February 22nd, 2024
Jenna Ortega Thinks We Need More Weird Stories Like Beetlejuice

The star of Wednesday and Tim Burton’s highly anticipated sequel steps out of the shadows and talks about the future.

In the original Beetlejuice movie, people who die unexpectedly are given The Handbook for the Recently Deceased to guide them through life in the hereafter. Jenna Ortega, who stars in Tim Burton’s upcoming sequel, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, could use something like that for her own situation: The Handbook for the Recently Famous.

After hustling from audition to audition for nearly a decade, taking bit parts, commercials, and basically anything she could get her hands on, Ortega has vaulted into the spotlight in just two years. She made her breakthrough in the 2016–2018 Disney Channel sitcom Stuck in the Middle, but that was nothing like this. A recurring role on the TV thriller You and 2022’s rejuvenated Scream certainly helped, but things went supernova with Wednesday.

Ortega’s lead role as the endearing human abyss Wednesday Addams in the Burton-directed Netflix series made her more than a household name. Burton went on to cast her as the daughter of Winona Ryder’s ghost-befriending Beetlejuice character, Lydia Deetz, in the upcoming sequel, and the second season of Wednesday is on the horizon, as well as Taika Waititi‘s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel Klara and the Sun.

Ortega also recently starred opposite Martin Freeman in the twisted teacher-student romantic thriller Miller’s Girl, playing a young woman who, when asked if she feels safe walking through the woods, confidently declares, “I’m the scariest thing in there.”

We’re thrilled to have Ortega as part of our 2024 Hollywood issue. She is much warmer and more cheerful than you’d expect. Sometimes a little Wednesday does slip through. “I know, I get it all the time,” she says. “I’ve always been pretty dry, but it’s so funny because now anytime I do an interview I could be so happy, and it’s always just that one portion of a quick joke that I make, or a dry ‘whatever,’ and then it’s all I’m known for.”

Here, Ortega reflects on her black-hole persona, reveals some details about the second helpings of Beetlejuice and Wednesday, and tells the story of rushing from screen to screen to see her brief appearance in Iron Man 3, back when she was just a little girl dreaming of all the possibilities that have finally come true.

Vanity Fair: Does it bother you that people expect you to be gloomy or sardonic all the time?

Jenna Ortega: I personally don’t mind, I find it hilarious. I am always amazed by the way that I come across. I think a bit more self-reflection is very enlightening.

Do you think that dark sense of humor is how you landed Wednesday?

I just remember when that whole process went down, it was super quick, last-minute. I guess they had been searching for a while. And Netflix sought me out specifically. I didn’t know that my name was even being thrown out or anything like that. I just got an email one day saying, “Hey, Tim Burton really wants to meet with you tomorrow for this job.” It really was just Tim and I speaking and me not really understanding the magnitude of the project or what it could be. I was just excited to be meeting Tim.

Do you know what it was that made him seek you out?

Honestly, I don’t know if it was a dry sense of humor more so than I had a lot of horror projects coming out and I was coming up on the horror scene a little bit. I think that John [Papsidera, the casting director] maybe jumped on the wave a little early. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Tim’s whole aesthetic is this sweet gothic approach, but he’s not sinister.

Not at all. He’s one of the funniest people I know, which I don’t think that you would immediately pick up on or think. And he does it so sarcastically or so quickly that you almost don’t even notice. I feel like anytime he says a joke, people catch on 30 seconds later. I think his humor is what’s helped him navigate the worlds between just complete outcast and mainstream pop culture legend because he’s able to rope people in. He is a bit of a romantic. He does have that sweet side to him, and I think that’s why he walks the line so well.

What’s the status of Beetlejuice Beetlejuice? Production was interrupted by the actors strike, but are you finished with it now?

We had two days left of production that got interrupted. So as soon as the strike ended, I got a phone call, “Jenna, congratulations. The strike is over.” And then 20 minutes later I got a call, “Hey, Jenna, we’re booking your flight for four days from now. Where are you? When are you going to be available?” We had to go back to shoot so quickly.

