Jenna Ortega Says She Doesn’t Feel ‘Worthy Enough’ to Represent Latinos on Screen
Jenna Ortega’s ready to call the shots in her career. That’s what she told Harper’s Bazaar U.K., in a new interview this month celebrating her as the magazine’s “Breakout of the Year.”
The “Wednesday” protagonist sat down with the magazine the day after her 21st birthday. She opened up about growing up working as a Latina child actor in Hollywood and how she feels now about Latina representation on screen.
For her, that conversation hasn’t just been about how she looks. She now knows firsthand that it’s also how she talks. In September, the 21-year-old was at the center of a viral debate on Latinidad and language. Ortega, Anya Taylor-Joy and Rachel Zegler were seen front row at Paris Fashion Week.
In one clip that went viral on X, Taylor-Joy was spotted talking to Ortega in Spanish. Ortega replied in English. This quickly sparked the debate over whether she could call herself a Latina if she didn’t speak Spanish.
She seemed to respond to that controversy in the interview with Harper’s saying she is fully aware of this debate admitting that her Spanish could use some work.
“I wasn’t born in a Spanish-speaking country, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Mexico and I’ve never been to Puerto Rico — so there’s a feeling of not being worthy enough to be a proper representative,” she said.
However, she hopes her presence helps take things in the right direction. “I want all people of Latin descent to be able to see themselves on screen. I want to feel that I could open doors for other people.”
Ortega says her family’s effort to help her career continue inspiring her
She told the story of her mother, a half-Mexican, half-Puerto Rican ER nurse, who used to take time off work to drive her to Los Angeles from the Coachella Valley for auditions.
Those sacrifices are now a source of inspiration for her acting work: “I worry about letting people down,” she told the magazine. “They’ve all invested so much that I wanted them to feel like they put their time and effort in the right place.”
Ortega’s mom is still keeping a close eye on her, even if she’s not driving her around anymore. Earlier this year, Natalie Ortega went viral for calling out her daughter after a picture of her smoking a cigarette leaked.
As soon as the picture surfaced, the mom of six posted a series of facts about the dangers of smoking to her Instagram Stories.
The “Wednesday” protagonist shared the struggles of finding roles for young Latinas in Hollywood
Ortega remembers how limited her acting choices were when she was a young Latina in Hollywood. Adding that as a child actor, there are usually only two roles to choose from.
“You’re either the younger version of someone or you’re playing somebody’s daughter—and there were just not many leading Hispanic actors who I could be that for.”
She continued, “So a lot of the jobs that I was going for growing up would never work out, because I didn’t look [a certain] way. That was really hard, to hear that something you couldn’t change was what was preventing you [from succeeding].”
We now know her as the sarcastic, dead-pan child of Morticia and Gomez Addams, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán on Tim Burton’s “Wednesday.” Before that show premiered, mitú talked to Ortega about her breakout role.
“When you see people that look like you doing things of value, you realize that you have value too,” she shared. Even then, she recognized how important it was for a Latina to be playing Wednesday.
How she feels now about the responsibility of representation
Ortega admits she still feels the weight of her experiences. Sharing the story of how she wanted to dye her hair blonde as a child so she would look like Cinderella.
However, Ortega knew she had to embrace just being herself if she wanted to be a role model. Saying, “I thought, ‘I don’t want other young girls to look up at the screen and feel like they have to change their appearance to be deemed beautiful or worthy’.”
As for the future, she talked about other creative outlets she’d like to experiment with starting with a new producer role on the second season of “Wednesday.”
After that, she’d like to eventually make her way to directing and even composing. Ortega learned the cello for her role as Wednesday and has found a new outlet for her creativity and voice.
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