12/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Becki Newton: "Ugly Betty's" Secret Weapon

"When I read the Ugly Betty pilot, I thought, Oh, this part's funny," says Newton, 30, who's sitting across from me in the Upper West Side's Cafe Lalo. She's wearing a knit hobo cap and a loose-fitting sweater--a strikingly different ensemble from that of her gladiator-heeled character. "I said to my husband, 'I'm going to get it!,' " she says. "But based on what? All my exquisite comedic work in a Nike commercial? Yet something about the character made perfect sense in my head, even though she's so demented. I knew exactly how I wanted to portray her."

Ugly Betty was Newton's first serious gig; after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a history degree, she decided to pursue acting in New York, with the usual lack of success. "I auditioned for every play, even if they were looking for a 50-year-old African-American person, which confused a lot of casting directors," Newton says drily. "Looking back, it's horribly embarrassing, but I thought I was amazing. Somehow that prepped me for what I do now, because I'm not afraid to look stupid." Newton eventually found work in commercials, which paid well and allowed her to make occasional trips to Los Angeles for pilot season (the period when potential new TV shows are cast). Her third go-round in L.A., Newton auditioned for Ugly Betty and got the role of Amanda.

Read more on New York Magazine