Updated: Dec 1, 2022
In the role, Ortega masterfully balances Wednesday Addams’ well-known menacing personality with a hint of innocence we haven’t seen from the eldest daughter of the famous Addams family. The iconic character—which is perhaps the most overdone last-minute Halloween costume of all time—is not an easy role to tackle, especially since she is now at the center of the story, unlike in previous Addams family movies and shows. Christina Ricci, who also appears on the new Netflix show as a teacher, played Wednesday in 1991’s The Addams Family and 1993’s Addams Family Values. Her portrayal cemented the character as a pop culture staple, so making the role her own without alienating diehard fans was Ortega’s biggest challenge.
“You want to do something different. You don’t want to be ripping off anybody else’s performance,” Ortega tells Complex in a virtual interview. “We’ve never spent so much time with Wednesday on screen before, there has to be more dimension in order to push that story forward.” In the trailer, we get a glimpse of what this version of Wednesday is capable of when anyone messes with her loved ones. She might come off as dark, cold, aloof, and heartless at first, but when she sees a group of boys bothering her little brother she unleashes piranhas on them while they’re in a pool. But that’s only a fraction of what she’s willing to do to protect those around her. Wednesday also shows a new, more emotional, and tender side in the Netflix series that fans haven’t seen before.
Once she gets sent away to Nevermore Academy for her bad behavior, she befriends a sweet outcast named Eugene Ottinger (Moosa Mostafa), her adorable roommate Enid Sinclair (Emma Myers), and forms a not-so-platonic friendship with a boy named Tyler Galpin (Hunter Doohan). Together, they try to solve a mystery that plagued her parents 25 years ago. It might take some getting used to seeing Wednesday in her softer moments or showing interest in boys but it’s sort of refreshing. Even more so when Ortega doesn’t allow for the character to veer too far away from what viewers expect from Wednesday. “I was very protective and I never wanted to give too much or too little,” she adds.
The supernatural mystery is directed by Tim Burton, making it his first-ever TV project. Burton wasn’t the only one with a long list of horror films on his résumé, though. Ortega has starred in two of this year’s most exciting horror films including A24’s X and Scream, which already has a sequel arriving in March 2023. She plays these characters in sinister situations particularly well and says she likes having blood on her face and screaming all day on set.
“Something that I appreciate about horror is that it’s kind of keeping theaters alive. I feel like people really go out to the theaters nowadays for superhero films or horror films,” she says. “You’re just giving people a good time. It’s adrenaline, it’s a roller coaster. I feel like horror is a large, just this conglomerate of genres in terms of, you have your horror and your action and then there’s comedy and then there’s drama and then there’s romance. I think that horror films are kind of everything at once, and that’s a really wonderful experience as an actor.” The show’s younger cast is made up of mostly upcoming actors but the adults include names like Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman, and Fred Armisen. It’s a mystery why Netflix decided to drop this show nearly a month after Halloween, but now fans will get the opportunity to binge-watch the series during Thanksgiving break—and it’s definitely worth a watch. Check out our interview with Ortega below, where she discusses adding new layers to Wednesday, working with Tim Burton and Christina Ricci, and more.
You really took this character to the next level. I spoke to Gwendolyn and she said that you embodied it effortlessly. How were you able to portray such an iconic character so spot on from the one we know, but also in such a unique way? Yeah, it was really interesting doing this one because you want to do something different. You don’t want to be ripping off anybody else’s performance. But honestly, the ‘90s films made such an impact on the character Wednesday, the one that we know and love today. So I think that there was a part of my performance that I had to loop in bits and pieces that were reminiscent of the ‘90s version and iteration and that draw, I don’t know, this group was also written very reminiscent of the ‘90s.
So I think for the older generations that know and love her, I had those bits and pieces, but for the newer generation and also the pure fact that we’ve never spent so much time with Wednesday on screen before, there has to be more dimension in order to push that story forward. So that’s when I had to slide in different undertones of feeling and reaction and maybe insecurities at some point. Just something to make her more relatable and ground her and kind of just show a different side to a character that we’d never seen before.
She shows more of a softer side to her that maybe we haven’t really been familiar with. How were you able to showcase that and not lose the intensity that we know from Wednesday? Oh, we had a lot of discussion and debate about this because I was always very protective and I never wanted to give too much or too little. And I’ve never seen Wednesday as someone to be into boys or to be into this. But I think it’s easy when you have a younger figure like Eugene, because there’s something about little—I think Wednesday loves weak people and he was little and weak, but also a little strange and wasn’t afraid of that. So I think that she felt very protective of him.
And then as far as Tyler goes, I think that that was just kind of an interesting endeavor for her. While she was busy figuring out this monster situation, I think it was just kind of for fun. I don’t think she really, she meant anything too seriously about it, which is also why being softer with someone when you’re getting to know someone on maybe a slightly less platonic level, you got to show sides of yourself because that makes it more interesting.
Working with Christina Ricci on this—I’m so glad that she joined the project. What was it like working with the person who made this character so iconic? Christina was really cool. We got along really well. She’s a really generous actress and I was definitely nervous to work with her just because of who she is and what she stood for and how much everyone sees her as Wednesday. But also she gave me space and room to do what I needed to do and I hope I did the same for her. And I would love to work with her again. She really is. I think we get on all right.
For sure. Tim Burton has been tied to an Addams Family project of some sort since the ‘90s, and now is finally able to do this with you as the lead. What was it like working with him and helping him bring this to life? Yeah, I feel so lucky. He’s honestly such a sweet person and an incredible collaborator. He’s an actor’s director. He knows the way to communicate with people and I think I felt this overwhelming sense of trust and just partnership with him. And it’s not an easy combination or I don’t know. I think there are very few directors who know how to form communication to that level with an actor and he’s somebody who’s very good at that.
And it was with someone with a background like his, for him to be so kind and so incredible, but then also just to be a part of his world and vision and see him drawing sketches and doing things like that for a project that I was involved in was just kind of surreal. And I think it’s an experience I’ll always cherish. I think that it was just really great.
We’ve seen you on X and in Scream, you’re really keeping the horror genre alive. What is it about these projects that makes you drawn to them? Well, something that I appreciate about horror is that it’s kind of keeping theaters alive. I feel like people really go out to the theaters nowadays for superhero films or horror films that you’re just giving people a good time. It’s adrenaline, it’s a roller coaster. I feel like horror is a large, just this conglomerate of genres in terms of, you have your horror and your action and then there’s comedy and then there’s drama and then there’s romance.
I think that horror films are kind of everything at once, and I think that that’s a really wonderful experience as an actor. But then also, yeah, I like having blood on my face and I like running and crying and screaming all day. It gives me a kick.
Wednesday is now streaming on Netflix.