The cast of Ugly Betty celebrated tonight’s return with the first of four new episodes (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) and their early season 4 pickup with a panel discussion at New York City’s Paley Center for Media Wednesday night. EW’s own Jessica Shaw moderated the chat, which featured guests Vanessa Williams, Ana Ortiz, Mark Indelicato, Becki Newton, Tony Plana, and executive producer Silvio Horta among others. Here’s what we learned during the panel, followed by what I uncovered before it, speaking to members of the cast in the lobby (i.e. Vanessa Williams is counting the days until the return of RuPaul’s Drag Race.)
• Horta said Season 4 will feature the removal of Betty’s braces (!), the long-awaited musical episode (!!), and Justin starting at a performing arts high school (!!!).
• Upcoming guest stars in season 3’s final four episodes include Rachel Dratch (playing twins), Billie Jean King (with whom Wilhelmina plays tennis), Antonio Sabato Jr. (playing himself in a “hot fantasy sequence”), Tommy Hilfiger, and, of course, as previously reported, Adele. Christopher Gorham will return for one episode as Henry – and he’ll have a girlfriend. Christine Baranski will reprise her role as Matt’s mother. She and Wilhelmina get drunk and end up singing “The Man That Got Away.” (That drew excited gasps from the crowd.) Ralph Macchio returns as Archie and wants to get Hilda involved in his campaign. (“I think she sees herself as sort of the Latina Michelle Obama,” Ortiz told me.) Williams’ dream guest star would be Bette Midler. Newton’s? Paul Reubens.
• Other spoilers: There will be two wedding proposals – but only one wedding (at the planetarium). Baby William will be kidnapped. Amanda isn’t worried about her job – but she should be. Wilhelmina and Claire will reignite their feud. Mode will get a new boss…
• Trivia you may have known, but forgotten: Michael Urie (Marc) was only supposed to be a guest star, for one episode. Theoriginal plan was to have Wilhelmina fire a new assistant every week. After trying out a hundred pair of glasses, producers asked the show’scostume designer, Patricia Field, if they could give the pair she waswearing a go – they became Betty’s. Production designer Mark Worthington designed Mode’s killer lobby based on one line in Horta’s pilot script referring to it as “iPod-esque.” Some of the death stares Wilhelmina gives are borrowed from Williams’ mother. Plana (Ignacio) would love to put out a line of aprons and a cookbook. His title: Ugly Recipes for Beautiful Food. Horta will never put Betty and Daniel together. In his pilot script, he had a moment where they looked at each other in a way that would have left that door open, but the chemistry between the actors made them feel more like family.
After the jump, lobby conversation.
• Williams was flattered to be at the center of EW’s Bullseye in a recent issue (for being the saving grace of Hannah Montana The Movie). She has an album coming out this June. She says anyone who’s concerned that Willy has gotten soft won’t feel that way for long. “Her fire, her fight, it all comes roaring back.” Asked for a canceled show that she’s mourned, she said David Alan Grier’s Chocolate News on Comedy Central. She’d TiVo’d it, and kept waiting for new episodes. She said she’s eagerly anticipating the return of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo. She’s obsessed with it.
• Ortiz, meanwhile, is obsessed with Brothers & Sisters. She loves to hate Holly, and is almost at the point where she can’t even like Ryan.
• Newton is excited that Betty is back so that her grandmother can resume her Thursday ritual of inviting family members over to watch the episode – then phoning Becki to give a recap of what she did and did not like. Enough people have raved to her about The Wire that she’s thinking she really needs to get the DVDs. She’s hoping for a beach vacation this summer. She does not have swine flu. (That’s actually the first thing she told me.)
• Plana celebrated the show’s early pickup by taking his family out to dinner and having “some really expensive wine.” He misses Pushing Daisies and Eli Stone. His wife just got a job on One Life to Live. All ABC shows… “I’m a loyal guy,” he said.