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Ugly Betty's beautiful ending

When Ugly Betty was axed after four series', actress Ana Ortiz had to remind herself that it was just a television show.

She had been in the Channel 4 American comedy since the start, playing Hilda, the fiery older sister of bespectacled heroine Betty Suarez, and relished being part of such a ground-breaking show.

"Ultimately it's a TV show and I know that," the 39-year-old begins.

"But, that said, for a while we were the only Mexican family on TV in a nation that's full of Latinos. This was a show centred around a woman first of all, and she happened to be Latin. This was unheard of, and everybody watched it because they totally related to it."

Not only that, but fashion magazine assistant Betty - who wears her heart on her sleeve and braces on her teeth - is something of an anti-heroine. With her thick specs, full fringe and frumpy clothes, she uses her brain and personality to get by in the ultra-shallow world of fashion.

"A lot of young girls, not just Latin ones, come up to me and tell me how much they love Betty and how she was an inspiration to them," Ortiz says.

The US show, which stars America Ferrara in the lead role and names Hollywood actress Salma Hayek as executive producer, was canned by network ABC after its viewing figures declined from an average of eight million to five million.

Ortiz admits that she could see the end was nigh when the show was moved to Friday night; a slot which attracts such poor viewing figures, it's known in the industry as 'the Friday night death slot'.

But that didn't make her any less upset when the news was finally announced.

"I was really sad... broken-hearted to be honest. We saw the writing on the wall but, even though you prepare yourself, you're never really prepared," she says, with a nervous giggle.

Ortiz, whose father and mother are from Puerto Rico and Ireland respectively, was born and raised in New York, where Ugly Betty is set. After honing her skills with a theatre company, she was delighted to stumble on a part as rich as Hilda after a run of auditions for "Latina maids called Maria".

Hilda is a beautician and single mother to teenage son Justin, and she's fiercely protective of her family.

"I love everything about her!" Ortiz states.

"I love her fire, I love the passion for her family, I love her whole energy. She's really dynamic."

The actress is certainly as loud and excitable as her alter-ego, peppering her conversation with exclamations, jokes and peals of throaty laughter - she even admits that playing such an outspoken character has rubbed off on her in real life.

"After four years she has snaked her way into me a little bit. But in a good way, although my husband might disagree if you asked him! If I get into an argument, he'll go, 'OK Hilda!'," she says with a wicked laugh.

Fans will be pleased to know that unlucky-in-love Hilda finds her perfect match in the upcoming final series.

"She finds a man who can handle her," Ortiz explains, before rushing on to describe her favourite moment from the new series - one which regular viewers of the comedy will have been expecting from the start.

"My son has a really powerful storyline this season. For me to be part of that and to see this young actor and the writers handle it so incredibly well was amazing, and I really feel that's another important - and game-changing - part of the show.

"This season is really where he blossoms, for lack of a better word, and finds out who he is," she says.

Fans will also be waiting for a conclusion to the will-they-won't-they romance between Betty and her boss Daniel. Ortiz is keeping quiet about this one ("I don't want to give too much away!") but she does reveal that there are a few changes for Betty in store.

"I think Betty really comes into her own and it's wonderful because a lot of people thought they would take Betty and change her into this beautiful swan, but they didn't.

"She got her braces off and her fringe grown out, but she'll always be Betty, just with a bit more panache. And America was getting so tired of wearing those braces, believe me," Ortiz says.

Speaking of Latin ladies with panache, word has it that hip-shaking chart diva Shakira pops in for a cameo during this series.

"She does," confirms Ortiz, cautiously.

The actress then loses her cool completely and adds: "We almost lost our minds - she was ama-ama-amazing!

"She was really, really friendly. She wasn't a diva who stuck to her dressing room. She was incredibly accommodating, really good and funny."

The cast are now holding out for an Ugly Betty film, about which Ortiz and Ferrara have been the most vocal.

"There's nothing concrete yet but we're hoping to bring it into existence by talking about it," she giggles.

Unlike many American TV programmes, which are scrapped mid-series, Ugly Betty's producers found out it had not been recommissioned with enough time to tie up the fourth series nicely.

Ortiz says: "I'm really proud we ended on a high note but it's open enough for there to be a movie. But the season ends really beautifully and in a nice 'Betty' way.

"There'll be lots of tears, lots of laughter. We're the Suarez family and that's the way we roll."

UGLY BETTY - TOP FIVE MOMENTS...

:: Betty was recruited to be personal assistant to magazine editor Daniel, and was chosen specifically because it was believed she would not prove a temptation for the playboy. Fittingly, on her first day she walked into the Mode office wearing a shriekingly unfashionable knitted poncho, prompting snide remarks all round.

:: Fashion Week was bound to be a big deal at Mode magazine, but the staff certainly didn't expect Daniel's late brother Alex to drop in. Not only did he announce that he had faked his own death, but that he was now - after gender reassignment surgery - a woman, called Alexis.

:: Not long after Hilda gets back together with Santos, the erstwhile father of her son Justin, he is killed in the crossfire during a shop robbery. Hilda is so heartbroken she convinces herself he is still alive, and goes along with it until finally admitting the truth to herself.

:: When magazine owner Bradford dies, creative director Wilhemlina steals sperm from his body in the hope of giving birth to an heir to the company.

:: After downing copious amounts of champagne on an empty stomach, Mode's receptionist Amanda launches into a full-on rendition of Dreamgirls - only to be upstaged by camp assistant Marc, wearing a full-length gown and opera gloves.

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