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At age 19, Jenna Ortega is already one decade into her career. The actress — who rose to prominence playing Young Jane on The CW’s dramedy Jane the Virgin, followed by roles in You and Yes Day — stars in two movies out in January, Paramount’s Scream reboot, the first hit of 2022, and The Fallout (premiering Jan. 27 on HBO Max), which follows two teenage classmates navigating grief after surviving a school shooting. The Hollywood Reporter‘s review of the latter — one of the most talked-about films out of SXSW last year — praised Ortega for her “beautifully nuanced” performance. Ortega, who was born in the Coachella Valley, spoke to THR about her new films and about the project she’s now filming with Tim Burton.
How are you feeling about Scream and The Fallout opening back-to-back?
Scream I’m thrilled for. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had on a set. It’s a continuation of the story — we’re not trying to redo anything; we’re just trying to expand the world and introduce it to an audience that may not be so familiar, and also give some newfound excitement and a new look at the original characters for fans of the franchise.
As far as The Fallout goes, the script is incredibly special to me. I love that it’s the director Megan Park’s feature film debut; she wrote the script in literally two weeks. The dialogue and series of events are all so natural and so grounded in Gen Z culture. We touched on a really important subject that is serious, real and horrific. But I think we tried to do it in the most caring way we possibly could. I view the film as more of an apology letter to this generation, and all that our youth has to fear. I’m curious to see how it affects people.
You’re working in Romania as the star of Wednesday, a new Addams Family spinoff series for Netflix, which also marks Tim Burton’s television directorial debut. How have you approached working on it with him?
It’s been quite an insane experience. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with an iconic director who just so happens to be one of the sweetest directors I’ve worked with, and also the most detail-oriented.
To step into the shoes of somebody who’s a bit more eccentric and frightening has been really exciting for me, and definitely a challenge — especially with such a beloved character, I really want to take care of her and do her justice.
Have you felt any pressure stepping into playing a character with an iconic legacy that audiences are already familiar with?
The thing is, there are several different paths that anyone could have taken for this character. We’ve never seen Wednesday Addams as a teenage girl, so some of her harsh mannerisms may come off as hilarious when she’s younger, but as you get older, how much of that can you get away with? Or how do you keep that at the forefront of her personality without people growing to dislike her or find her annoying? So just trying to balance that … I’ve never felt so much pressure on a job, and I’m trying to keep my cool.
What do you think your audience will be most excited by or most surprised by in your role as Wednesday? Are you bringing something new to the table that we haven’t seen you stretch yourself in this way before?
I think it’s probably the most physical transformation I’ve ever done; I cut my hair, and it’s black, and mannerism-wise, speaking cadence-wise, expression-wise, I’m trying to pull from a different toolbox this time around. I think it’s a surprise to the audience, but myself as well.
You started out as a child actress, and we first met Wednesday as a child. And now you’re talking about her moving into her teenage years, so I’m wondering how you’ve handled that transition within yourself from a child actress to a more adult one. What has that matriculation has been like for you?
Honestly, my years as an actress have kind of flown by. I have been acting for almost 10 years. And that kind of blows my mind because it doesn’t feel that long.
As far as transition goes, I honestly can’t say that it’s something that I’m very attentive toward. I think that the transition, honestly, a big one is not being around my mom so much, I would say, just because child actors, I think they tend to rely on certain parents for things in terms of always being there for you on set and helping you out. So I think that progression of not being with her and taking things on my own has been [different]. But the internal change, I think, has been pretty generic, in terms of just growing up and experiencing things.
What types of roles and projects do you hope to do in the future?
Film has always been my goal. I’ll do anything, but I think specifically my interest is indies, just because I love a good passion project. And it’s always really exciting to provide or contribute to people’s outlets of creativity, or artistry. And if there’s any way that I could be supportive in that, or beneficial in that process, I jump at the opportunity to do so. I like making people feel things, and I hope that the projects that I do in the future do that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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