get those things made."