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Quarantine Life: Catching up with 'Ugly Betty's' Tony Plana

On reconnecting with Mother Nature, watching TV classics like "The Wire" and his current TV role as a businessman who turns to "darker choices."
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"Ugly Betty" star Tony PlanaAndrew Eccles / Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

He has been an actor for over three decades and a familiar face to viewers of shows like NBC's “Superstore,” “Jane the Virgin,” and the reboot of “One Day at A Time.” In 2019, he portrayed Fox News' Geraldo Rivera in the movie, “Bombshell.” But Tony Plana will perhaps always be best known for playing Ignacio Suarez, the father of America’s beloved nerd, on the TV sitcom “Ugly Betty.”

Plana, 68, is one of the stars of Telemundo’s “Enemigo Intimo” (Intimate Enemy) TV series. He plays an heir to a family business who goes to the dark side of the drug wars. The Cuban American actor spoke with NBC News about life in quarantine, whether he would do a reunion of “Ugly Betty,” his new TV role and what he misses most while sheltering in place.

NBC: How and where are you quarantining?

TP: I am with my wife, about 90 miles north of New York City, in the Hudson Valley. It is very isolated. We are surrounded by mother nature and wildlife. We aren’t going into the city very much. Everything we love about the city is not available right now; restaurants, concerts, theater, movies. There is no reason to go.

NBC: What is a typical day for you like in quarantine?

TP: Because of our new reality, I’ve had to create an internal schedule for myself as opposed to having an external schedule of work and auditions. I get up, work out, go on a hike. I am working on two Bible-themed projects right now, in one of them I voice the role of “Job.” Those have given me something to focus on, to get up in the morning for.

It’s been hard, though. I am a very Type-A proactive person. I want to go through each day feeling like I haven’t wasted the day... I am working on my website; reconnecting with my wife, staying in touch with my children. I try to meditate, to work on my spiritual life. I am figuring it all out.

NBC: What is your guilty pleasure that you are indulging in during quarantine?

TP: My wife and I are watching a lot of TV. We’ve been revisiting classic American mini-series, like five seasons of “The Wire,” which I believe to be one of the greatest procedurals. Right now, we’re working our way through “The Sopranos,” and then next up is “Breaking Bad.” There’s a lot of crime out there! (laughs) It’s a reminder of how the world is out there, while we are here in our peaceful abode.

Tony Plana in a scene from "Enemigo Intimo."
Tony Plana in a scene from "Enemigo Intimo."Telemundo

We asked Plana about his role in the Telemundo crime drama, "Enemigo Intimo," where he plays one of two brothers in opposite sides of the drug wars—and how it felt to play the more stereotypical "bad guy."

TP: In this show, the characters fuel the action. My character is the heir of a family business and finds himself threatened on every level. In his desperation, he turns to money laundering and trafficking to survive. He turns to darker choices.

As an actor, what was fascinating to me was the question of how far would you go to preserve your reputation, your family, your legacy? I think this kind of dilemma is being faced, at some level, by a lot of people, as they try to figure out whether they should go back to work, how they are going to survive the pandemic, or what they need to do to protect their families.

NBC: Would you consider doing an “Ugly Betty” reunion?

TP: I would love to do it. I became so close with the actors who played my TV family; America Ferrera, Ana Ortiz, Mark Indelicato. I still stay in touch with them, and they call me Pops or Papi. Playing their dad sort of expanded my family, because I see them as my kids, I am very proud of them.

We did a reunion for the ATX Television Festival, for the ten-year anniversary of the show, and it was wonderful. Doing a TV reunion would depend on America (Ferrera) who is busy with writing and producing and her family. But even just a reunion special would be so fun.

Tony Plana as Ignacio Suarez and America Ferrera as his daughter Betty Suarez in a scene from "Ugly Betty."
Tony Plana as Ignacio Suarez and America Ferrera as his daughter Betty Suarez in a scene from "Ugly Betty."Vivian Zink / Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

NBC: How did you feel when you heard about Silvio Horta? (Horta, 45, creator of “Ugly Betty,” died by suicide in January 2020).

TP: “Ugly Betty” was a turning point in my life, and I owe that to him. I’d always been a character actor, but that show made me into someone who everybody feels like they know. Silvio was primarily responsible for me getting the job; the producers originally wanted someone older. I will always be grateful to him for how he wrote our characters, with such grace and nuance. He brought a wonderful personality, gentleness, and spirit of collaboration to the work. His loss was tragic, he was so talented and had the potential to create so much more.

NBC: What are you looking forward to doing most, once quarantine is over?

TP: I want to see my kids again! I am looking forward to seeing New York City come alive again and thrive. My wife and I are praying for a vaccine, so we can have some kind of normalcy. We would love to go out to a restaurant and let someone else do the cooking!

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