Jenna Ortega on being compared to Wednesday Addams her ‘entire life’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Jenna Ortega on being compared to Wednesday Addams her âentire lifeâ
Wednesday wears her signature deadpan expression in a dance scene from the coming-of-age, dark comedy-drama about the iconic Addams Family’s eldest child, Wednesday.

Jenna Ortega has been a Wednesday Addams fan even before she got cast to play the macabre anti-hero in Wednesday, which boasts of the biggest debut week ever for an English-language show on Netflix.

The Latina actress, 20, was quoted in the press notes as saying that Wednesday is “somebody who I’ve been compared to my entire life.”

“People always told me that I reminded them of Wednesday,” she said before quipping, “I think because I tend to be very dry and monotone.”

Wednesday the series opens with the stoic and plucky heroine being expelled from her last school and sent out to Nevermore, a boarding school for outcasts or anybody who has a supernatural ability. She’s also the rebellious and goth teen queen of comebacks, who views things black and white, as black and white as her aesthetic and style. For the cello-playing and novel-writing teen, she has the gift for psychic visions that drive her to investigate a series of monster attacks at school.

When The STAR and a few other members of the Filipino press had a virtual roundtable with Jenna recently, what she shared could somehow make you understand the comparison between her and her character.

In terms of fashion, Jenna said she feels like she and Wednesday have very similar tastes. For one, she’s always into button-ups and white collars. “It’s something that I’ve always gravitated towards,” she said. “I love dark colors. It really pains me to wear a color sometimes.”

Not just colors, but dressing up as well. “One of my favorite lines is from the scene where she has to go to a school dance, and she’s wearing this dress. Or she has to go get a dress and (someone) says, oh do you know (what you) need, and she says a bullet to the head. And that’s one of my favorite ones because it’s so true. It also sounds like something I’ve said before,” she added about the dance scene she choreographed herself and that has since gone viral.

But being able to relate to her character doesn’t make the acting necessarily easy. Jenna’s preps for the series included studying fencing and cello. “And I think for any hobby or additional thing that I learned, I feel like I was pretty hard on myself about the cello. I really wanted to get that right,” she said when asked what she focused on in her portrayal.

The piranha opening sequence is one of the actress’ most unforgettable scenes.

And this is one reason why Episode 3, if you haven’t seen it yet, is a favorite of hers. “I just know that I had to learn a lot for that episode. I was learning another language. I was doing another cello piece. I wear a hideous pilgrim costume. It was just torture and I think that it should be interesting for viewers.”

A little backstory on Jenna’s casting: According to the producers, the search for Wednesday was “epic” as hundreds were screened before they found and auditioned Jenna over Zoom. At that time, she was shooting a horror film in New Zealand. Director Tim Burton said of Jenna: “(She’s) one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. She’s like a silent movie actress in the sense that she’s able to convey things without words. Her words are very strong, and she’s got a very strong point of view, but to show the subtleties underneath that was very, very exciting.”

Here are more excerpts from our roundtable interview with Jenna:

On playing an already iconic character:

“It was terrifying, especially working with someone like Tim Burton, who is a legend, for the first time. You never really know what to expect and you want to do a good job. I respect this character so much. I just wanted to do her right. It was definitely nerve-wracking, especially when you’re trying to figure out what the tone of the show is. And you just got to a foreign country (Romania to shoot) and you’re trying to pick up all of these skills. It was very easy to feel overwhelmed, but at the same time, you put that stuff aside and realize that it’s ‘go’ time. I just tried to put my head down and put in as much work as possible and hope that it’s received well.

“But I know that it would be very difficult to become friends with (a character like Wednesday). So, I think I would just stalk her from a distance and then maybe start sending her things and getting involved, and I think that would be a more interesting approach. I feel like then maybe she would like me. I’d be very intimidated though. But I kind of like that. I like when people are a little scary.”

On working with Christina Ricci, the original Wednesday Addams:

“(No tips from her on set) none at all. We do not talk about Wednesday, not even once. And it’s funny because I think the assumption was. But there was a part of me that really didn’t want to and we met each other, and I think it was very clear that she really didn’t want to either because our Wednesdays are very different. And if anything, I was just kind of more interested in where she was from and what her deal was and what her experience was.

“I think we relate a lot and we got along really well. And when you don’t talk about the fact that yeah, she’s been in the same exact getup as you before, it makes it a lot easier to do your scenes and treat each other like regular people and not somebody that you looked up to your entire life.”

On her first day of filming Wednesday:

“My first day on set was actually, we were shooting the very first minutes of the project where the piranha bites the testicles off of a young schoolboy. That was really intimidating because it was my first time in the hair and makeup (chair). I remember Tim was really picky about my hair that day. We had not established the braids, we didn’t know how thick they were going to be, how long they were going to be. We went two hours over.

“People were cutting new extensions in the trailer because I had extensions in my hair. They’re shaving the back of my neck so that my hairline is straight and that was something that we did throughout the entirety of the show. He’s picking my hair with a hairdresser’s comb for 10 minutes, making my fringe just right so it’s the way that he wants. And I’m holding those piranha bags which are filled with water and they’re so heavy, but I have to be still. And I’m trying not to show that my arms are shaking like this. I couldn’t blink.

“(Tim) liked it when I didn’t blink. It was something that I did by accident one time and then he told me to keep doing it… We hit the ground running and I wasn’t prepared for that at all. But it was a weird adjustment, but it was exciting at the same time.”

On working with the legendary burton:

“Maybe how much he just kind of wung it. It comes so naturally to him. We didn’t have a shot list. We would go to the set and we didn’t know what we were doing that day. He just kind of made it up on the spot. And for certain things to turn out as beautiful as they did or to be as funny as they were, I think it’s just a testament to how much of a true artist he is. It was really wonderful to experience that firsthand.”

On what audiences can learn from Wednesday:

“I hope that the audience learns that maybe the best way to confront anything in life is just by being yourself and not changing anything about you for the satisfaction or comfort of others. Because it’s unnecessary. It gets you nowhere and you’re a lot cooler when you don’t do that. So I think that’s maybe something to learn. Also, make a couple of friends if you’re gonna fight a serial killer monster.

“But I think my biggest takeaway from this role — I spent so much time with this character — I learned how to use my voice and fight for characters in a way that I hadn’t before. And as an actress, that’s kind of everything and I’m excited to be able to have that tool now and use it on other sets in the future.”


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