Ferrell was born in Houston, Texas. She moved from Houston to New York after high school and began her career on stage including roles on Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music (1981) and Ain't Misbehavin on Broadway. She made her screen debut in a small role in the 1981 comedy film So Fine, and later appeared in Lady Beware, School Daze, The Mighty Quinn, and The Exorcist III. On television, she guest-starred in Hill Street Blues, The Twilight Zone, and Quantum Leap, and had recurring roles on Square One Television, The Bronx Zoo, and Thirtysomething. In 1990, Ferrell was regular cast member on the short-lived CBS sitcom City starring Valerie Harper.