In late 2019, Jenna Ortega found herself working on two movies (Yes Day and The Babysitter: Killer Queen) and putting the finishing touches on her debut book (It’s All Love: Reflections for Your Heart and Soul)... all at once. “I wasn’t really sleeping at all during that period in my life,” she tells Elite Daily. Now, fans are finally getting to see all her hard work pay off, with these projects finally in the can and even more coming up. To put it simply, Jenna Ortega’s career is popping off.
Ortega has loads of projects releasing in the coming months: She's starring in the indie drama The Fallout (co-starring Maddie Ziegler and Shailene Woodley), which debuts at South by Southwest on March 17. And in January 2022, she'll be in the highly anticipated new Scream movie. But before all that, she'll appear in much lighter fare, Netflix's Yes Day, out March 12. The family flick follows two parents (Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez) who regain their sense of adventure when they promise to say "yes" to anything their three kids ask for in one day. Ortega, who plays rebellious eldest daughter Katie, says the kid-friendly energy on set made the gig unique, especially compared to the more mature projects fans are about to see her in.
"If you're working on a drama, the energy on set might be a little more dark and serious," she says. "Whereas on Yes Day, we're throwing water balloons and eating a ton of ice cream. I'm not mad about it."
At 18 years old, Ortega may be one of Hollywood's busiest young stars, but she's not afraid to keep it real. The pics below are perfect proof of this.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You Table Read With Penn Badgley & Victoria Pedretti
Elite Daily: When and where was this photo taken?
Jenna Ortega: We're at the table read for [You] Season 2, Episode 4. We were sitting next to each other, making a bunch of jokes. I remember my mom was with me on set and I told them, “If I don’t get a photo with you two, my mom’s just going to be really mad at me. She’s going to kill me, and I don’t want to make her mad. Can you please take this photo with me?” And they did.
ED: What was it like to film with these two?
JO: I wish I had gotten to shoot with Victoria more, because I think she’s really talented. She was also just a really cool person. I really liked her outlook on life
Penn is such an eloquent speaker, so well-thought and so respectful and so kind, and just such a pleasure to work with. Because he is so incredibly gifted, [that] made our dynamic very easy, especially considering our [characters'] relationship [started] off awkward and weird. I think what was shown onscreen was a good representation of how our relationship was. I’m not saying that it started off where I was, like, creeped out by him or anything. I just mean in a sense of, “Oh, we’re still getting to know each other.” [Then by the end, we were] really cool with one another and having good conversations on- and off-screen.
ED: Did Badgley give you any good advice when you were working together?
JO: He told me that I had to find outlets that made me happy outside of work. Because this industry is such a rollercoaster. You could work nonstop and then never work again. You never really know what you're getting into in this line of work.
He told me if you put all of your happiness in an initiative that is not guaranteed or consistent, you're going to find yourself struggling. Very badly. Ever since I took that piece of information, I put more effort into focusing on myself and what makes me happy. I'm really thankful to him for that.
ED: Is there any chance Ellie shows up in You Season 3? Do you have any theories about what she's up to after Season 2?
JO: I have no idea what the plan is for Season 3, because even when I was working on Season 2, they didn’t tell me much. I just waited to see what happened in the script and would tell everyone, “Oh my God, did you see what just happened?” And they would say, “Yeah, we’ve known since six months ago.”
But as far as Season 3 goes, I don’t know. All I know is, I hope Ellie is plotting her revenge.
Bleaching The 'Stache
ED: When and where was this photo taken?
JO: I do [this] all the time. I was literally just bleaching my mustache yesterday, because I'm Latina. I think anybody who is a person of color or has dark hair has that struggle. So I just figured [I'd post it], because social media is so inauthentic. I try to make things more natural and honest.
ED: When you posted this on Instagram and referenced being Latina, a lot of commenters seemed to resonate with that. What importance does Latinx representation hold in your career?
JO: It means a great deal to me, especially because growing up, I didn’t really have many Latinx icons to look up to. Growing up, I had trouble with self-confidence, or seeing myself, because I didn’t really feel seen. When I was 4 years old, I wanted to dye my hair blonde so I looked like Cinderella. I think that is a really good example of kids not being confident in their appearance because [they don't feel] visible in film or television. So I think it’s really important for young kids who are growing up [to] see themselves there.
Also just being proud of my heritage and accepting the fact that America is such a big melting pot. There are so many different aspects that make it beautiful, the Latinx community being one of them. We are prevalent and we should be heard. With everything I do, I would like to make them proud.
ED: What next step does Hollywood need to take for Latinx representation to progress even further?
JO: Portray us in a more positive light, but stop putting ethnic restrictions on characters. I think that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. You'll read a breakdown for somebody, and it’s like: blonde hair, blue eyes, or African American descent. Unless it’s a story about the oppression that [specific marginalized groups] face, or anything like that, obviously cast authentically to that. But I mean characters in general. If you’re writing a story about a family and it’s not specific about what kind of family you’re writing, it should be more open in that sense. Overall, just stop trying to check off boxes.
Another thing that [some projects] do is cast one character [of each race]. I understand the "playing it safe" thing, but also don’t be scared to have multiple Hispanics in your film, or don’t be scared of having multiple Asians. I think overall they’re just too calculated with it and they should let it progress naturally.
Green Slime Behind The Scenes
ED: Where and when was this photo taken?
JO: This was taken at a special effects studio where they work on a lot of projects in Hollywood. They create the most wild things. I was doing a [horror] project [and] they wanted to do some distortion to my face, so they needed to have a general set [of my face] to build a dummy head. This is three layers of silicone being poured on the top half of my body, so that they could hold onto my shoulders and my head for this project.
They put the silicone on and then they wrapped me. I looked like a mummy. They wrapped me in this cast with paste, then that hardens, and they crack it. From there, they come to the back, and it kinda feels like a suction cup. It's funny, 'cause if you wear makeup, you see your makeup in the face of the mask. It will take everything off.
ED: Was it hard to take all of this off?
JO: Actually, taking it off took less than five minutes, but the process of letting it harden was 30 minutes. So it's a 35-minute process.
ED: Can you reveal what horror project this is for?
JO: I wish I could. I think we should hear about it sometime soon.
ED: You’ve already taken on so many different kinds of roles. What type of character or project do you want to do next?
JO: I don’t think it’s a type of character, necessarily. I have been doing a lot of horror, which I love, and I’ve done a lot of comedy. I guess just expanding my palate a little bit more, and doing more drama or indies — projects that challenge me in a way that I haven’t been challenged yet. Might be interesting.
In Elite Daily’s I Can Explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really went down behind the scenes. Read more here.