Jenna Ortega is Gen Z’s Scream Queen

If you haven’t heard Jenna Ortega‘s name before, you probably have now. Netflix’s new hit series Wednesday has just broken Stranger Things Season 4’s record for most hours viewed in a week for an English language series with 341.2 million hours. A spinoff series about Wednesday Addams of The Addams Family, current It girl of the horror genre Jenna Ortega reinterprets the iconic goth girl for a new generation. But Ortega already has quite the filmography for a 20-year-old, starring in the fifth installment of the Scream franchise and A24’s X earlier this year.

Jenna Ortega’s Earliest Roles

Ortega was introduced to the horror genre at a young age with a small part in Insidious: Chapter 2 in 2013, but wouldn’t return until quite a few years later. As a kid she starred in the Disney Chanel series Stuck in the Middle at around the same time as she played young Jane Villanueva on the CW’s hit series Jane the Virgin. Before starring in her own series, Ortega made her first appearance in a Netflix original in Season 2 of the psychological thriller series You. She played Ellie Alves, 15-year-old neighbor of serial killer Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), who quickly takes a liking to her. Her character is a smart, sarcastic, aspiring filmmaker and one of the only characters Joe cares about in a brotherly way, wanting to protect and help her. Relegated to a supporting role, Ortega’s character was written off the show at the end of the season, but based on her performance in Season 2, it’s clear she was well on her way to becoming a star.

Image Via Disney Channel

In 2020, she starred in another Netflix original, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the sequel to McG‘s black comedy horror film The Babysitter, about 12-year-old Cole (Judah Lewis), whose babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) is out to kill him as part of a satanic cult ritual. When the blood cult is resurrected, Cole teams up with Ortega’s character Phoebe, working together to kill all the members and escape with their lives, falling for each other in the process. Similar to her role in You, Ortega also gets to show off her deadpan sense of humor as Phoebe, and her performance in The Babysitter: Killer Queen is a great indicator of her future success in the horror genre.

2022 Was a Big Year For Jenna Ortega

Needless to say, 2022 has been a big year for Ortega. She played Tara Carpenter in the fifth installment of the Scream franchise, released in January, tasked with the responsibility of the cold open – a defining moment of each film in the series. A modernized version of the original Scream‘s iconic opener, Tara is home alone in the kitchen, this time with a cell phone and a landline, when she receives ominous calls and texts from the killer before she’s attacked. She kicks, screams, fights, and notably, survives, as no other first victim in a Scream movie has before. Nothing compares to Drew Barrymore‘s performance in the opening scene of original, but Ortega’s performance gives her a run for her money.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette were wise not to kill Tara off right away, subverting the franchise’s tradition, and giving more screen time to one of the film’s standout performances. Ortega is just as captivating in a later scene when Ghostface appears at the hospital where Tara is recovering from her attack. Wheelchair bound due to her extensive injuries, the killer could easily overpower her, but slowly creeps up behind her as she wheels herself down the is hallway in terror while the killer taunts her sister over the phone. Even incapacitated, Tara puts up a fight, and Ortega sells it completely. In one of the film’s more emotional moments, she even outshines costar Melissa Barrera, who plays her estranged older sister Sam — the film’s protagonist — when she reveals her real father is Billy Loomis. Fortunately, Tara does survive, meaning she will appear in Scream 6, to be released next year. It’s unclear how big of a role she will have in the next film, but hopefully Tara (and Ortega) will get more time to shine.

Image Via A24

She would soon go on to star in another horror film released a couple of months later, Ti West‘s low budget 70s-era slasher X, as Lorraine Day. The young, prudish girlfriend and assistant to RJ (Owen Campbell), hired to direct a pornographic film in the guesthouse on the property of an elderly couple in rural Texas, Lorraine starts off shy and distant. Unaware that they would be shooting pornography, Lorraine is at first apprehensive and judgmental towards the actors, but soon becomes intrigued by the process and allured by the potential fame and fortune that could come from a film like theirs at a time when the theatrical porn market was booming. Just 18 years old at the time of filming, Ortega has no trouble keeping up with more her more seasoned co-stars Brittany Snow and Mia Goth. The definite highlight of her performance in X is the unforgettable blood-curdling scream she lets out at the sight of a mangled, dead body hanging in the basement of the elderly couple’s house.

RELATED: Jenna Ortega Auditioned for Tim Burton’s ‘Wednesday’ in her ‘X’ Death Scene Makeup

Ortega’s Turn as Wednesday Addams

Ortega was recently catapulted into even greater fame with the recent release of the wildly popular series Wednesday, where she stars as teenage Wednesday Addams as she’s shipped off to Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for “outcasts, freaks, and monsters.” The show is a coming-of-age horror comedy, the perfect setting for Ortega to show off her talent and all the work she put in to making Wednesday her own, while still staying true to the origins of the character. She took the role very seriously, working closely with director Tim Burton to perfect Wednesday’s signature dead-eyed stare. In The Addams Family and Addams Family Values films of the 1990s, Wednesday’s character is never entirely the focal point, but Wednesday is all about her. In an article for W Magazine, Ortega reveals the great lengths she went to in preparing for the role – watching the Addams Family movies, TV series, and reading the comics. Not to mention learning to play the cello and taking German lessons.

Image via Netflix

Trying not to base her iteration of Wednesday too much on Christina Ricci’s — who also stars in the series as a teacher at Nevermore — Ortega did everything she could to make this version of Wednesday her own. For the school dance scene in episode four, “Woe What a Night,” Ortega actually choreographed her own dance, inspired by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, 80s Goth club kids, and paying homage to Wednesday’s dance in the 1964 Addams Family TV series. While shooting Wednesday, Ortega shot one take without blinking, and Burton liked it so much they decided to have Wednesday not blink at all in the series. Ortega is also proud to be the first Latina actress to portray Wednesday, which the show nods to through details like Wednesday listening to La Llorona by Mexican singer Chavela Vargas in the first episode.

Ortega manages to bring her own twisted spin to a character known and loved by generations in the wildly successful series, and has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. She may not feel that she’s earned the title of “scream queen” just yet, but the quality of her performances in the past few years shows that she is well-equipped for any role that comes her way, macabre or otherwise. Her dark sense of humor, work ethic, and undeniable talent make her one of the most in demand young actresses working today, and for good reason.

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