There’s video of the town of East Corinth in Vermont getting an ’80s makeover from the production this past summer to look like it did in the 1988 original movie.

They rebuilt Winter River, which was insane. All of the locals were so excited. But we were able to finish all of our Winter River stuff so that when the strike hit, they could take it all down. I remember it being super-weird energy on set the last week. For a lot of the cast that was revisiting Vermont, it felt weird to rush such a sentimental moment for them, seeing that house again and being together and calling each other by the same names again. But for the most part, up until the very last day, I feel like the shoot was a celebration of everyone being back together and doing practical effects again. It was probably the happiest I had ever seen Tim on a set, where he’s clapping at the monitor and shouting and laughing, which was really, really endearing.

Beetlejuice is a movie I loved when I was a kid, and now it feels like a moviegoing rite of passage for later generations. What was your relationship to that film?

I would agree. I had always loved the movie. I think the first time I saw it was actually at a friend’s house, and then the rest of the time, I’d see it whenever it was playing on TV around Halloween. Before I’d even seen the movie, I knew who Beetlejuice was. I knew who Lydia was. I was able to recognize costumes just because it was everywhere.

Soon it’s going to be everywhere again.

That’s why I was excited that they were bringing it back as well. I feel like studios nowadays, of course they want people in seats and you’ve got to do reboots or sequels or things like that to get people entwined, but to bring Beetlejuice back—of all of the stories—is so good because people need to revisit weird, strange, off-putting stories again. We need to introduce the younger generation that’s always on the phone to new artistic and creative ideas. The weirder you get with it, the more people you can get to see it, I think will probably do a lot for film in general.

Are you able to say anything about who you play or what’s going on with the story?

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but I am Lydia Deetz’s daughter, so I’ll give that away. She’s weird, but in a different way and not in the way you’d assume, I would say. The relationship between Lydia and Astrid, my character, is very important. And it’s also really strange because it’s a lot of catching up and putting the pieces together of what’s gone on in Lydia’s life since, which is nice, I think, for anybody who loves the character and is excited to see her again.

I’m trying to imagine what Lydia’s daughter would be like. If you were to be the rebellious, weird daughter of Lydia Deetz, I imagine somebody who’s bright and sunny and cheerful.

[Laughs.] I wouldn’t say she’s bright and sunny at all. She doesn’t go to the opposite end of the spectrum, but any kid who becomes a teenager wants to be removed from their parents. I think they instantly just fight whatever it is that their parent loves. So I think it’s a little bit of that. I’m not wearing pink and a cheerleader, but I am a little bit against my mom’s history or past. We butt heads quite a bit.

Her line from the first movie, “I myself am strange and unusual” is a generational touchstone.

For me, Lydia is the coolest ever. So then to play her daughter and also have to be like, “Mom…,” and roll your eyes was definitely more challenging for me as an actor, but super fun to play.

You’ve said that the second season of Wednesday is a bit more episodic, that each one is a little more like a standalone movie and leans a little more into horror.

I’ve just been reading scripts. By the time we actually start shooting, it will have been over two years since we wrapped. So internally, mentally, I’m like, “Okay, do I start prepping myself now?” I don’t consider myself Method or anything like that, but I do think it’s very normal for actors to naturally acclimate or take in the surroundings of their characters, especially when you’re doing something like that for so long. It might be time to start getting a little more sarcastic again or watching different movies again to get into the mindset. But even reading scripts has been exciting, seeing all of the new characters that are coming in. We’re definitely expanding on the supernatural world. Our show had all sorts of werewolves and vampires and da-ta-da. And I think we expand on that a little bit.

What did you mean when you said the episodes are more like movies?

I mean, in the first season we had episodes that really stood out visually, like the dance episode was a really big one for people, and that setting was very particular and it felt like Prom Night, a little bit, or Carrie. Every episode [of season two] that I’ve read so far is like that. It just stands out on its own as a very memorable scene or bit or setting, which I think is what I’m most excited for, because to pull that off for eight episodes is, I think, really incredible and really lucky.

