Scream star Jenna Ortega has always had a taste for the macabre.
“I initially wanted to start acting when I was six years old, but my mom said no. So I kind of pleaded with her for a while, and to shut me up, she got me this monologue book she got at Barnes and Noble,” the actress tells MovieMaker.
“I did this monologue for her about my mom dying of cancer, and she taped it and she put it on her Facebook as a joke. I think she captioned it something similar to, ‘Oh, my little drama queen.’ And a casting director just so happened to watch the tape and contacted my mom and said, ‘Hey, I have a friend who’s an agent. I think that your daughter should meet with them.’ So my mom kind of dug her own grave with that one,” she laughs.
“We said I would only try it for a little while, and every once in a while, I’ll tell her, ‘Oh, it’s just for a little while.’”
As we spoke, she was in Romania filming Wednesday, Tim Burton’s live-action Addams Family Netflix series in which Ortega stars as the title character.
In January, she’ll star as Tara Carpenter in the fifth Scream (the title is the same as the 1996 original) alongside Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell, and David Arquette. She also plays the lead, Vada, in The Fallout, an upcoming drama about a teen who navigates the emotional repercussions of a school tragedy. And she’ll soon star opposite the legendary rock band Foo Fighters in their haunted mansion movie Studio 666.
Ortega, who comes from a family of six kids, is the only one of her siblings who acts. But that doesn’t stop her biggest supporters from participating as much as they can in her life. When she was just starting out, her mother, who works as an ER nurse, would drive her to auditions in Los Angeles from their home in the Coachella Valley.
“My mom is superhuman,” she says.
The Scream actress remembers one particularly memorable audition for the 2017 Hugh Jackman movie Logan that involved the help of her father and brother.
“I was filming this little assassin self-tape, and they wanted me to act things out. I remember my older brother is such a trouper for this one, because he is so shy and he’s probably the most quiet sibling of mine—I was supposed to be beating up these two grown men, and my father was really excited because he watched a lot of Ip Man… he had choreographed this fight sequence with me, himself, and my brother, and my mom was filming. I remember it had to have been 1 a.m. My brother had school at seven in the morning and he stayed up. My dad had work, everyone had things to do. Now that I think about it, it was extremely wholesome,” Ortega says.
Though she didn’t end up booking the part, she did land notable projects like You, Jane the Virgin, Yes Day, and her breakout role as Harley Diaz in the Disney series Stuck in the Middle.
She realized she’d made it big when she became a Disney Channel star.
“I had told my mom—one of the many times I was on my hands and knees, begging her to let me act—I told her, I said, I could do it. I could be on TV. I could be on Disney Channel. I’m going to be on a Disney Channel show one day. And she just kind of laughed it off, and I think that was the first time that something I had said so confidently had actually panned out and worked,” she says.
“I think that’s when I realized I was going to have to be leaving public school. I was going to have to be living in Los Angeles… so it was the first real big life change,” she adds.
“I was homeschooled — or I guess the term that they teach you is ‘independent study’ — and I actually had a really incredible teacher who would visit me on set once a week and talk over my program and was always really attentive, compared to some of the other people I know whose home school experience wasn’t as forgiving. But, you know, I hated home school. I missed public school so much. I think that I became introverted really fast, and it was weird because… I’ve had the same friends since I was four,” she adds.
“You are in such a habit of seeing them every day and suddenly, you can’t fully relate to their life and they can’t fully relate to yours.”
Despite some social growing pains, Ortega’s life as a Hollywood starlet has treated her well—a lot of which has to do with her uncanny ability to manifest the roles she wants. Such was the case with her role as Ellie Alves on Netflix’s You.
“That job was kind of insane,” she says. “I had actually seen the show when it was on Lifetime, and I called my agent because she reps Penn Badgley, and I told her, I said, Hey, I gotta get on the show. And I kid you not, a week later they started casting season two.”
“That’s the first time I’ve ever just singled out a role and I said that I wanted it,” she adds.
Now, as her film Scream is about to hit theaters on Friday, Ortega has only recently turned 19. Her next goal is to break into directing.
“Truth be told, I’d much rather direct than act. I see that for myself more. I don’t care to be in front of the camera. I do like reading scripts and picturing things, and I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of directors and just kind of pick their brains as much as possible,” she says.
“This industry is kind of an intense one. So I do projects that make me happy, I think because I was raised where there weren’t many opportunities for young girls like me. So I kind of was taught that I had to jump at every possible opportunity given—and I still think that there’s some truth to that— just because you never know when the opportunities will stop completely. But I would like, if I continue acting in a professional, public sense, to work as hard as I possibly can so I can get to a point where I do jobs that are creatively fulfilling and make me feel good and inspire me.”
Scream arrives in theaters Thursday. The Fallout debuts on HBO Max on Jan. 27. Studio 666 hits theaters on Feb 25.
Main Image: Scream star Jenna Ortega. Photo Credit: Jonny Marlow.