Jenna Ortega Knows What Wednesday Addams Wants

Jenna Ortega Knows What Wednesday Addams Wants

In a new Netflix series, the actress plays a teenage version of the sardonic Addams Family character who, she said, “won’t let anyone get in her way.”

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By Sarah Bahr

Jenna Ortega has been locked in a basement with a corpse in “X.” She has shot a serial killer to death in “Scream.” She has shredded a satanic cult member with a boat propeller in “The Babysitter: Killer Queen.”

She also slept with the lights on until she was a teenager.

“I was a massive scaredy-cat,” said Ortega, who plays the title character in the new Netflix murder mystery series “Wednesday,” based on the pigtailed and pessimistic Addams Family character, which debuted — when else? — on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, here she is, the star of a series that, for all its icy humor, features at least one dismemberment and one disembowelment in the pilot alone. (Tim Burton directed the first four episodes.) But for Ortega, the interest lies in the character’s deeper layers.

“My Wednesday has this concealed confidence,” Ortega said on a bright Sunday afternoon earlier this month, her long, dark brown hair whipping in the breeze on a video call as she strolled through downtown Salt Lake City, holding her phone in front of her. “She’s on a mission, and she won’t let anyone get in her way.”

Unlike the “Addams Family” films of the early 1990s, in which Christina Ricci played a 10-year-old Wednesday Addams, the new eight-episode series, set in the present day, features Ortega as a 16-year-old version of the character, who is sent to a boarding school for outcasts after an incident gets her expelled from her public high school. (It involves piranhas and a pool full of bullies; Wednesday does not regret it.)

Even in a school populated by vampires and werewolves — her parents, Morticia and Gomez (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán), met there as students — Wednesday is a freak among freaks, a frequent subject of gossip because of her and her family’s rumored-to-be-bloody past. But Wednesday is also the latest in a long line of teen roles for Ortega, a former Disney star who was in some ways anxious to move on.

“I definitely had hesitations about doing it,” she said. “I’d already been there and done that with teen shows,” she added, and there was the added pressure of taking on her first role from a known franchise.

Still, it’s not every role that requires you to immerse yourself in learning a half-dozen new skills, including fencing, canoeing, archery, German and twice-weekly cello lessons.

“I was pulling my hair out over that one,” she said. “Everyone in my close circle knows what that cello did to me.”

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