Icon of the horror scene, screaming in “Scream” and bleeding in “‘X”, the 20-year-old actress revealed on Disney Channel bursts the screen in Addams on Netflix. For Première, she tells herself.
She was only 14 when she became a Disney Channel child star with the family sitcom Harley, the least of my worries. But in a few years, the actress of Mexican-Puerto Rican origins broke her image of a wise little girl to become an icon of horror cinema. Passed by Scream, X, Insidous, YOU and even Foo Fighters’ Studio 666, Jenna Ortega break the house again Wednesday Addams – today on Netflix – and continues to climb in Hollywood. The actress, only 20 years old, tells her story at Première.
Wednesday is always the face in the series. Was it difficult for you to keep a straight face during filming?
No, it was quite easy actually. I don’t feel the need to smile all the time. I’m not the kind of girl who smiles stupidly in everyday life.
Do you have a dark side? Or a goth side like Wednesday?
Without a doubt. I’ve been compared to her quite a bit already… I’m a bit like her deep down. I have the same biting and sarcastic sense of humor. I used to do weird things when I was little too. The type to catch lizards in my garden to perform autopsies on them. I would remove all their organs, and then I would put that back in before stitching up the lizards in question and burying them. Three months later, I was digging them up to see the bones and trying to preserve them… I happened to do stuff like that, and my brothers and sisters didn’t like it at all.
You screamed in Screamin Xin Insidiousin YOU…That’s because you started on the Disney Channel – in the children’s sitcom Harley, the least of my worries – that you have become an icon of horror?
I was really very scared when I was little and one day I decided to take myself in hand. I started watching horror movies and loved it. It really took a huge place in my life. Horror is a hit genre, which keeps cinemas alive, which still makes people want to go to the cinema. So I find it hard to say no to a good horror movie script. It happened quite naturally in my career actually. It is not something that I have sought at all costs. But today, these are my greatest experiences as an actress on a set.
Aren’t you afraid of being defined as a “scream girl” in Hollywood by force?
I see what you mean. But no, I didn’t plan any of this at all. It’s funny because I love running around screaming after seeing a gruesome murder. Only that. And obviously people love to splash blood on my face…I don’t really know why. Apparently, people often want to kill me (laughs). It’s entertaining. Especially since on a horror movie set, people are incredibly dedicated. They are passionate about what they do. Hemoglobin effects, stab wounds, cuts and other scars… They’ve all been doing this because they love horror movies since they were kids. It doesn’t cost much to produce and it doesn’t require a lot of experience in the business to be able to make a gore and fun film. As a result, it makes it a very accessible genre, which mixes a whole lot of things. It’s a permanent thrill and a great way to simply escape reality.
— stev (@filmbywescraven) October 12, 2021
In Scream, you take over from Neve Campbell against Neve Campbell. Same in Wednesday, opposite Christina Ricci. The exercise must be a bit perilous, right?
Yes, it’s a bit special because in both cases, I joined an already well-respected franchise. So I had to integrate myself carefully, taking care not to damage anything. It puts some pressure. Especially when you have to do it by giving the reply to those who gave life to the franchise, to actresses who inspired me… It’s quite surreal, it’s true. On the one hand, I wanted to impress them, but at the same time to make them understand that the franchise was very important to me too. Either way, you can’t let your emotions overwhelm you. You have to stay focused to do the job. But it’s true that when Christina landed on the set of Wednesdayit was towards the end of the production, my eyelids started quivering: ‘I hope I haven’t messed it up. Tell me I didn’t ruin everything..’
We imagine that you asked him for advice…
(She cuts) No, none. Especially not. When we discussed on the set, we talked about everything but especially not about the role. Especially not Wednesday. We didn’t want to compare our two Wednesdays because they are two very different girls after all.
Were you familiar with Barry Sonnenfeld’s films (released in 1991 and 1993)? It’s not your generation…
Sure. I saw them when I was little. These are great films and in large part thanks to Christina Ricci by the way! Wednesday already stood out in The Addams Family at the time.
