WS of Wednesday: We explore the Ws and How of Jenna Ortega’s success like any projects investigated in depth
Instantly transforming what Wednesday means to many of us, a recently-debuted Netflix series going by that very name broke the streaming service’s all-time record for the most hours viewed in a week. Its success has also transformed the life of the star taking the title role – Jenna Ortega – as shown by her Instagram account alone, which registered an extra 10 million followers within 10 days of the series premiere.
It would be unfair, however, to bill the 20-year-old star as an overnight success. Even before her casting in the series, a spin-off of the much-loved Adams Family franchise, she had a resumé longer than that of many performers twice her age. There is no doubt, though, that it is her performance as the unblinking, seemingly emotionless, misanthrope at the heart of the series that has seen her now assume A-lister status.
In honour of ‘W’ being the initial of her breakthrough role, here are six other ‘W’s you really need to know about Ortega, undoubtedly one of 2023’s first new superstars.
WHERE is she from?
With her striking looks, signature brunette locks and petite build, it is clear that Ortega is far from just another graduate of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter production line. Sharing joint Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, she grew up in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, with her diverse heritage later becoming a common line of enquiry during her many chat show appearances.
Explaining how embracing her identity was one of the many reasons she was able to make the Wednesday role her own, she says: “A big part of why I said yes comes down to representation. Growing up, I got to know how it felt never to see people who looked like me on screen only too well. For me, with Wednesday, it was really important that her history as a young Latina was shown for the first time.”
WHAT has she appeared in before?
According to her IMDB website, Ortega had notched up some 40 credits prior to taking on the lead in Wednesday, with her roles ranging from voice acting to major parts and guest appearances. As a sure sign that her talents had not gone unnoticed even before Wednesday’s seismic impact, she is believed to have quite a full slate of future roles all signed up and agreed upon.
While she first found fame providing voiceovers for children’s programs, including Elena of Avalor and the Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Middle, her career appears to be heading in a different direction, with two of her upcoming projects said to be very much in the horror genre.
Declaring she has a particular affinity with the scarier end of the cinema spectrum, she says: “There’s some invisible string that connects monsters and me. It’s a genre that’s held a particular appeal for me for as long as I can remember.
For those keen not to miss out on any of her future appearances, her currently confirmed forthcoming projects include Finestkind, Scream 6 and Miller’s Girl.
WHY did she not blink while working on Wednesday?
Although her blink-free performance in Wednesday wasn’t initially scripted, Director Tim Burton was so taken with the results of an unintentional take that he urged her to fully incorporate the conceit into her portrayal of the character. Ortega, of course, is fully committed to it, with the quirky characteristic going on to almost define the role for critics and viewers alike.
As the character of Wednesday was conceived as singularly strange from the outset, it more than made sense that not blinking was just one of the many things that distinguished her from more everyday mortals. In combination with the character’s full-on, unflinching gaze, it also made the one moment in the series when the character actually smiles genuinely unsettling.
Clearly proud of the way her performance has been received, as well as its significance for others, she says with her tongue firmly in her cheek: “Freak representation is crucial. I think that it’s really nice for such people to be seen in a positive – if disturbing – light.”
WHO is her fashion icon?
Well, it just happens to be Wednesday Addams, the full name of her on-screen character. This is perhaps just as well seeing that, in her latest incarnation, Wednesday is seen as having clearly fully embraced her goth persona, and Ortega is a firm believer that her all-black wardrobe played a crucial role in creating the show’s slightly creepy, slightly cooky feel.
Clearly identifying more with this role than perhaps with some of the other characters she has brought to life, Ortega says: “I feel like Wednesday and I like similar things. I’ve always loved button-ups and white collars, for instance, and, of course, I’ve always gravitated towards dark colours – including black nail polish, which has now become very much part of my everyday look.”
Case in point: Ortega has recently been stepping out in looks that seem like homages to her TV character, donning black à la Versace and Valentino at events.
(Text: Joseff Musa)
Read the full article in the March 2023 issue (pg: 110). Available on the Gafencu app on Android and Apple.