Why Jenna Ortega, 19, is 'drawn to the darker things' with Wednesday Addams, 'Scream' roles

·5 min read

Soon, you won’t be able to escape Jenna Ortega. (Not that you’d want to.)

Go to a movie theater now and she's battling Ghostface in the horror hit “Scream,” and a big screen is where you’ll see the 19-year-old actress opposite a possessed Dave Grohl next month in "Studio 666." Hit up HBO Max this weekend and see her stunning turn in teen drama “The Fallout.” Boot up Netflix, where you can already find her in a “Jurassic World” cartoon and Jennifer Garner's "Yes Day," and later this year she’ll be there taking on the iconic role of Wednesday Addams.

You've heard of Instagram takeovers – this is a full-on entertainment takeover. Her mom, for one, is really happy, yet for Ortega, “I have a hard time living in the moment, so I'm constantly like, ‘Oh, what's next?' " she says. "I'm excited about jobs coming up or where will work take me this year. Maybe I need to sit back and appreciate it more.”

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New "Scream" star Jenna Ortega has a big 2022, which includes a teen drama, more horror movies and Netflix's "Wednesday" series.
New "Scream" star Jenna Ortega has a big 2022, which includes a teen drama, more horror movies and Netflix's "Wednesday" series.

Ortega's star is quickly rising but she's been moving steadily up call sheets since she was 9. The California native made her acting debut in 2012 in episodes of "Rob" and "CSI: NY." She had a small role in "Iron Man 3," and got her break in 2014 being cast as the young version of Gina Rodriguez's title character in "Jane the Virgin." Ortega appeared in "You" and headlined Disney Channel's "Stuck in the Middle" in the 2010s before the horror fan co-starred in Netflix's "The Babysitter: Killer Queen" and was cast as one of the young new faces in "Scream."

Right now, she's in grim and gloomy Romania, Zooming in for a thoughtful late-night conversation before she's back on the set early the next morning for “Wednesday,” Tim Burton’s upcoming “Addams Family”-inspired live-action series. She admits to being compared to Gomez and Morticia's delightfully kooky daughter her entire life: “If you got to know me, my humor and sarcasm, I'm drawn to darker things. It's just like a natural thing for me.”

Ortega also sees a lot of herself in “The Fallout” (streaming Thursday). The film explores the emotional aftermath of a school shooting through a teenage survivor, Vada (Ortega), who grows close to a classmate (Maddie Ziegler) she hid with in a bathroom as the rampage unfolded.

“She's a very guarded, protective person and she's not really comfortable with showing much emotion, and that is me,” Ortega says of Vada. “I got it in my head that was some sort of weakness.”

Vada (Jenna Ortega, left) and Mia (Maddie Ziegler) hide in the bathroom from a school shooter in "The Fallout."
Vada (Jenna Ortega, left) and Mia (Maddie Ziegler) hide in the bathroom from a school shooter in "The Fallout."

The movie’s subject matter also hit home. Ortega remembers a day in seventh grade when an active shooter drill turned into an actual lockdown: A fellow student brought a black BB gun to school and told another kid it was real, leading to police being called.

She sees the film as an “apology letter” to her generation: “Sorry that this is a genuine fear that you all have. It was something that I could give to (them) and feel like I was contributing something.”

Writer/director Megan Park cast Ortega in “The Fallout” after a meeting over coffee when the actress was 17: “She was just so impressive and just so wise beyond her years.” And while he wasn't as familiar with her work, director Ti West – who brought her on to his upcoming horror film "X" – not only found a fellow scary-movie buff in Ortega, but also a young actress “fearless in her commitment."

"Jenna loves horror – which is a bonus when setting out to make a horror film – but she never became self-aware of acting as if she was in one,” he says.

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Tara (Jenna Ortega) tries to fend off a home invasion by Ghostface in "Scream."
Tara (Jenna Ortega) tries to fend off a home invasion by Ghostface in "Scream."

In the 1970s-set thriller “X” (in theaters March 18), which Ortega says is “the most outrageous thing I've ever done," she plays part of an adult-film crew that runs afoul of a creepy elderly couple. Before that, Ortega stars as a rocker with pin-straight hair, tight pants and a nose ring opposite the Foo Fighters in the band’s horror comedy “Studio 666” (out Feb. 25), a coup for the music-obsessed actress. (“People call me ‘Perpetual Headphone Head’ because I have three sets of headphones on me at all times,” she says.)

Owen Campbell (from left), Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega play a group of filmmakers who travel to Texas to make an adult film and run afoul of a weird elderly couple in "X."
Owen Campbell (from left), Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega play a group of filmmakers who travel to Texas to make an adult film and run afoul of a weird elderly couple in "X."

Being authentic is important to the actress, especially when playing Wednesday Addams. "Wednesday" is a supernatural murder mystery where the 15-year-old main character "is a Latina and that's never really been addressed," says Ortega, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. (Recent portrayals of dad Gomez Addams have been played by Hispanic actors, and Luis Guzmán plays the patriarch in "Wednesday.")

“As somebody who struggled with relating to people onscreen or feeling any sort of representation, I wanted to give that to Wednesday and give attention to something that's always been a part of her,” the actress adds. The Addams Family is “considered dark and gruesome and gory and weird and make people uncomfortable but they're also the healthiest family in America.”

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Ortega would next like to do an indie drama to change things up: “It’s helpful when my projects don't always resemble themselves.” But mainly she seeks out works like “The Fallout” that will have a “forever effect” on her.

“All the projects I do, I like to take a piece of them with me," Ortega says. “When you do jobs that are impactful or mean a lot to you emotionally, they never leave you, which is pretty cool.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jenna Ortega: Meet the 'Scream,' 'Fallout' star who's Wednesday Addams