So how did you make your own version, without copying the original, and facing the original?
It was necessary to do things differently. Films and series do not require the same thing. They do not come out at the same time, nor in the same context. And above all, there is no question of imitation. I obviously didn’t want to copy someone else’s version. But at the same time, my generation – and even more so the one before – are familiar with the films of the 1990s. There is a certain nostalgia attached to Wednesday Addams. So, don’t stray too far from the character traits they love, while trying to introduce new elements. It’s delicate. Slowly, we guide people towards a new universe. You have to find a balance. If we go too fast, too far, in a new direction, we risk losing them. Or worse: fans of the original might see it as disrespectful. Myself, I mean no disrespect to the Wednesday of the 1990s that I loved so much.
To guide you, you could still count on Tim Burton, a Gothic legend, who directs a large part of the series…
He’s actually a normal guy. But he’s also a director with a very visual approach. I had never toured with someone so visionary, in the literal sense. He is in his world, but at the same time, he has a very collaborative way of working. He wants to build something “together”. With his pedigree, one could think the opposite. That he would be the haughty or contemptuous type. But not at all. It doesn’t operate that way at all. I had a little trouble breaking the ice at first, because he trusts his actors a lot and doesn’t give them so much direction. But on arrival, it was delightful to shoot with him.
What was his vision for Wednesday?
He wanted her to do nothing. At all. Never. It was funny. She shouldn’t blink. Always respond neutrally. Make a neutral head. He wanted to highlight his tranquility, his immobility. He also liked to film my face from above, doing Stanley Kubrick shots. You know, the famous “Kubrick stare”. We started every take like that, so I frowned and pulled out my saddest face to give him what he wanted.
Wednesday Addams is a great Latin American heroine, as there are still so few in Hollywood. As an actress of Mexican and Puerto Rican origins, do you notice a certain evolution in mentalities?
Hollywood is increasingly accepting of diversity. I have actually noticed a change in the decade that I have been in this business. It’s not easy, because the Latin community is probably the least represented in Hollywood. I believe that only 3% of actors and actresses are of Latin origin. And when we’re seen on screen, it’s for roles of stereotypical good fellow comedian or drug lord. Rarely, actors or actresses of Latin descent are shown in a positive or predominant light. We are too often cast to tick a box. And then there are quite a few Latin characters who are as iconic as Wednesday. So it was important to me that she be represented on screen by a colored actress like me. It’s a way of normalizing things in Hollywood.
You said you had the desire to become an actress, at the age of 6, while watching man on fire (by Tony Scott)... How is it possible ?
(Laughs) It’s true! Surely I shouldn’t have seen it at that age, but my big sister was watching the movie and I just stayed in front of it. I remember being overwhelmed by Dakota Fanning’s performance against Denzel Washington. He has become one of my favorite actors. And when my parents came home, I told them: ‘I want to be the Puerto Rican version of Dakota Fanning.’ I never let go.
What career do you want to pursue now? Want to put the horror aside?
I want to do things that challenge me. And certainly more dramatic films. But it’s hard to plan. What I do know is that I deeply adore the artists, the directors, the art that I exercise. The best times of my life on Earth – just that – are between the times when you say “Stock“and the times when we say”Cut“! I know it’s been a little drama queen to say such a grandiloquent thing. It’s a bit stupid, I realize. But it is. I love existing in other people’s shoes.
You have more than 9 million followers following you on Instagram and Hollywood is talking about you as the icon of the future for Generation Z! It’s heavy to bear when you’re 20, right?
Oh yeah ? Do we say that? I try not to think about it too much actually… (She thinks) I thought about it a lot when I was younger. I displayed a smile of facade. I forced myself to send back an ideal image, of the little princess kind that people adore. Because when you’re told all the time, in interviews, that little girls look up to you or admire you, it’s hard to take it. It’s not the kind of thing you can easily anticipate. So today, 9 million followers is still a somewhat abstract number for me. I don’t want it to haunt me. I don’t want to change who I am or what interests me, to match what people think of me.