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God bless America Ferrera. For the past three seasons on ABC’s Ugly Betty, her frumpy, orthadontically challenged underdog Betty Suarez has proved a foolproof foil to the sitcom’s bitchy fashionistas hell-bent on breaking her. Chief among them: Amanda Tanen, Mode magazine’s scheming, schadenfreude-in-stilettos receptionist, played pitch-perfectly by Becki Newton.
The role has been nothing short of transformational for Newton, who, before Betty, was a TV novice with just a few credits—the New York actor’s requisites: Cold Case and Law & Order: SVU cameos. Not only does Amanda allow Newton to flaunt a seamless blend of superficial cattiness and sharp comedy, all arched eyebrows and nasally sneers, but she does so done up in costume designer Patricia Field’s particular brand of high gloss, often outré, fashion.
“Pat’s been really great about it being a dialogue,” says Newton, who was faced with a rubber and spandex dress in season one. “But I learned very quickly to stand there and wear whatever Pat puts on me. She’s so smart and confident in her risk-taking that there’s no point in questioning it.” Nor should she, considering Field’s track record of turning television actresses into style superstars.
The clothes are essential to achieving the show’s nimble parody of fashion’s alluring, if seemingly ridiculous, world, for which there seems to be an insatiable audience. Newton herself doesn’t pretend to be the type of actress who’s above it all. “No way,” says Newton, 30, who grew up in Connecticut and has a degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania. “Those people are lying anyway. I’ve always loved fashion. It was just a matter of access.”
That’s no longer a problem. Thanks to a major case of life imitating art, Newton is regularly exposed to the designers, fashion shows, shoots, parties and premieres that appear on Ugly Betty. Her red-carpet count is up—some might say too high: WWD tallied her at 34 events in the last year, with appearances at everything from the Marc Jacobs and Victoria’s Secret fashion shows to the star-studded Gucci-sponsored UNICEF benefit to the grand opening of Casino of the Wind at Mohegan Sun, all of which require a wardrobe.
STYLING BY ROXANNE ROBINSON-ESCRIOUT; HAIR BY CHARLES STRAHAN AT ARTISTSBYTIMOTHYPRIANO.COM; MAKEUP BY BEAU NELSON AT ARTISTSBYTIMOTHYPRIANO.COM; MANICURE BY BETHANY NEWELL AT MAGNET NY; FASHION ASSISTANTS: MARCIE QUINTANA AND SYDNEY EISENSTEIN