You’d been working for a long time before things really took off.

I have been doing this for 12 years. It’s weird to look back on all the experiences that I’ve had doing the job that I do. And then to be here now is…I don’t know, I feel like it’s some sort of sick prank.

You must have vivid memories of your early years, auditioning and trying to get roles.

I wanted to start when I was six. But I didn’t actually start until I was 10. There’s a lot of things that I’ve done in my career that I used to say I wanted to do, or dreamed about doing. I’m definitely a perfectionist, but I also think that that comes with never being satisfied or never being able to stop and slow down and appreciate what’s been going on or what I’ve seen. The last few months I’ve been able to reflect on the fact that a lot of the things that I wanted to do when I was younger, including work with Tim Burton, have happened. I almost didn’t realize it because I was so focused on the work and had tunnel vision.

Does it still live up to what you imagined?

To still enjoy the job just as much 12 years later—even seeing all of the ugly and wonderful and extreme—I think is pretty cool. I made this decision when I was 10, so I’m living off of a 10-year-old’s choices.

Anything you wish you’d done differently?

I’m very much a people pleaser. I like to say that I’m not anymore—but I am. I wish that I felt that I was a bit more in control of my experiences. When I was younger, I was just so happy to be a part of the conversation that I wasn’t really playing it in a strategic way. Not that it has to be. I wish that maybe I had felt more autonomy in who I was from a younger age. I think I’ve definitely fallen into patterns of taking myself too seriously or not being able to create much balance in my life.

Balance in what way?

When I was younger, I wasn’t thinking about sleepovers and friends and proms. It was always, “What am I going to do next? How am I going to get this job? What meeting should I take?” It was work and school and sleep and repeat. So it’s been funny as I’ve gotten older to realize, “Huh, yeah, you do need your hands in other bowls and you do need to take a step and a breather.” I’m glad that I realize that now, but it’s strange to have not really had that experience or been eager for that experience when I was younger.

It’s important to have connections back to reality.

Definitely. Everything that’s happened—it almost feels like another person that people are talking about. I don’t feel attached to my name at all, or people’s perception of my name. I have conversations with people all the time about the position that I’m in now and everything that’s happening, but nothing in my personal life has really changed or been altered in any way. It almost doesn’t sound real. I just feel very detached from the whole thing, which maybe helps as well. But at the same time, it’s kind of scary. I don’t know how people do it. I feel like there’s probably some handbook out there that just was never handed to me.

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Current Projects

WEDNESDAY
Jenna Ortega as Wednesday
News Photos IMDb
Follows Wednesday Addams' years as a student, when she attempts to master her emerging psychic ability, thwart and solve the mystery that embroiled her parents.


FINESTKIND
Jenna Ortega as Mabel
News Photos IMDb
A crew of fishermen tread dangerous waters when their debts start piling up.


BEETLEJUICE 2
Jenna Ortega as Lydia's Daughter
News Photos IMDb
This is a follow-up to the comedy Beetlejuice (1988), about a ghost who's recruited to help haunt a house.


WINTER SPRING SUMMER OF FALL
Jenna Ortega as Remi
News Photos IMDb
It tells the story of two teens who meet and fall in love over four days of the year.


MILLER'S GIRL
Jenna Ortega as Unknown
News Photos IMDb
A creative writing assignment yields complex results between a teacher and his talented student.


DEATH OF A UNICORN
Jenna Ortega as Ridley
News Photos IMDb
Father-Daughter duo, Ridley and Elliot, hit a unicorn with their car and bring it to the wilderness retreat of a mega-wealthy pharmaceutical CEO.


UNTITLED THE WEEKND & TREY EDWARD SHULTS PROJECT
Jenna Ortega as Unknown
News Photos IMDb
Plot under wraps.

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